|Inclusive and sustainable development (Photo credit: Oxfam International)|
Global economic growth, combined with a booming world population (passing 7 billion last year), has put unprecedented stress on fragile ecosystems. The Rio+20 Conference aims to reset the world on a path towards ecological development, with a focus on environmental sustainability and green societies. Seven of today’s most pressing concerns are addressed as the conference’s priority themes: employment, energy, cities, food, water, oceans and natural disasters. Over 130 heads of state and government, as well as an estimated 50,000 business leaders, activists, and scientists, are expected to participate.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova explains, “The principles we crafted in Agenda 21 at the Earth Summit twenty years ago in Rio remain salient. The context has changed. New challenges have emerged, along with new risks. These include increasing social disparities and inequity, population growth, climate change, the deterioration and pollution of the environment, the unsustainable use of freshwater and depletion of ocean resources, as well as increasing cases of natural and human-made disasters.”
A new way forward is necessary. For UNESCO, a green economy is not enough; the future we want is “equitable, inclusive, green societies”. “Achieving genuine sustainable development calls for more than green investment and low carbon technologies. Besides its economic and ecological dimensions, the social and human dimensions are central factors for success,” urges Ms Bokova. “The mantra of ‘grow today, clean up later’ can no longer stand – for developed or developing countries. The time when we could put off difﬁcult choices is over. There are no more shortcuts.”
UNESCO will bring to Rio+20 a vision for sustainable development that makes the most of the transformative power of education, the sciences, culture and media. Building this future starts with education, which foster the attitudes and behaviors necessary for a new culture of sustainability. Technical and vocational education and training must provide the competences and tools necessary for green economies. Science, innovation and technology must drive the green transition. Green skills and technologies must be shared and transferred. Renewable energy is fundamental. Culture accelerates this transition, by ensuring that approaches to sustainable development match the context in which they are implemented. Green transformation will need an information revolution, relying greatly on the role of the media to enable well-informed policy choices. The capacity of media professionals to investigate and report on issues related to sustainable development must be built. Raising public awareness and building solidarity can only be achieved with free, independent and pluralistic media.
The green future must be blue. To mitigate the rapid degradation of our ocean, Rio+20 must lay out a new vision for the governance of our ocean. Since the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of ocean water has shot up by 30%, endangering ocean ecosystems and food security, and also threatening to worsen climate change effects. Further, marine pollution has created a worrying profusion of “dead zones” whose total surface area is estimated to be as large as the United Kingdom. Rio+20 must help reverse this situation before 2025, when an estimated 60 percent of the world’s population will live in water-stressed conditions, and a similar proportion will be without adequate sanitation.
Rio+20 is time for a change in culture. For UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, it will begin by setting in motion “a conceptual revolution in how we think about creating dynamic yet sustainable growth for the 21st century and beyond.” For UNESCO, it must be remembered as a turning point when it is over – the beginning of a global green transition.