Go sustainable, be responsible! European civil society on the road to Rio+20 Go sustainable, be responsible! European civil society on the road to Rio+20


The United Nations is convening a Summit level Conference on sustainable development in Rio in the summer of 2012, 20 years after the first 1992 Earth Summit and ten years after the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.


The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) believes that the Rio+20 Conference must send out a clear signal to the world community for a change towards global sustainable development that helps to eliminate poverty and social injustice whilst preserving natural resources for future generations.


The EESC conference ‘Go sustainable, be responsible! European civil society on the road to Rio+20′ on 7-8 February 2012 in Brussels is intended to voice European civil society’s positions on Rio+20 and help make Rio+20 a success. The conference is aimed at participants from European civil society associations, decision-makers, EU officials and public officials. After an introduction into the current state of the Rio+20 process the EESC conference will focus on the green economy as a means to enhance sustainable development within the limits of natural resources. The first general debate should tackle the European contribution to sustainability, while the second general debate will address sustainable development in non-EU countries. Subsequently four workshops will give the opportunity to deepen the discussion and elaborate conference conclusions:


  • Food, water and energy for everyone
  • Sustainable consumption and production
  • A fair transition to a green economy – the social dimension
  • Involving civil society in the transition to a green economy


Invited speakers are high-level representatives from the UN, the European Commission, internationally recognised speakers from the development and environment sector as well as from businesses and trade unions.


The EESC in its capacity as a channel for organized civil society in Europe has also been playing an active part in the establishment of the EU contributions to Rio+20. It held hearings in 2010 and 2011 to help identify the aspirations of civil society for the Summit, and produced two opinions on the Summit and the European approach to it in 2010 and 2011.


Workshop descriptions


Workshop 1: “Food, water and energy for everyone”


This workshop aims to discuss in detail the issue of sustainable development in developing countries.

A billion human beings still suffer from hunger in various parts of the world, in particular in the least developed countries. Poverty eradication and achieving the Millennium Development Goals must rank at the top of the Rio+20 sustainability agenda and efforts have to be stepped up to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Secure access to food, water and energy is essential to fight poverty and the supply of these basic resources depends on properly functioning eco-systems. It is therefore essential to place secure access to food, water and energy for everyone and the maintenance of the natural resources of our planet at the centre of the strategies on poverty eradication and green economy.


The discussions will focus on four main aspects:


  • Moving towards sustainable agriculture – How to secure access to food and water for everyone while conserving biodiversity resources, managing water resources and mitigating climate change.
  • Promoting good management of water and sanitation services – How can we build the foundations for a sustainable water management and water sanitation system based on a water resource efficient green economy?
  • Securing access to clean and affordable energy – How to improve universal access to clean, affordable and modern energy services as an essential means for achieving the MDGs.
  • Empowering civil society – How to strengthen water, energy and food security for the poorest population groups by capacity building and the re-allocation of financial resources, research and institutional support from large, centralised projects to decentralised, small-scale projects that can be managed at local level.


Workshop 2: “Sustainable consumption and production”


This workshop will focus on the importance of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) for a green economy and sustainable development. The main subject of this workshop will be the transition to SCP in industrialised and EU countries.


Using fewer of the planet’s limited natural resources to provide food and well-being for a growing world population will be a key challenge for the green economy roadmap which is the aim of the Rio+20 conference. Our societies have to use natural resources more efficiently by shifting to eco-friendly products and services. The right incentives for consumers have to be set to stimulate demand for such goods and services and dialogue has to be fostered on sustainable life-styles. Clear policy frameworks have to be put in place in order to give the private sector the confidence to make the necessary long-term investments. Sustainability has to become a benchmark for business strategies and investment.


Important issues for the discussion are:


  • More with less – What are the objectives of SCP and how do they contribute to sustainable development?
  • Setting up roadmaps for the green economy – What instruments are needed to shift consumption and production towards sustainability and to accelerate eco-innovation? A broad range of policy tools should be considered, including regulatory measures, fiscal policy, green public procurement, research in eco-innovation and market-based incentives.
  • Moving towards sustainable life-styles – What are suitable strategies for changing unsustainable consumption patterns and promoting sustainable life-styles?


Workshop 3: “A fair transition to a green economy – the social dimension”


This workshop will discuss the social dimension of the transition to a green economy, with a particular focus on employment and potential effects on consumers.

Greening the economy is an opportunity to create decent work. However, active policy measures have to be taken to ensure a socially just transition and avoid negative social effects on the move to a green economy.

The social protection floor initiative of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) represents a basis for the social dimension of sustainable development. The ILO green jobs programme provides guidance and assistance for a fair transition to a green economy.


Important issues for the discussion are:

  • Green jobs – How can the transition to a green economy ensure the creation of decent work in all sectors throughout all development stages? How can a balance be achieved between the creation of new green jobs and the loss of old jobs? What accompanying policy measures are needed, including the promotion of investment in green sectors, vocational training and re-training?
  • Green economy consumers and citizens – What is the expected impact of the social transition on citizens and consumers? How are environmental costs, increasing energy prices and housing costs going to be absorbed?
  • Social dialogue – How can dialogue structures for governments, social partners and civil society be enhanced, transformed and/or created to foster consensus and commitment to sustainable development?


Workshop 4: “Involving civil society in the transition to a green economy”


This workshop will discuss ways to enhance civil society involvement in the transition process.


An active and demanding civil society is the key to achieving the change to a green economy. Any review of the institutional framework for sustainable development has to consider the right governance structures for civil society involvement at global, national and sub-national level. Systems of dialogue and democratic participation have to be improved. Institutions representing civil society, such as the national economic and social committees and the European Economic and Social Committee, and national sustainability councils advance civil society dialogue on sustainable development.

Giving individuals rights is important when seeking to empower civil society. Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration from 1992, stipulating the right of each individual to access information concerning the environment and have the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes, should be effectively implemented.


Important issues for the discussion are:

  • Civil society involvement in the Rio+20 process – How can the role of major groups at UN level be strengthened?
  • Giving the public access to information – What steps are needed to enact Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration?
  • Institutions to enhance civil society participation – How can institutions such as national economic and social committees and national sustainability councils or the introduction of an ombudsman for future generations help to improve the dialogue with civil society?



Details of the initiative