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Rio+20: Sustainable development... when?

By Mariana Paoli | 25 June 2012

The Rio+20 Earth Summit finished last Friday 22 June 2012, delivering less than it should, but providing us with some hope for the future.

Rio+20 was a wonderful opportunity for global civil society to come together and strengthen its collective fight for a better world.

Thousands of people and organisations gathered at the people's summit, to share ideas and propose solutions to pave the way to a sustainable planet, free from poverty.

Lack of urgency

Meanwhile at the official summit, world leaders seem to have missed the wake-up call to deliver the international action desperately needed to tackle environmental destruction and human suffering. This should be at the heart of a sustainable development agenda.

Earth Summit 1992

Michelle Pressend, a Christian Aid partner from South Africa, told us: 'At the Earth Summit in 1992 there was a sense of hope on environmental and social issues, 20 years later the world is in a worse state and what governments have come up with will create greater inequality and increasing global ecological crisis.'

World leaders are trying to persuade the public that a good job has been done at Rio+20, but they have failed to deal with the urgency or deadlines for countries to take action. What is worse, in key issues related to sustainable development such as climate change, leadership was absent.

The final Rio+20 text

In the Rio+20 final text there was a vague wish to improve the sharing of renewable energy and there was positive wording about energy access - something desperately needed for over two billion people in energy poverty. But no real commitment was made to take action.

It might sound like a joke, but according to the final declaration 'clean' fossil fuels could be included in the energy mix as a solution for climate change. When in fact we know it is the opposite!


We have been calling for the UK to champion the UN's initiative for 'Sustainable energy for all' (SE4ALL) at the G20. Unfortunately, the G20 do not see energy poverty as a global scandal - SE4ALL was omitted from the G20 leaders' statement and only weakly 'noted' in the Rio+20 text.

There is a way forward

Despite the lack of urgency, we leave Rio inspired  to continue struggling for a better world. An agreement to create a new set of sustainable development goals when the Millennium Development Goals run out in 2015 could pave the way for:

  • millions to move out of poverty

  • access to renewable energy

  • and the right to develop in a sustainable way.

These are the key demands we have been campaigning for. But, there is still work to be done to ensure that the goals are strong enough to make the changes we want to see.

Campaigning together

Here in the UK, we have campaigned to build UK government support for climate justice and tax justice – and it was worth it! Not only has the UK government committed to delivering the new sustainable goals but on the eve of the Rio Summit it also delivered a big campaign win: ensuring mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions by UK companies.

This will give UK companies a major incentive to clean up their acts. That, in turn, will be good news for people living in poverty across the world, who are first and worst affected by the changing climate.

Keeping up the pressure

In our on-going fight to achieve a world free from poverty, we must continue to campaign for political change. We must ensure that good decisions are not moved backwards and much more is delivered.

We are disappointed that the world's most powerful countries have given so little momentum to sustainable development, but we remain determined to build on what Rio+20 has given us - and to inspire others to join us.

Find out more about our climate justice campaign.  


Blog  Updates from Rio

Report  Low-carbon Africa 

SCC  Rio Connection 

More on Rio+20

 About the author

Mariana Paoli

Mariana Paoli is Christian Aid's senior international campaigns officer

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