Officials with the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development have identified seven issues critical to ensuring sustainability – jobs, energy, cities, food, water, oceans and disaster response.
The historic Rio+20 Conference that will take place June 20 – 22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will bring together thousands of government, business, academic and NGO leaders to renew global commitments to sustainable development, assess the progress made to date and address new and emerging issues.
While preparing for the Rio+20 conference, officials at the United Nations (UN) identified seven critical issues that are in need of priority attention. These issues are:
- Jobs – With 2 billion more people expected on the Earth by 2050 and skyrocketing demands for food and energy, green job creation will likely play an important role in helping to solve some of the most pressing environmental challenges. In a preliminary assessment, the UN notes that progress on green job growth has been slow and very hard to gauge. Perhaps Rio+20 may bring a call for more measurable outcomes on green job growth?
- Energy – By 2050, energy demands are expected to increase by 50 to 100% according to the UN. An issue brief prepared by the UN in advance of Rio+20 notes that transportation may be a key sector for new sustainable development goals. Some viable options that could help make transportation more sustainable include efforts to make engines and fuels less carbon intensive, the creation of electric vehicle charging stations, the expansion of public transport and overall improvements in transportation efficiency.
- Cities – On the eve of the Rio+20 conference, UN officials note that much progress has been made in regards to the creation of sustainable cities. Indeed, a number of cities are now cleaner and greener places than they have ever been before. Recycling programs are expanding. Air quality is improving. However, serious challenges remain in many urban centers such as the need for further improvements in sanitation. Additionally, cities are now facing new and emerging challenges in regards to reducing risks from disasters and adapting to climate change.
- Food – In a preliminary assessment, the UN notes that little comprehensive progress has been made on food security and sustainable agricultural issues. In advance of Rio+20, several organizations have put forth ideas for the development of goals that will help move us towards a more sustainable food system. Some of these ideas include the use of best management practices to reduce erosion and nitrogen runoff from farms, increasing the use of integrated pest management, increasing the efficiency of irrigation technologies, creating natural refuges in agricultural rich landscapes to protect pollinators, pest control services and soil fertility and reducing farm to fork waste. At Rio+20, leaders will likely grapple with the articulation of clearer sustainable development goals pertaining to food production and consumption.
- Water – For years, countries have been making slow but steady progress to reduce the number of people who lack access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. While a strong focus on access to safe drinking water will likely continue at Rio+20, discussions of sustainable water use may broaden to include improvements in water use efficiency, improvements in water quality, the protection of aquatic ecosystems and management issues such as capacity building, technology transfers and stakeholder engagement. Emerging water scarcity concerns will also likely need to be dealt with in the upcoming decades.
- Oceans – The oceans are widely recognized as being important to sustainable development. Problems that affect the oceans such as overfishing, pollution and invasive species have received a great deal of attention at past conferences on sustainable development. At Rio+20, discussions will likely emphasize the need to speed up the implementation of previous commitments to ocean conservation and to improve cooperation among countries. Emerging ocean issues that may also be addressed include ocean acidification, eutrophication, ocean noise and geoengineering technologies.
- Disasters – Hurricanes, droughts, heat waves and other natural disasters can have devastating impacts on countries. Disaster risk management is an area that is increasingly being recognized as deserving greater attention on the global sustainable development agenda. Efforts may be taken at Rio+20 to allow better integration of disaster risk reduction measures in sustainable development polices and planning.
Bottom line: Officials preparing for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that will take place June 20 – 22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil have identified seven issues critical to ensuring sustainable development. These issues include jobs, energy, cities, food, water, oceans and disaster readiness.
Deanna Conners is an Environmental Scientist who holds a Ph.D. in Toxicology and an M.S. in Environmental Studies. Her interest in toxicology stems from having grown up near the Love Canal Superfund Site in New York. Her current work is to provide high-quality scientific information to the public and decision-makers and to help build cross-disciplinary partnerships that help solve environmental problems. She writes about Earth science and nature conservation for EarthSky.