Rio+20: Sustainable development needs measurable objectives
Currently, the humankind is consuming natural resources as if there were one and a half Earths. The Rio+20 Summit in Rio de Janeiro next week aims at putting a stop to this disastrous development. “We have a few decades, at the most, to turn the current trend into ecologically, socially and economically sustainable development,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Tuomioja estimated at the Rio+20 news briefing.
The time is running low. Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja estimates that the humankind has a few decades, at the most, to turn the current trend into ecologically, socially and economically sustainable development.
“None of these three can be achieved without the other two,” Tuomioja pointed out in a news briefing for Rio+20 on Tuesday morning, “and none of us can be sure whether it is actually too late to achieve the target.”
Nevertheless, it is clear that all-inclusive objectives are now beyond our reach, Tuomioja said and made reference to eroding biodiversity, i.e. extinction of animal and plant species, and climate change, which can no longer be kept within the average of two degrees of warming.
The Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is a follow-up to the environmental and development conference organized in 1992. Along with Minister Tuomioja, Minister for International Development Heidi Hautala and Minister of the Environment Ville Niinistö attended the news briefing held at the Foreign Ministry press lounge.
MDGs should be supported with SDGs
In 2000, the UN adopted the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, targeting to achieve eight concrete development goals by 2015.
Foreign Minister Tuomioja hopes that the Rio Summit could initiate a set of Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, comparable to the MDGs.
“My initial opinion about the MDGs was perhaps somewhat cynical, because they are not legally binding,” Tuomioja admitted but also reminded that the MDGs have indisputably become common international targets that are aspired to and compared.
“Sustainable development needs equally powerful and concrete targets.”
The Rio+20 Summit is a week away, but the over 80-page outcome document is still being drafted, which indicates how serious and difficult the theme is. Tuomioja believes the outcome document “will still have gaps in the central issues when the conference begins”.
According to Foreign Minister, the outcome document can be expected to be inclusive.
“If you ask whether this or that is discussed [in the outcome document], my answer will probably be: most certainly.”
Development indicators and water as spearhead themes
Finland has two main themes for the Rio+20: sustainable development indicators and water.
While it is important to bring together the ecological, social and economical dimensions of sustainable development, we also need uniform indicators for measuring the development, Minister Hautala said.
The established method for measuring well-being in societies with Gross Domestic Product has been widely called into question, and the defect is also recognised in the Rio+20 outcome document, which was one of Finland's objectives. Moreover, the draft document includes commitment to natural resource accounting and measuring of social well-being.
“An interesting indicator is the Gross National Happiness index developed in Bhutan. Even though it may sound funny, it actually includes 79 indicators across the different spheres of life.”
Finland's other spearhead objective, water, is a good example of how a single natural resource is connected with everything: survival of an individual, social peace within states and trust between neighbouring countries in regions with limited water resources.
Minister for the Environment Ville Niinistö shared an estimate that in 20 years, fresh water demand will exceed supply by 40 percent.
With limited water resources, the use of water – recycling and purification – must be made more effective. This includes household water consumption, but especially agricultural and industrial water use, which currently accounts for nearly 80 percent of global water use.
“This is about the very conditions of life,” Niinistö emphasized, ”In other words, will the eroding of the ecosystem have impact on the actual conditions of human life.”
The megapolis will be crowded and congested
The three-day Rio+20 Summit begins on Wednesday a week from now. What can be expected?
“The three days in Rio will be a total chaos,” Tuomioja starts, but then says that he refers to the City of Rio de Janeiro. With more than 50.000 people arriving to the Summit, the megapolis will be crowded and congested. The Finnish delegation will include the Prime Minister, four Ministers and President Tarja Halonen. The size of the delegation is restricted due to limited hotel capacity and reasons related to expenses.
“Hopefully, the Summit will be carried out as planned,” Tuomioja continues.
The Rio+20 outcome document is not meant to be – and couldn't feasibly be – legally binding. The Rio summit and the outcome document as such are not changing anything, Tuomioja emphasized in the news briefing on Tuesday. At its best it can, however, become the political declaration determining the future of the humankind.
The deciding factor is to turn objectives into action.
Photographs: Eero Kuosmanen
- Background document for the Rio+20 news briefing (12 June 2012) (pdf, in Finnish)
- Webcast of the Rio+20 news briefing
Further information in the Foreign Ministry website: the UN Sustainable Development Conference Rio+20 (in Finnish)
Follow the Ministry's Rio+20 news