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Rio+20 must ensure a future that is both sustainable and fair

11 June 2012

On 20-22 June world leaders will gather at Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil, in what presents a unique opportunity to develop and plan a sustainable future for all. Decisions made in Rio can shape the global environment agenda for the next decade and beyond. The original Rio Earth Summit, in 1992, delivered important commitments – yet since then environmental progress has been too slow.

"Rio+20 is this generation’s chance to show that we value the natural world for more than the minerals we can extract, the timber we can take or the seafood we fish – nature provides us with so much more than that, and has been the basis for our well-being on this planet,” said David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of WWF-UK.

Food, water and energy security

Despite some progress since the Earth Summit in 1992, environmental threats are far outpacing our implementation of solutions. WWF’s Living Planet Report 2012 shows we are already overusing our planet’s resources and that nations need to take action now to reduce a dangerously ever-rising ecological footprint.

Basic services are not available to a large proportion of the world’s population. Around 900 million people lack access to water for basic needs, 2.6 billion lack access to safe sanitation and clean water, close to 1 billion are undernourished and 1.5 billion are without access to modern forms of energy. Demands for food, water and energy continue to rise while climate change, population growth and rising levels of consumption by the well-off take their toll.

“The signals we're getting from the natural world – loss of species and habitats, depleted fish stocks, climate change – tell us that we still have a lot to do if we are to live in harmony with our planet. If we want everyone to have the chance to live well in the future – with good food, clean energy and safe water for us all – we need to value nature more, and Rio+20 needs to define the principles and set the targets we all need to aim for” said David Nussbaum, who will attend the conference with the UK’s official delegation.

WWF calls for access to food, water and energy security for all by 2030, with ambitious goals underpinned by social, economic and environmental considerations. These could include:

  • Affordable and fair access to a safe food supply;
  • Additional investment and policies on sustainable agriculture and food, funded partly through the phasing out of harmful agricultural subsidies;
  • Well-managed freshwater and related ecosystems; 
  • Affordable and fair access to safe water and improved sanitation;
  • Policy measures aimed to deliver sustainable access to energy for all by 2030, including at least 40% of sustainable renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030, and renewable, reliable and affordable energy to those who live in energy poverty.
Urgent action is needed to protect our planet and deliver a credible vision and plan for a sustainable future. A strong and ambitious agreement must come out of Rio+20 with clear timelines and goals.

“Rio+20 isn't expected to deliver the ground-breaking declarations we saw back in 1992, but it does need to produce a clear political commitment to building green, sustainable economies”, said David Nussbaum. “We’ll be looking to world leaders to agree on a shared commitment to put the world on a different path, towards globally-shared prosperity within the limits of what the Earth can provide.”

Key issues:

Valuing Nature

Rio+20 presents leaders with a pivotal opportunity to recognize and better embed the value of natural capital into economic development. We need to “measure what we treasure”:

Rio+20 should deliver a set of clear, transparent and comparable indicators to measure the quality of the environment. Overall Indicators currently exist for two of the three dimensions of sustainable development (social and economic) but not for the environment.

Companies and governments must be required to report and reflect the environmental costs of their activities into national accounts and corporate balance sheets.

Sustainable Development Goals

WWF welcomes the concept of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a means to address the critical and interlinked challenges facing the development agenda to 2030. The new goals should cover a number of priority areas including food, water and energy, and apply to all countries.

The SDGs would follow on from the Millennium Development Goals, which are due to end in 2015. They would need to have time-bound targets for implementation to address the challenge of food, water and energy security in the context of a healthy global environment – and have indicators that countries can put into practice according to national circumstances.

Perverse Subsidies

All subsidies that negatively impact the environment should be eliminated; particularly those that drive fossil fuel production and use, and unsustainable agriculture and fisheries. The process of elimination should include transparent annual reporting and review and should result in elimination by 2020 at the latest.


For more information:

Robin Clegg, WWF-UK +44 (0)7771 818 707, rclegg@wwf.org.uk
Natalie Boudou, WWF International +41 79 820 2898, nboudou@wwfint.org
Lang Banks, WWF-Scotland + 44 (0)7919 961961, LBanks@wwfscotland.org.uk

Link to Living Planet Report 2012


About WWF
WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

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