The next Earth Summit Rio+20—officially named the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development—will be held from 20 to 22 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This summit is a new attempt by the United Nations in this new millennium to advance the commitment of States and the world community in the major transitions of the twenty-first century. It takes place twenty years after the first historic summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and ten years after the 2002 Johannesburg summit.
This call by the United Nations is ambitious. It invites States, civil society and citizens to “lay the foundations of a world of prosperity, peace and sustainability,” with three topics on the agenda: 1. Strengthening the political commitments to sustainable development; 2. Reviewing the progress and difficulties associated with their implementation; 3. Responses to the new emerging challenges of societies. Two questions, closely related, are placed at the heart of the summit: 1. a green economy in the perspective of sustainability and poverty eradication, and 2. the creation of an institutional framework for sustainable development.
These issues are also those of all Peoples, of all men and women citizens of the planet. The awareness that the world is facing major transitions is increasingly keen. Citizens show growing boldness and capacity to make their voices heard and take part in the challenges of society. Admittedly, the road is still long between the knowledge of the bifurcations to take and the ability of our societies, particularly our institutions and our national governments, to take the measure of these changes and their implementation. We must also ensure that this awareness does not translate into separatism or identity withdrawal, encouraging the opposition of national interests to one another. History has shown that such withdrawal can eventually lead to dead ends and war.
Rio+20 is a new step on the route of an emerging global community. It is important not to see the Summit, as it was the case in Copenhagen, as a turning point for mankind, as a sort of double or quits where the future of the planet is being played in the space of a few days. In fact, the processes of international negotiation have been stagnant for over ten years, whether it be the trade negotiations with the freezing of the Doha round, the climate negotiations with the failure of Copenhagen, or even the inability to reform in depth the UN system conceived after World War II. Only the G20 may appear today as an endorsement, timid and ambiguous—considering that the richest countries set themselves up as the executive board of the world—of the need for global multi-polar governance.
Nonetheless, Rio+20 should mark a step forward. There can be no effective management of interdependences at the level desired without broad convergence and a genuine dialogue between all Peoples and citizens of the planet, without the States giving up sovereignty, without laying collectively the foundations of legitimate, democratic and effective global governance. All this assumes the previous awareness of a common destiny and the gradual formation of a global community, learning to discover and to manage itself, asserting its local and regional identities. This gigantic and long-term construction has only just begun.
Although the twenty years since 1992 have scored only very partial and insufficient progress against the goals of sustainability, the first summit in Rio in 1992 had indeed addressed the fundamentals of the problem. The world situation has changed considerably since then. Factors such as rising inequality, international terrorism, climate change, the crisis of the economic and financial system, popular uprisings in the Arab world have and will continue to reconstruct profoundly the global geopolitical balance. These factors have also become radically systemic and supportive of each other, making the sectoral and exclusive approaches an element in its own right of the obstacles to overcome.
The time has come when civil society should not only just protest in a counter summit. It needs to draw a strategy for change with clear and strong visions, organised around a few major changes that have been the subject of collective identification. Neither the addition of hundreds of problems, all real but disconnected from each other, nor looking for a scapegoat and a single cause, such as “globalisation”, a new incarnation of “capitalism”, meet this strategic need.
The Rio+20 summit can ideally lead to a multi-cultural vision of the ethical and political foundation capable of transforming the architecture of global governance. It is imperative that the stakeholders in the process reflect the diversity of societies, that most of them are not relegated again to the rank of helpless spectators. For this, Rio+20 should be prepared beforehand. It is important to first fully understand the nature of the issues, understand how the summit will take place, and then correctly anticipate what happens next.