Skip to main content

Rio+20 to Galvanize New Commitments towards a More Sustainable World


Rio+20 to galvanize new commitments towards a more sustainable world


Renewing political commitments for sustainable development and launching new initiatives to reduce poverty and social inequities while promoting economic growth and environmental sustainability will be at the heart of deliberations at Rio+20 — the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – to be held 20-22 June in Rio de Janeiro.

“Rio+20 is our opportunity to establish a new paradigm for growth — building on what works, discarding what does not,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.  “We need nothing less than a revolution in our thinking about the foundations of dynamic growth and the well-being of future generations.  A successful outcome in Rio will reverberate throughout the world.  It could set the stage for broad-based, equitable and dynamic growth and development for a generation.”

More than 130 world leaders attending Rio+20, plus thousands of business executives, mayors, civil society groups, youth and indigenous peoples, are expected to produce a number of major outcomes.  One of the most important will be a political document to be agreed by the United Nations 193 Member States that accelerates action on the sustainable development agenda.  Rio+20 will also launch many initiatives and commitments by governments, businesses, civil society groups and others.  Announced both inside and outside of the official Conference, these commitments will include action on food, energy, water, oceans and sustainable cities.  Stakeholders are invited to register their voluntary commitments in advance of or during the Conference on the Rio+20 website:

The opening day of the Conference will include remarks by the United Nations Secretary-General, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, United Nations General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nassir and Rio+20 Secretary-General Sha Zukang, as well as special messages from astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station and by the winner of a special contest for young people.

Rio+20 has mobilized large segments of business and civil society, many of whom are at the forefront of developing new proposals for the Conference and will be essential in driving the implementation of its outcomes.  “Civil society involvement in Rio+20 is unprecedented,” says Rio+20 Secretary-General Sha Zukang.  “Civil society has already used Rio+20 to create a platform for the exchange of ideas and for action.”

“ Rio+20 is everyone's conference, just as it is everyone's planet.  Its goals, aspirations and its outcome will belong to all of us,” Mr. Sha said, adding that “the success of Rio+20 should be measured by the amount of actions it inspires.  I believe that after seeing the possibilities of a better tomorrow, participants will leave Rio+20 with a renewed commitment to seize opportunities at different levels that will move us all forward on a path to the future we want.”

Business as Usual Is Not an Option

The United Nations General Assembly resolution authorizing the Conference called for a political document that renews political commitment, and reaffirms and builds upon earlier agreements.  During preparations for Rio+20, Governments and civil society underscored the need for change; they agreed that Governments should adopt clear and focused measures for putting sustainable development into practice.  The General Assembly also requested that the Conference focus on two main themes:  a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and the institutional framework needed for sustainable development.

There is no agreed definition of a green economy, and some countries have acknowledged that there could be differences in interpretation grounded in national circumstances.  But there is agreement that a green economy should be supported by international cooperation and partnerships, with no aid conditionalities or restrictive trade practices.  For some countries, the green economy has been considered one of a number of “tools” to achieve sustainable development.

Countries have been discussing how to strengthen the international institutions that can support and promote sustainable development.  There have been several proposals, including creating a high-level forum or sustainable development council under the General Assembly.  In addition, countries are discussing ways to strengthen the United Nations Environment Programme.

Governments are also considering the establishment of Sustainable Development Goals.  These would be measurable and apply to all countries, building on the success of the Millennium Development Goals.  Some of the possible goals suggested for consideration are food security for all, sustainable energy for all, and clean water for all.

Initiatives and Commitments

In addition to the outcome of the formal negotiation process, Governments, businesses, civil society and international organizations will launch initiatives and announce commitments to tackle global sustainability challenges through partnerships.  Potential initiatives will tackle challenges that include:

  • Food:  promoting a “Zero hunger” future with zero stunting among children, zero wasted food, all food and agriculture produced sustainably, and dramatic increases in food production and the income of smallholders.
  • Energy:  advancing action on the United Nations Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, which calls for universal access to sustainable energy, a doubling of energy efficiency and a doubling of the use of renewable sources of energy, all by 2030.
  • Oceans:  actions by Governments, the United Nations and regional and non-governmental organizations to curb overfishing, expand marine protected areas, protect marine biodiversity, and reduce ocean pollution and the impacts of climate change, such as ocean acidification.
  • Water:  launch a global initiative to provide universal access to safe water by 2030, improve wastewater systems, and increase the water efficiency of agriculture, energy and industry.
  • Liveable cities:  commitments by Governments, international financial institutions, local authorities and communities to improve life in cities by strengthening social services, expanding sustainable transport, increasing energy and water efficiency of buildings, and reducing the impact on natural ecosystems.

The Lead-up to Rio+20

Ahead of the official Conference, the Government of Brazil has organized, with United Nations support, Sustainable Development Dialogues, a forum for civil society to be held from 16 to 19 June at the same site as Rio+20.  The Dialogues will bring together leading representatives from civil society groups, the private sector and the academic and scientific communities, among others, to engage in an open and action‐oriented debate on 10 critical topics related to sustainable development.  The Dialogues will result in recommendations that will be directly shared with world leaders.  The 10 topics are:  sustainable development for fighting poverty; sustainable development as an answer to the economic and financial crises; unemployment, decent work and migration; the economics of sustainable development, including sustainable patterns of production and consumption; forests; food and nutrition security; sustainable energy for all; water; sustainable cities and innovation; and oceans.

Business leaders are expected to play an unprecedented role at Rio+20.  More than 2,000 participants, including CEOs and business executives, will be attending the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum:  Innovation & Collaboration for the Future We Want, from 15 to 18 June.  The Forum, organized by the United Nations Global Compact, will give businesses and investors an opportunity to meet with governments, local authorities, civil society and United Nations entities in dozens of workshops and thematic sessions linked to the Rio+20 agenda.  The Forum’s objective is to bring greater scale and quality to corporate sustainability practices.  To showcase innovation and collaboration, many corporations will announce their sustainability commitments at the Forum.

There will also be close to 500 side events taking place at the Riocentro Convention Centre, the site of Rio+20, and many more throughout Rio de Janeiro during the Conference.  Governments, businesses and members of civil society will be announcing various commitments for action on sustainable development, ranging from individual actions to large commitments that will help bring sustainable energy to people who currently live without it, as well as initiatives to shift support to public transport.

Preparations for Rio+20 have included a series of informal negotiations and meetings on the outcome document.  The final preparatory meeting will take place in Rio de Janeiro from 13 to 15 June.  To complement the official meetings, a wide range of reports by the United Nations and other groups have been presented, to steer decision makers towards focusing on the long-term resilience of the planet and its people by putting sustainable development into practice and mainstreaming it into economic policy.  Major UN reports have included that issued by the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability; the World Economic and Social Survey:  Promoting Development, Saving the Planet, issued by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2011; and the United Nations Environment Programme’s Green Economy Report.

Rio +20 Background

Taking place 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, where countries adopted Agenda 21 — a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection — Rio+20 presents a rare platform for such a large and focused global gathering.

Multiple financial, economic, food and energy crises pose immediate challenges to sustainable development, while climate change presents a longer-term challenge.  There has been significant progress in reducing poverty and increasing education, life expectancy and income.  However, each year, the world’s seven billion people consume more than 1.3 times the natural resources that the Earth can replace.

With the global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2040, and the number of middle-class consumers expected to increase by 3 billion over the next 20 years, the demand for resources will continue to rise exponentially.  By 2030, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water.  Various natural resources and ecosystems are showing signs of severe stress.  For example, about 85 per cent of all fish stocks in the oceans are overexploited, depleted or recovering.

At the same time, more than 1 billion people still live in extreme poverty, and many more struggle to stay out of poverty.  Inequalities between rich and poor are widening.  Persistent gender inequality, and a shortage of youth education and employment opportunities, have also held back progress.  Failure to address inequalities and the lack of jobs is undermining social cohesion and generating political instability in many countries.

The economic recession has taken a major toll on both the quantity and quality of jobs worldwide.  According to the latest Global Employment Trends report by the International Labour Organization, 200 million people are currently unemployed and more than 600 million jobs will be needed over the next 10 years.  Rio+20 takes place at a time when the need for a new direction has become clear.

For more information on Rio+20, visit

To join the global conversation on Rio+20: The Future We Want, visit

Media Contacts

For further information New York: Pragati Pascale (Conference Spokesperson),, tel.:  +1 212 963 6870; Dan Shepard (Associate Spokesperson),, tel.:  +1 212 963 9495; Wynne Boelt,, tel.:  +1 212 963 8264; Morana Song,, tel.:   +1 212 963 2932.

Rio de Janeiro:  Giancarlo Summa (Deputy Spokesperson),; Valeria Schilling,; Gustavo Barreto de Campos,, tel:  +55 21 2253 2211.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.