The focus of Rio+20, which officially began today, will be to map a much needed path towards sustainable development; the conference must address the multiple and intricate challenges facing the planet and all its citizens. Under the heading of Sustainable Development, the themes of Rio+20 are; the green economy, poverty eradication and social inclusion.
There has never been a more pressing need for strong global commitment to sustainable development: Globally, one billion people are undernourished and across the world the devastating effects of climate change including shocks ranging from water scarcity to severe flooding have already made themselves known. According to the UN, around 1.2 billion people live in areas of physical water scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation. People in these countries need action now- but they also need the opportunity to contribute to a process that will steer and define the sustainable development agenda; an agenda that will affect their lives and those of their children and future generations.
There has been much discussion on what will be the legacy of Rio+20. It is now looking increasingly likely that a process to develop Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be one of the outcomes of the conference. Sustainable development is essential to future poverty eradication efforts, but it is vital that the development of any new goals for sustainable development is done in partnership with efforts to develop an updated post-MDG development framework that recognises the linkages between sustainable development and poverty eradication and addresses them together.
There is currently disagreement over how these goals should be framed against continuing work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and their successor and what the process and the framework for sustainable development should look like. This summit is a crucial opportunity to start demonstrating how developing any sustainable development goals or framework can complement and reinforce efforts to eradicate poverty. This process must be UN-led, transparent, participatory and inclusive and aligned with efforts to agree the successor framework to the current set of Millennium Development Goals. It is essential that any new framework and the process to deliver it has poverty eradication as a central focus and addresses underlying root causes of poverty. It must also ensure that it does not hinder developing nations from lifting themselves out of poverty whilst at the same time protecting a safe operating space for humanity to exist within planetary boundaries.
At Sightsavers, our key focus during the conference is to ensure that any outcome from Rio+20 strengthens poverty eradication efforts - all SDGs will need to contribute to this. This means that whatever forms the process and framework take they must deliver positive change for developing countries and their populations and more specifically they must address the needs of disabled people. The challenge this week is for the commitments made at Rio+20 to find the right balance between galvanising urgent support for sustainable development with the right level of ambition whilst ensuring that the process towards a Sustainable Development is inclusive, transparent and meets the needs of the world’s poorest people.