Rio+20: Furthering Sustainable Development or Greenwashing the Global Economy?

By Michelle Pressend


In June this year, the United Nations Conference of Environment and Development (UNCED) popularly known, as the Rio Earth Summit will commemorate 20 years. It was originally held in Brazil in 1992. You may recall that in 2002, South Africa hosted the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), so this year also marks WSSD+10, though it doesn’t seem to have the same prominence as Rio+20.

The Rio Earth Summit was one of the most significant global environmental gatherings as world leaders recognised that co-operative global action is essential to halt environmental destruction and social inequality. This conference acknowledged that economic and social progress depends on the state’s natural resources and that effective policy measures were required to prevent environmental degradation.

Rio produced a number of documents to chart a course for sustainable development. These included the Rio Declaration, which contained a set of principles designed to commit governments to environmental protection and responsible development, and Agenda 21, which was considered the “blueprint” for sustainable development and multilateral agreements on biodiversity, desertification and climate change.

Furthermore, developed countries committed 0.7% of their gross national product to official development assistance. With the exception of some Scandinavian countries that have partially realised this commitment, this obligation has simply fallen by the wayside for most developed nations.

Overall, despite the noble agendas of the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, the sustainable development agenda has come up against major global challenges. The most notable of these is globalisation.

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