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Rio+20: chance squandered – but Cameron still has key role

22 June 2012

It seems that most world leaders who came to Rio this week lost sight of why they were there. Commenting on the Rio+20 conference as it draws to a close, WWF chief executive David Nussbaum says: “Rio +20 was supposed to be about addressing the pressing issues facing humanity and the natural world on which we depend...

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“Food, energy and water were central themes that this conference was supposed to translate into actions agreed upon by all nations to develop a clear path to a sustainable future.

“As that hasn’t happened, the focus must now be on putting these aspirations into practice in other ways - and that will come down to actions taken by governments, such as the UK’s, businesses and civil society.”

We believe David Cameron has a key role to play post-Rio, as co-chair of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda - David explains:

“He can help to deliver on his aspiration to lead the ‘greenest government ever’ through mainstreaming the green economy as a route out of recession at home, and his role on the High Level Panel will be crucial to ensuring the delivery of sustainable development goals.”

As our director general Jim Leape also points out, we did see some strong leaders coming forward in Rio - they just weren’t involved in the negotiations.

“There is exciting leadership happening in communities, cities, governments and companies that are laying the foundation to protect our environment, alleviate poverty, and move us toward a more sustainable planet."

Some of the commitments made outside the negotiating room in Rio included:
• The UK government announced that the UK will be the first country in the world to force major companies to measure their greenhouse gas emissions - their carbon footprint - in full.

• The UK government signed the UN Watercourses Convention, a key treaty that protects rivers across international boundaries, for which WWF-UK has been campaigning for several years.

• A coalition of global businesses, led by Aviva Investors, with the backing of the governments of Brazil, Denmark, France, UK and South Africa, are working towards a global convention to ensure that all large and listed companies include sustainability in their annual reporting, or explain why it's not a priority for them.

• Indonesia has reaffirmed commitment to the Coral Triangle Initiative, to safeguard the region’s marine and coastal biological resources for the sustainable growth and prosperity of current and future generations, as part of a roadmap to a green economy. The Coral Triangle area covers Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea. It covers a mere 1% of the Earth’s surface, but is said to contain a third of the world’s coral and three-quarters of its coral-reef species.

• The Maldives announced the world's biggest marine reserve - all 1,192 of its islands will become a marine reserve by 2017.

• President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique announced the launch of Mozambique’s roadmap to a green economy. The plan covers national strategies to apply green economy principles to the development of cities, agriculture, and energy sources, and to invest in maintaining and enhancing their natural capital.

• Eight of the world's biggest development banks announced a fundamental investment shift from roads to public transport, under a USD$175 billion initiative to promote buses, trains and cycle lanes. This was the largest monetary commitment made to sustainable development during Rio+20.

What WWF wanted out of Rio+20, and what we’ll keep fighting for:
Sustainable Development Goals – these must be an evolution of the Millennium Development Goals and should name thematic areas such as food, water, energy and oceans goals and set up the process to create them, fund them and measure them.

Valuing natural wealth – the world still needs indicators to measure the quality of the environment, nature, and biodiversity and ecosystems alongside their existing economic (GDP) and social (IHDI) indicators.

Reforming subsidies - transparent annual reporting and review on subsidy reforms leading to the elimination by 2020 of all environmentally harmful subsidies, in particular fossil fuel subsidies, should be a global priority.

Looking after our oceans - some progress was made in Rio on this issue, but we still need better ocean governance, including addressing the conservation and sustainable use of the high seas, outside of national boundaries.

A stronger UN environment programme - strengthening UNEP should be a priority, with the funding and authority to properly protect the world’s environment.

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