1. RIO+20: AN OPPORTUNITY THE WORLD CANNOT AFFORD TO MISS
In June 2012 all eyes will be on Rio de Janeiro, where twenty years after the first "Earth Summit", Heads of State and Government will attend the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or "Rio+20"). Rio+20 will build on previous global summits: the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm (1972), the Conference on Environment and Development ('Earth Summit') in Rio de Janeiro (1992), and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (2002). It also follows on from the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000 and the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Rio+20 offers a unique opportunity for our mutually interdependent world to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development. It will assess progress made and address implementation gaps and emerging challenges. It will do so in the context of two intertwined themes: "a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication" and "the institutional framework for sustainable development".
Rio+20 can mark the start of an accelerated and profound, world-wide transition towards a green economy – an economy that generates growth, creates jobs and eradicates poverty by investing in and preserving the natural capital offers upon which the long-term survival of our planet depends. It can also launch the needed reform of international sustainable development governance.
The European Commission is determined to help make Rio+20 a success. As a basis for further dialogue with EU institutions, civil society, business and countries globally, this Communication sets out the Commission's initial views on potential concrete outcomes for Rio+20. It builds on the EU's range of policies pertaining to sustainable development and the EU 2020 Strategy, and also takes account of a public consultation launched in February 2012.
2. TAKING STOCK SINCE '92: IMPLEMENTATION GAPS AND EMERGING CHALLENGES
2.1. Sustainable development at international level
The past decades have witnessed a number of positive global trends. This is most notable for income growth, for which more than 120 million people rose above the "dollar a day" benchmark between 2000 and 2005. Access to education, healthcare and water has also seen improvements. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) launched at Rio in 1992 have demonstrated the potential of action at global level. The 2010 climate negotiations in Cancún marked progress towards new global climate change governance and the objective of limiting climate change to less than a 2°C increase. Similarly, the 2010 CBD meeting in Nagoya achieved significant progress. There has also been a major increase in scientific information and public awareness of environmental issues, in particular climate change, and the participation of civil society in global policy-making, not least thanks to improved internet communication. Over the past twenty years, a number of developing countries have now become major economic and political players. As a result, a new balance of power and influence has started to emerge, entailing new roles – which will also require the acceptance of new responsibilities.
Despite positive developments, considerable implementation gaps and challenges remain, and these will have to be addressed as part of the Rio+20 agenda. Around 1.4 billion people still live in extreme poverty (a large part of them in Sub-Saharan Africa and South-Asia) and one sixth of the world’s population is undernourished. Several of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are severely off-track. For instance, for the MDG on sanitation, only half of the developing world’s population uses improved sanitation. Progress towards the MDGs is very uneven geographically with some regions lagging behind others; and no single MDG has been achieved in any one fragile state. Efforts to address these problems have been hindered by the recent economic crisis and rising food prices that have increased the number of people living in poverty.
Many environmental challenges have not been solved and have become more acute. Increasing demand for resources (such as land, water, forests, ecosystems) has led to increasing depletion and degradation, and biodiversity loss and deforestation continue at an alarming rate. Scarcities of material resources, as well as access to these resources, are also becoming issues of global concern. Global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, fuelled by land-use changes and growing demand for fossil fuels. Furthermore, the impacts of climate change (such as changing precipitation and sea level rise) can further multiply existing environmental problems. The depletion and pollution of water resources and the marine environment pose increasingly serious problems, and water scarcity could affect one-third of the world population by 2025. Desertification and land degradation impact a number of developing countries whose economies largely depend on agriculture and subsistence farming. Exposure to hazardous substances (such as pesticides hazardous waste) continues in developing countries and emerging economies, despite progress in implementing international conventions. Many of these environmental problems are not stand alone issues, but are mutually related and inter-dependent. Future economic growth is likely to be fastest in emerging economies, and if well managed, can help lift people out of poverty. However, the continuation of current consumption and production patterns in many countries around the world will increase the use of natural resources, accelerate environmental degradation and worsen climate change. Environmental pressures and impacts will be exacerbated by an increasing population (expected to rise to at least 9 billion in 2050), urbanization and social changes (such as an additional 1.2 billion people joining the "middle class" population in emerging economies).
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