UN launches initial draft of Rio+20 declaration

Many scientists agree that humans are stretching 'planetary boundaries' Copyright: Flickr/Nasa Earth Observatory

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[LONDON] The UN has published the much-heralded first draft of an international agreement about safeguarding Earth's resources. Countries hope to reach a final deal at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), which will take place in Brazil later this year (20–22 June).

The 'zero draft' of the Rio+20 declaration — based on more than 600 official submissions to the process made from individual countries, designated 'major groups', and civil society groups and non-governmental organisations — calls for support for scientific research and technology transfer in developing countries; the strengthening of global environmental governance; and the creation of sustainable development goals, which would complement and eventually replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), by 2015.

"New scientific evidence points to the gravity of the threats we face," the document says. "New and emerging challenges include the further intensification of earlier problems, calling for more urgent responses." And there are special challenges for least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, Small Island Developing States, middle-income countries and African countries.

The document states a renewed political commitment to the principles and action plans agreed at the 1992 summit, and outlines a framework for transition to a green economy.

The first three years after the agreement is forged (2012–2015) would see the establishment of indicators to evaluate the implementation of technology transfer and sharing of know-how, as well as capacity building. The green economy roadmap would be implemented and assessed between 2012 and 2030, and in 2030 there would be a comprehensive assessment of progress.

Sustainable development goals would be used to measure progress, and would cover consumption and production patterns; oceans; food security and sustainable agriculture; sustainable energy for all; water access and efficiency; sustainable cities; green jobs, "decent" work and social inclusion; and disaster risk reduction and resilience.

These goals would be established in 2015 and become part of the UN's post-2015 development agenda.

The document says there is a need to strengthen international environmental governance, and provides two alternatives. One would be to strengthen the capacity of the UN Environment Programme by opening membership to all nations and significantly boosting its finances. The other one is to set up a specialist UNEP-like agency with a revised and strengthened mandate.

Scientists welcomed the prominence of references to science in the document, which called for the strengthening of both science and technology relevant to sustainable development, and of countries' capacities to make full use of these to achieve the MDGs, but highlighted some key omissions.

The document also recognises the limitations of gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of well-being.

"We agree to further develop and strengthen indicators complementing GDP," it says.

Initial discussions on the draft document will start in New York later this month (25–27 January). The final document, expected to be signed at the end of the Rio+20 meeting in June, will not be legally binding.

Link to full zero draft [119kB]

This article is part of our coverage on Science at Rio+20