By Amanda Rude
As several CIEL attorneys and alumni head south to participate in the much-anticipated Rio+20 Conference, I wanted to share some of my insights as the “greenest” (i.e. youngest) member of the CIEL delegation…
The sustainable development framework was established 20 years ago at the landmark Rio Conference, known as the “Earth Summit.” Many people believe that the Earth Summit marked a new era in global environmental protection, and refer to the political statement – the Rio Declaration – as the constitution of international environmental law. Many important principles were formally recognized in the Rio Declaration including the precautionary principle, the do no harm principle (obligation to prevent transboundary harm), and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, among others. At the Earth Summit, the North and South managed to break down the political barriers and reach compromises on sustainable development. The Rio Declaration signified an important first step for the international community in its efforts to protect human populations and ecosystems in the name of sustainable development.
In many ways, the historical Earth Summit and its outcomes – aspirational, though largely unrealized – set the stage for the upcoming Rio+20 conference, one that aims to reaffirm and strengthen the international community’s commitments to sustainable development. This conference promises to be one of the largest environmental conferences with estimates ranging from 30,000-50,000 in attendance. Civil society – public interest groups, indigenous peoples, farmers, businesses, youth, and local government – will be well represented in Rio. Collectively, they are expressing an overwhelming desire for an ambitious agreement as well as concrete and achievable goals, and the necessary means to hold states accountable to these goals. However, despite the majority of people demanding a healthy environment, politics appear to stand in the way.
There are many voices calling for change. At a Rio+20 rally I attended earlier this week in Washington, D.C., faith-based, environmental, and human rights groups stood up to say that nature should not be privatized; rather, it should be protected as a common good. They worry the focus on a “green economy” within the context of sustainable development will only result in the privatization of our valuable natural resources. Recently adopted documents, such as the Nairobi Declaration, share these concerns, and highlight the significance of human rights in the environmental and sustainable development framework.
CIEL’s priorities at Rio+20 also focus on the importance of integrating human rights in global environmental governance. We will call on the international community to reinforce the right to a healthy environment in order to preserve the integrity of the planet for the benefit of present and future generations. We will remind the international community that it cannot forget its commitments to human rights when making these decisions. (read more about CIEL’s work and priorities at Rio +20 here: ).
On a personal note, I share some of the concerns that not much will be achieved in Rio+20. It is an arduous task to create a global framework that integrates environmental, social, and economic policy in an equitable way. However, I remain hopeful. Even though the heads of state may not create the ideal agreement, Rio stands to be a fabulous opportunity for caring individuals around the world to collaborate on a sustainable and more just future for people and the planet. I can’t wait to be surrounded by that electric energy! I look forward to sharing more with you about the conference on the ground.