rio+20 towards and beyond
Public Support for Rio+20
January 2012
During a recent intergovernmental meeting in New York in December 2011, civil society convened at The New Economic Institute in New York to discuss ways of influencing decision-making ahead of Rio+20.
The upcoming Rio + 20 conference taking place from 20-22 June this year has two timely themes - 1) the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and 2) the institutional framework for sustainable development. Important as they are, these key issues are contentious. Especially in the present times of economic uncertainty, bold and visionary governmental interventions and planning is necessary to remove our economies and societies from the brinks of the interconnected economic and natural resource crises. The first task will be for the world’s governments to agree on an ambitious green economy roadmap and commit to strengthen the institutions in charge of environment and development.
Author
Governance and Capacity Group

The intergovernmental meeting in New York, December 2011.
Civil society has also been involved in preparations for Rio + 20, and is represented by nine major groups - women, children and youth, workers and trade unions, indigenous people and their communities, NGOs, local authorities, scientific and technological community, business and industry, and farmers. These groups were identified at the Rio Summit in 1992 twenty years ago and further defined in Agenda 21 as a means to improve public participation. Today, civil society is an integral part of the decision shaping process, and the groups meet in conjunction with intergovernmental meetings to discuss ways and strategies to best influence decision makers.

Public involvement in shaping decisions and outcomes is important for two major reasons. Firstly, governments need to act on behalf of the people and should be reminded of this duty. Secondly, the political acceptability of any major decision depends very much on its significance to the general public. Decisions on the Rio+20 themes should therefore be relevant for the people, because any high level political decision will be useless without citizen participation.
However, given the difficult economic times, the priorities and attention may lie elsewhere, and quick-fix solutions to the unstable economy may take priority over more robust and fundamental changes. Here the public can play a decisive role in reminding governments of the importance to commit to ambitious and transformative ways forward.

Messages about the importance of achieving a strong outcome of Rio+20 can be conveyed not only through research findings, but also through letters to newspaper editors, as well as the internet. Citizens can get involved and spread the word through blog-posts, social networks and new media and let governments know what they should do. This may be the only thing that can decide whether the Rio+20 event can introduce the needed change, or whether it will be just another conference.

*** The contents of this commentary are the opinions of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of IGES.

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