Rio+20 was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future we want for our children and future inhabitants of our planet. Despite the high expectations the world had for Rio+20, the final declaration here failed to address the central dilemma of protecting the environment while encouraging human development and growth. The Rio+20 declaration lacks ambition, commitment and respect for our future generations. It is, instead, an attack on human rights and inter-generational justice.
While the overall outcome of Rio+20 was a failure, there were some bright spots. For example, health was recognized as an integral issue for sustainable development. The Rio+20 declaration states that health is “a precondition for, an outcome of, and indicator of all three dimensions of sustainable development.” The declaration also recognizes that “the global burden and threat of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) constitutes one of the major challenges for sustainable development in the twenty-first century” and recommends governments commit to strengthening health systems to provide equitable, universal coverage and promote affordable access to prevention, treatment, care and support related to NCDs.
The advancement of health at Rio was the result of advocacy by the World Health Organizations, health and human rights NGOs such as the Public Health Institute, and several national delegations such as Brazil . While health issues were integrated in the declaration, the lack of progress on other critical sustainable development issues from the Rio+20 process, as well as the lack of vision and the absence of significant commitments, is of great concern. There is some hope that these shortcomings could be overcome during the drafting of global Sustainable Development Goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, although the process over the next several years for doing so is unclear.
Many civil society groups have expressed disappointment with the process and have refused to endorse the Rio+20 declaration. For example, the human rights cluster jointly stated “The future that we want has commitment and action to reverse the environmental and economic crisis, not postpone it.” The challenge now is to move our governments and institutions toward demanding new thinking. We must also motivate the grassroots and consider creating a new mechanism to represent the interest of future generations in sustainability and climate negotiations.