United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

The clock is ticking

Companies, investors and activists cannot change our habits by themselves. There is no way to evaluate the overall picture or to drive the common proposals. It takes political will for that

Sustainable development, an idea I helped launch on the global stage in Rio de Janeiro twenty years ago, is now central to the way that millions of people think. Its objectives enjoy very broad support in civil society around the world — and in many governments. Private companies and public-private partnerships are often playing a pioneering role in translating its ideals into practical solutions that help improve the quality of life for all.

In addition, there is a growing recognition of the key role of women — and that there is simply no hope of embracing a sustainable path without empowering them. Sustainable and clean energy sources, such as Brazil’s sugar cane ethanol programme, are moving up the agenda. Notwithstanding setbacks, we are also seeing a spread of democratic government around the world — and every election that takes place is an opportunity to put sustainable development more firmly at the centre of government — and, therefore, across every aspect of public policy.

In many ways, this shows sustainable development becoming a reality. It tells you people possess a heightened sense of shared responsibility — that they know they will benefit themselves and, in turn, help improve the lives of many. But they also know that they cannot stand silent; they need to take the future into their own hands. They understand the approach’s unique value and the opportunity it presents — not as a luxury, but as a necessity. In short, I am heartened to see the concept of sustainable development stands the test of time.

Moreover, we are beginning to understand its daily applications in increasing detail. There are universities and research centres across the world where young people are studying minute aspects of sustainable development. This focus would be unthinkable in the past. There has been a great increase in education, in knowledge, in the scientific gathering of evidence, both locally and globally — all in the interest of that idea we unveiled two decades ago. But with our improved understanding, we also now know just how huge the challenge is. And we know the dramatic human, environmental and social cost of failing to meet it.

Make no mistake. The clock is ticking. Seven billion people now co-exist on our fragile planet, many of whom are dangerously short of food, water and basic economic and physical security. That number will continue to rise to 10 billion by 2050 on the United Nations’ forecasts. Ecosystem degradation is closely related to endemic poverty: unfortunately for millions of people, the daily struggle for food, fuel and livelihood is directly harming the natural systems they rely on and jeopardizing their long-term security. Brazilians living on the margins of society know these challenges all too well, whether in the Amazon or the Sertão.

Climate change is a problem that threatens to exacerbate all these other challenges: it will make people everywhere — but especially the world’s poor — more vulnerable to food and water shortages, to disease pandemics, and to extreme weather events. This will further damage vital ecosystems that are already severely weakened by pollution and human exploitation. I listed some reasons for optimism earlier — but business, investors, activists cannot alone make us change our ways. They cannot survey the big picture — or steer our common purpose.

We need political will for that, we need governments to direct progress in the right direction, and we need those governments to work better together within global institutions, especially the United Nations. Governance of all the inter-related components of sustainable development needs more empowered institutions than those that exist at present. Ultimately, though, it is down to all of us, as individuals, to keep this political will in motion. And as we set out on this path, we must always be mindful of the pitfalls: “green-washing”, climate change-deniers linked to powerful lobbies and myriad other forces that don’t want change.

Governments must see through the smokescreen — and that is why the world needs to take new steps to agree on the effective implementation of sustainable development policies. This is a challenge for Rio+20, but the opportunity is there, with the “green economy” and institutional frameworks being high on the agenda. The answer is up to the leaders participating in Rio+20, provided that they take bold steps towards establishing Sustainable Development Goals, following on from the Millennium Development Goals, leading to outcomes that we, and future generations, can come to be proud of.

Fonte: Veja 16/06/2012

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Sobre Fábio Duarte

@FabioDuarte_BH
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