21 June 2012
Economic security and political instability are immediate problems that capture attention and require urgent action. Unfortunately, as a result, long-term challenges like sustainable development often get dropped from public policy and the public dialogue. Yet, figuring out how to sustainably meet the needs of the world’s growing population is vital to billions of people and to the future of the planet. That is why the United Nations has put sustainable development issues at the forefront of the global agenda this week.
The UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, has brought together heads of state, diplomats, business executives, and civil society activists to share ideas and lessons learned, to promote creativity and cooperation, and to find ways to advance sustainable development. While tens of thousands of people are in Rio for the conference, you don’t have to be there to understand its importance: the health of the planet and of all its inhabitants depends on our collective ability to create a sustainable future.
To date, much of the attention surrounding Rio+20 has been focused on high-level negotiations, discussions, and documents. As we have seen time and time again, diplomatic negotiations can be difficult, especially when dealing with complex and far-reaching challenges like sustainable development. The current Rio+20 outcome document is not as strong or comprehensive as many of us would like it to be. Yet, the door is not shut on progress. Change doesn’t come from documents alone – it comes from the actions of governments, businesses, and individuals.
This week, many stakeholders have stepped up to the plate and made a down-payment on the change we need to build a better future.
For example, as part of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative, governments, businesses, and other groups have made commitments to expand energy access and increase the use of renewable energy. To support decision-makers, the United Nations Foundation released recommendations for providing electricity services to those who lack it based on the on-the-ground experience of hundreds of international practitioners.
Committed citizens have also been actively pushing for progress at Rio+20 and beyond. This week, and in the weeks leading up to Rio+20, individuals from every walk of life and every corner of the world have harnessed social media to share their concerns and hopes for the future. With the click of a button, individuals and groups have made their voices heard and connected with world leaders, with the UN, and with each other. Thanks to a revolution in technology and social media, the conversation on sustainable development has gone global.
While much more action will be needed, each step brings us closer to a brighter, more vibrant future. Rio+20 will not solve all of our problems, but it is an opportunity for the global community to rally and make progress. Each of us – from government to the private sector to civil society – can take action on our own, while building on the foundation that is being laid at Rio+20. Creating a sustainable, healthy, prosperous future will not be quick or easy, but too much is at stake to give up. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Rio+20 is not an end but a beginning.”
Kathy Calvin is the Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation.