United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio 2012, Rio+20 (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈʁi.u ˈmajʒ ˈvĩtʃi]), or Earth Summit 2012 was the third international conference on sustainable development aimed at reconciling the economic and environmental goals of the global community. Hosted by Brazil in Rio de Janeiro from 13 to 22 June 2012, Rio+20 was a 20-year follow-up to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in the same city, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development
Date(s)20–22 June 2012
Location(s)Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Previous eventEarth Summit 1992
Earth Summit 2002

The ten-day mega-summit, which culminated in a three-day high-level UN conference, was organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and included participation from 192 UN member states – including 57 Heads of State and 31 Heads of Government, private sector companies, NGOs and other groups. The decision to hold the conference was made by UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/64/236 on 24 December 2009. It was intended to be a high-level conference, including heads of state and government or other representatives and resulting in a focused political document designed to shape global environmental policy.[1]


In 1992, the first conference of its kind, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), commonly referred to as the Rio Conference or Earth Summit, succeeded in raising public awareness of the need to integrate environment and development. The conference drew 109 heads of state to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to address what were dubbed urgent problems of environmental protection and socio-economic development.[2] The Earth Summit influenced subsequent UN conferences, including Rio+20 and set the global green agenda. "The World Conference on Human Rights, for example, focused on the right of people to a healthy environment and the right to development; controversial demands that had met with resistance from some Member States until the Earth Summit."[3]

Major outcomes of the conference include the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) —a climate-change agreement that led to the Kyoto Protocol, Agenda 21, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). It also created new international institutions, among them the Commission on Sustainable Development, tasked with the follow-up to the Rio Conference and led to the reform of the Global Environment Facility.[4]

Ten years later, Earth Summit 2002 informally nicknamed Rio+10 was held in Johannesburg, South Africa with the goal of again bringing together leaders from government, business and NGOs to agree on a range of measures toward similar goals. At Rio+10, sustainable development was recognized as an overarching goal for institutions at the national, regional and international levels. There, the need to enhance the integration of sustainable development in the activities of all relevant United Nations agencies, programs and funds was highlighted. The discussion also encompassed the role of institutions in stepping up efforts to bridge the gap between the international financial institutions and the multilateral development banks and the rest of the UN system.[4]

Major outcomes of that conference include the Johannesburg Declaration and almost 300 international partnership initiatives meant to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.


The conference had three objectives:

  1. Securing renewed political commitment for sustainable development
  2. Assessing the progress and implementation gaps in meeting previous commitments.
  3. Addressing new and emerging challenges.

Conference themes

The official discussions had two main themes:

  1. How to build a green economy to achieve sustainable development and lift people out of poverty, including support for developing countries that will allow them to find a green path for development.
  2. How to improve international coordination for sustainable development by building an institutional framework.


In the months leading up to the beginning of the conference, negotiators held frequent informal consultations at UN headquarters in New York City, and in the two weeks before the conference was scheduled to begin, they managed to reach consensus on the sensitive language in the then proposed outcome document for the summit.[5]

Billed as the biggest UN event ever organized—with 15,000 soldiers and police guarding about 130 heads of state and government, from 192 countries, and the more than 45,000 individuals gathered in Rio de Janeiro—the 10-day mega-conference was intended to be a high-level international gathering organized to re-direct and renew global political commitment to the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic growth, social improvement and environmental protection; focusing on reducing poverty while promoting jobs growth, clean energy and more fair, sustainable uses of resources; goals first established at Earth Summit in 1992.[1][6] [7]

The conference centered around Agenda 21, the outcome document from Earth Summit 1992. That document was considered revolutionary in that it essentially created the term sustainable development and created the global environmental agenda for the next 20 years. The representatives of participating governments gathered in Rio to discuss what was then the draft text of the outcome document.

Rio+20 sought to secure affirmations for the political commitments made at past Earth Summits and set the global environmental agenda for the next 20 years by assessing progress towards the goals set forth in Agenda 21 and implementation gaps therein, and discussing new and emerging issues. [8] The UN wanted Rio to endorse a UN "green economy roadmap", with environmental goals, targets and deadlines, whereas developing countries preferred establishing new "sustainable development goals" to better protect the environment, guarantee food and power to the poorest, and alleviate poverty.[9]

Rio+20 attracted many protests, and more than 500 parallel events, exhibitions, presentations, fairs and announcements as a wide range of diverse groups struggled to take advantage of the conference in order to gain international attention. The British online newspaper, The Guardian reported that, "Downtown Rio de Janeiro was partly shut-down as an estimated 50,000 protesters, some of whom were naked, took to the streets."[10]


A few key global leaders—mostly G20 leaders and namely United States President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron—did not attend the conference and blamed their absence on the ongoing European sovereign-debt crisis. Their collective absence was seen as a reflection of their administrations' failure to prioritize sustainability issues.[11]

"In not attending, the prime minister is sending out a powerful signal that the UK government does not see sustainability as a priority", Joan Walley, chair of the UK environmental audit committee said to The Guardian.

Calendar of meetings

1st Preparatory Committee

Held from 16–18 May 2010, immediately after the conclusion of the eighteenth session and the first meeting of the nineteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development.

1st Intersessional

Held from 10–11 January 2011 at UN Headquarters, New York, the Intersessional focused on discussion of the objectives of the conference, and its two principle themes. The Intersessional – not a negotiation session – featured panel discussions, from academia, non-governmental organizations as well as Delegates and UN system representatives.

2nd Preparatory Committee

Held from 7–8 March 2011, at United Nations Headquarters in New York, immediately following the Intergovernmental Policy Meeting for the 19th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development.[12]

2nd Intersessional

Held from 15–16 December 2011 at United Nations Headquarters in New York.[13]

3rd Intersessional

Held from 5–7 March 2012 at United Nations Headquarters in New York.[14]

United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

The 3rd Preparatory Committee began on 13 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and ended on 15 June 2012, marking the start of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.[15] The talks were held from 20–22 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.[16] [17] The conference was expected to draw 50,000 participants, including delegates, environmental activists, business leaders, and indigenous groups. Additionally, about 130 heads of state from around the world were expected to be present for the final three days of the summit.[18]


The primary result of the conference was the nonbinding document, "The Future We Want," a 49-page work paper.[8] In it, the heads of state of the 192 governments in attendance renewed their political commitment to sustainable development and declared their commitment to the promotion of a sustainable future. The document largely reaffirms previous action plans like Agenda 21.[19]

Some important outcomes include the following:

“The text includes language supporting the development of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of measurable targets aimed at promoting sustainable development globally. It is thought that the SDGs will pick up where the Millennium Development Goals leave off and address criticism that the original Goals fail to address the role of the environment in development."[20]

The attempt to shore up the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in order to make it the "leading global environmental authority"[19] by setting forth eight key recommendations including, strengthening its governance through universal membership, increasing its financial resources and strengthening its engagement in key UN coordination bodies.

Nations agreed to explore alternatives to GDP as a measure of wealth that take environmental and social factors into account in an effort to assess and pay for 'environmental services' provided by nature, such as carbon sequestration and habitat protection.[21]

Recognition that "fundamental changes in the way societies consume and produce are indispensable for achieving global sustainable development." EU officials suggest it could lead to a shift of taxes so workers pay less and polluters and landfill operators pay more.

The document calls the need to return ocean stocks to sustainable levels "urgent" and calls on countries to develop and implement science-based management plans.[19]

All nations reaffirmed commitments to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

In addition to the outcome text, there were over 400 voluntary commitments for sustainable development made by Member States.

At the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, 40 African countries agreed to implement "The Future We Want."[22]

Leaders in attendance

among others


Environmental and Indigenous Rights Activists

Activists took initiative at Rio+20 by staging numerous loud protests, and making their voices heard. Numbered in the thousands, these activists joined forces to stand up to what they considered exploitation and degradation of the Earth, as well as the negation of the rights of indigenous peoples. This group is ever more relevant in Brazil as deforestation threatens Amazonian ethnic groups everyday.[42]

In addition to holding signs and shouting chants, the crowds took a theatric route to convey their messages. Firstly, they poked at Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, claiming she has given in to the global North's corporate hand.[43] Rousseff's controversy has arisen over her steadfast desire to further industrialize Brazil, and its economy. Additionally, the crowds assembled for a ritual and symbolic "tearing up" of the plenary's negotiated text,[44] conveying their disapproval.

Thousands of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered at the Flamengo Park in Rio. They criticized the draft negotiating text, particularly for its failure to mention planetary boundaries or nuclear energy, in light of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.[8] Organizations, such as Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature, as well as members of indigenous communities, activists and artists participated. The Danish artist Jens Galschiøt, the leader of the group AIDOH, and the Group 92 used his Freedom to Pollute sculptures to focus on global warming and its resulting increased flow of refugees. About 20,000 flyers about Freedom to Pollute were distributed during Rio+20 and a related television program was produced in Denmark.

Ahmadinejad Visit to Rio

There was some controversy over Iran's involvement in the Rio+20 conference. Iran sent a delegation, which included President Ahmadinejad, to Rio in June to attend the summit.[45][46] The controversy of Iranian attendance at the summit surrounds the fact that Iran has serious environmental issues, which it has refused to address, continuing human rights violations and is refusing to cooperate with the IAEA over its contentious nuclear program.[47] Ahmadinejad was met with demonstrations, attended by thousands of people, on his arrival in Rio.[48][49] The Iranian delegation were met with protesters waving banners with the slogan "Ahmadinejad go home" on their arrival in Rio on 20 June.[50]

Participation by Civil Societies

During RIO +20 event and preparatory events UNCSD had given ample opportunities to various stakeholders to contribute towards Rio +20 and Civil Societies had taken part in various sphere including organizing side events, promoting the RIO event, submitting literature and also helped the rio secretariat with translation work. The logo and promotion of RIO +20 was available in languages used in United Nations however Civil societies took part in producing the logo image and literature in other local and National languages.[51]

ProjectEarth Network

Ecology and Environment Inc., a New York-based Environmental Engineering and Consultation company partnered with UNCSD to create Project Earth Network, an online platform where schools around the world could showcase their remarkable environmental projects. In coordination with the Rio+20 event, the platform hosted a World Environment Day Global School Contest in which 7th graders at the International School of Ulaanbaatar (ISU) in Mongolia were declared the Global Winners for their awareness campaign on the environmental impact of plastic shopping bags, including research on plastic bag manufacturing processes, development of videos documenting plastic bag waste, and a school presentation at which reusable cloth shopping bags were sold to approximately 50 percent of the community.

Sarasota, Fla.'s Brookside Middle School won in the World Environment Day contest's North American sub-category for its mangrove propagule growth project while International School of Brussels in Belgium won the European sub-category, for their creation of a sustainable food source and composting program. The Middle-Eastern sub-category winner was Hridith Sudev, a seventh grader from Indian School Salalah in Oman for his organization, 'Project GreenWorld International' which helped promote sustainable awareness across the region through interactive projects. Hridith Sudev later went on to become an inventor and the organization has become a global environmental presence. The World Environment Day contest followed an Earth Day "Green Schools" contest regionally focused toward 6th to 12th grade students in the Western New York area.

The idea behind the platform was to encourage sustainability in students across the world. Despite the huge response, the platform was taken down two years later due to technical and economic constraints but has since remained as a positive legacy through the activities of students who were first recognized by the network.

See also


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  2. "United Nations Earth Summit+5". United Nations. 27 June 1997. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  3. "Earth_Summit". United Nations. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  4. "Rio+20 – United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development". Uncsd2012.org. 29 July 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  5. "Agreement Reached on Weakened Outcome Text as Leaders Arrive for Rio Summit | International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development". Ictsd.org. 31 July 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 August 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. Archived 24 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Gerhardt, Tina (20 June 2012). "Rio+20 Kicks Off". The Progressive.
  9. Vidal, John (19 June 2012). "Rio+20: Earth summit dawns with stormier clouds than in 1992". The Guardian. London.
  10. "Rio+20 summit opens amid protests – video". The Guardian. London. 21 June 2012.
  11. Vidal, John (11 June 2012). "David Cameron criticised for skipping Rio+20 Earth summit". The Guardian. London.
  12. "Rio+20 – United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development". Uncsd2012.org. 22 June 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  13. UNCSD. "3rd Preparatory Committee". Archived from the original on 11 November 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  14. UNCSD (2012). "United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20".
  15. Romero, Simon (16 May 2012). "Brazil's Leader Faces Defining Decision on Bill Relaxing Protection of Forests". The New York Times.
  16. "Giant, 10-day-long UN conference on sustainable development gets underway in Rio de Janeiro". The Washington Post. Associated Press. 13 June 2012. Archived from the original on 14 June 2012. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  17. uncsd2012 (19 June 2012). "The Future We Want Rio+20 Outcome Document". Slideshare.net. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
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