In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, met in Rio de Janeiro. Some 20 years later, the UN Conference met again in Rio, this time the focus was on Sustainable Development. The conference, aptly named Rio+20, ran for 3 days between 20-22 June and was attended by 188 heads of state and government ministers to endorse a 53-page outcome document entitled The Future We Want. This document forms an international agreement which focuses on the need for all countries to commit themselves to achieving sustainable development.
Scientists have however criticised the document for its lack of detail about how sustainable development will be achieved and the absence of new financial commitments from the developed world. They also said it lacked adequate recognition of the importance of science in achieving sustainable development. On a more positive note, if fulfilled, the agreement could lead to a stronger interface between science and policy significantly boosting sustainable technology in the developing world.
Unlike the Earth Summit in 1992, Rio+20 only intended to provide a broad statement of intent and has no legal status. Its goal was to address ways of implementing the sustainable development agenda that was agreed in 1992 but still remain largely unfulfilled, as well as tackling environmental, social and economic issues that have emerged over the last 20 years.
The Future We Want says the new forum "could" strengthen the science/policy interface "through review of documentation bringing together dispersed information and assessments … in the form of a global sustainable development report". And nations have agreed to initiate a process leading to the creation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in which the scientific community will be "fully involved".
Rio+20's secretary-general, Sha Zukang, had asked governments, development banks, the corporate sector and civil society groups to register voluntary commitments as a way of bypassing the challenges of multilateral agreements. By the end of the conference, the "compendium of commitments" numbered 692 promises, with an estimated $513 billion from the 13 largest commitments. Some of this money will be used to finance the use of more sustainable technologies, including a major commitment by a consortium of development banks to finance sustainable transport.
'Sustainable Energy For All', a project launched by UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, sets targets for 2030 in energy access and efficiency, and in renewable energy. This project received more than $50 billion in commitment from businesses and investors. The UN also announced that more than 50 governments from Africa, Asia and Latin America are developing sustainable energy plans.
Helena Nader, president of the Brazilian Association for the Advancement of Science, said she was disappointed with the final document. "It is weak, not focused, with important gaps. It is a backward step. Science is almost non-existent throughout the document," she said. Nader added that it did not adequately reflect the large amount of work put into producing it.