Rio +20: Will it deliver?

Sustainable development. Get ready to hear that term a lot during 2012.

20 years on from the original Earth Summit and Agenda 21, Rio +20, shorthand for the UN Conference for Sustainable Development, is fast approaching. The 3 day conference has two major themes:

  • ‘The green economy’ and
  • ‘Sustainable development in the context of poverty eradication’.

Already a seven strong list of ‘critical issues’ to be addressed at Rio has been released.

In November 2011 the G20 made a ‘commitment to success in Rio +20’. All very promising. But what, my colleagues like to ask; does a positive Rio outcome look like? In fact, will there be a Rio outcome? Will Rio address the root causes of poverty and injustice? Will Rio challenge inequality; accelerating climate change; environmental degradation, resource scarcity, increasing levels of hunger and malnutrition. Bottom line, can it and will it truly deliver poverty eradiation? The ‘green economy’ remains a fuzzy and nebulous term but will it bring prosperity for the poor? Will this, yet another global summit, serve the world’s poorest communities?


Expectations surrounding Rio +20 are at once both low and high.  This is a major and critical opportunity for world leaders to confront the social, environmental and economic crises gripping the world today; to reflect; take stock and reach the only rational conclusion: 1) future approaches to development and resource use must be different and 2) the change of track must be immediate. Since I began working on Rio +20 at Tearfund in July, the momentum has grown, but slowly.  Until now, awareness of Rio +20, it’s potential and significance, has been minimal outside of the NGO and academic worlds.

 Remaining upbeat, I believe the road to Rio is paved with opportunity as well as challenge. I remain optimistic, dare I say excited about the next six months and what Rio could be the catalyst for. Consensus believes that Rio will serve as a kick-off not a sign-off. Substantive policy outcomes are unlikely. A bounce; a hook; a spring board – call it what you will, Rio +20 will put items on the agenda and accelerate the conversation around proposals.

 At Tearfund we see Rio as an opportunity to:

  • Highlight again the case for urgent action and sustainable solutions on food and agriculture, water and sanitation, energy access, mitigation and finance for adaptation, mitigation;
  • Challenge existing unsustainable policies and life styles;
  • Secure renewed political commitment and leadership for sustainable development and poverty eradication;
  • Lobby our own politicians and the international community to address the numerous interlinked global challenges, such as poverty and climate change;

 Some fear that there is a lack of realisable solutions on the table ahead of Rio. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Green Economy roadmaps, establishing a Sustainable Development Council and strengthening UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) have come to the fore as potential outcomes. Already, the UK government have leant their support to developing the Colombian government’s proposal for SDGs. We are currently discussing this opportunity and it’s numerous implications on, for example, the post-MDG agenda.

What is clear is that business as usual is untenable. Rio +20 and the energy around ‘sustainable development’ is an opportunity to make the existing model obsolete. ‘You can’t solve the problem with the same sort of thinking that created it’ (Einstein) – hence the need to think, for example, in terms of well-being, human flourishing and ‘beyond GDP’ – themes that we explored in our ‘Wholly Living’ report.

Looking ahead, I wait with baited breath for the recommendations of the High Level Panel for Global Sustainability with the launch of their report on 12 January. At the end of January the formal discussions around the Zero Draft will begin.

To make Rio +20 a milestone that delivers it behoves us all to make politicians around the world know that we care and demand action for the sake of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.


Engendering our response to climate change: Will it ever happen?

Photo by Oxfam America

Now perhaps it’s because I’m writing a thesis on the subject, but gender has been on my mind a lot lately. Yes, I’m one of those [insert any variation of ‘feminist’ here]. Guilty as charged. But forgive me for considering the fact that women and girls bear the brunt of every form of disaster out there, be it climate, financial or food-related, to be in need of major attention.

Gender advocates have argued relentlessly for the need to shift policy and practice out of the ‘malestream’ to integrate fully a gender perspective. A recent spate of reports serve as timely reminders that whether through gradual changes in weather patterns or more rapid onset emergencies climate change is definitely not gender neutral. Be it water shortages, rising food prices, floods or cyclones women bear the brunt disproportionately and often overwhelmingly. Last week Plan International launched ‘Weathering the storm: Adolescent girls and climate change’ calling for better integration of the needs of adolescent girls in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes.

In June, IDS and BRIDGE published ‘Gender-Responsive Strategies on Climate Change: Recent Progress and Ways forward for donors’. Again, another effective report with numerous suggestions. Among them, addressing ‘mainstreaming fatigue’ and promoting gender responsiveness in international climate negotiations, adaptation funding and low carbon development.

They’re joined by The Women’s Environment and Development Organisation who’ve identified key principles for incorporating a gender dimension into the Green Climate Fund. They advocate gender-responsive governance, gender equitable fund allocation and gender-responsive monitoring and evaluation as the means to operationalise recognition at COP 16 that gender equality and the active participation of women are important for effective action on all aspects of climate change. Indeed these thoughts resonate with Oxfam’s proposals for Cancún.

That there are so many reports and no shortage of recommendations is encouraging. Each recommendation is realisable. Therefore, progress is attainable. Yet ensuring women have either equitable access to adaptation funding or an equal voice in climate change negotiations seems far off. At Bali in 2007 the share of women in country delegations was 28%. Of the heads of delegations of the parties women comprised only 12%. Last time I checked, women comprise 50% of the world population.

What can be done to galvanise action, and I mean tangible action? To translate recommendation into practice?

Photo by Rebecca Blackwell for Oxfam America

Last year Tearfund joined the call for a fair Global Climate Fund, which, amongst many other things, would include women’s voices in national processes to ensure climate finance is spent locally and monitored. With COP 17 and Rio +20 on the horizon we continue to call for fair and inclusive decision-making processes. Ultimately, neglecting to incorporate a gender-sensitive approach to international climate change negotiations means that the decisions and actions taken cannot reflect the needs, capabilities, priorities and concerns of all and cannot therefore be effective or equitable.

In the ‘Environment and Disasters’ team we are looking to bring a stronger gender dimension to our advocacy work and so we’re interested to hear the experiences and perspectives of others. With such an agenda for change, where should our energies be directed? As we grapple with these issues we welcome your views. Where should we start?

In the words of ‘feminist’ lobbyists at Bali, there can be ‘No climate justice without gender justice’. Meeting the needs of women and ensuring their direct participation, dare I say leadership, at all levels of decision-making and practice must be central to our response. The case has been made. And the time to act is now. The clock continues to tick.