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May-June 2012

Vol. 37, No. 3

 

Rio+20: The future we want

At the UN headquarters in New York, representatives of governments are currently in session tirelessly engaged in preparations for the June Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro, commonly referred to as Rio+20. The principle work of these days is to move toward finalization of a proposed conference outcome document that will embrace the future of all of humanity within the setting of the entire community of life on Earth. The governments are narrowing down the choices for wording of the document, searching for clear and unambiguous language that best describes the current global aspirations for the future.

Read more about Rio+20 in the March-April 2012 NewsNotes

Rio+20

Functionally, sustainable development is built on three fields of endeavor and concern: economic development, social development and environmental development. Since the first sustainable development conference in 1992, also in Rio de Janeiro, it has become very clear that integrating these three areas of development is immensely difficult. Often, the environment, on which all life depends, is degraded in an effort to achieve short term economic benefits. This, in turn, too often fails to take into account the social rights of indigenous people and local communities, resulting in over exploitation of natural resources and people.

In the light of past experience, governments must work to find the words to inspire actions and compliance. The words chosen to encompass this task must be transparent and ambitious.

Following is proposed text for the document's preamble that attempts to set a tone that meets the criteria of transparency and ambition.

We, the heads of State and Government and other representatives, having met at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20-22 June 2012, and having consulted with civil society, resolve to renew our commitment to sustainable development, and to work together for a prosperous, secure, equitable, inclusive and sustainable future for our planet and its present and future generations.

Challenges: Since most people are aware of how difficult it has been to achieve agreement regarding climate change on a global scale under UN leadership, there is a strong element of skepticism regarding the possibility of achieving a universal agreement at Rio, especially a universal agreement that affects the economy and lays down principles for achieving economic fairness. It is, therefore, very important to bear in mind that the Rio+20 conference is not just about the work of governments – it is about all of civil society, all the stakeholders on the planet, and the future they want to create through their own actions as well as the actions of governments. The failure to achieve agreement on an outcome document would not mean that the Conference has failed unless the Conference also fails to ignite renewed energy directed toward future planetary well-being. This is everyone's responsibility and there are numerous ways of meeting the responsibility. Following are two courses of action open to everyone:

Advocacy: Do all that you can by way of advocacy to influence governments, especially the U.S., to respond cooperatively to the negotiators of other nations regarding their needs and the projected needs of future generations. Future people will need a flourishing planet along with a legacy of social protection and human rights guarantees.

Action: Next, no one can underestimate the impact of private and group actions aimed at a sustainable future.

For example, the Maryknoll Sisters have undertaken a project for the well-being of the Earth community, now and in the future: Some years ago, the Sisters began an exploration regarding the possibility of placing over 40 acres of their forested property in Westchester County, NY under a Conservation Easement with the Westchester Land Trust, with the intention of preserving the property, with its forest and wetlands, in perpetuity. As the Maryknoll Sisters approached their centennial year (2012), the desire to leave such a land legacy for the future became a strong motivating force for doing all the work necessary to meet the requirements of creating a Conservation Easement. When the Rio+20 Conference was announced, efforts were redoubled, so that all would be completed in time to publically announce and celebrate its establishment in time for the opening of the Conference in June.

Since all the required work was actually completed in April, the legal document between the Maryknoll Sisters and the Westchester Land Trust was signed on Earth Day, with much joy and loud clapping on the part of the Sisters. At the brief signing ceremony, Candace Schafer, executive director of the Westchester Land Trust, read the following words from the writings of Aldo Leopold, a forester who is honored as the Father of Conservation.

That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.

The words of Aldo Leopold ought to be reflected upon deeply as the Rio+20 Conference approaches in order to know how to use the land in an economic sense that honors the hard earned social achievements of humanity, while never forgetting that future generations will require adequate, if not generous, resources on which to build their lives.

Faith in action:

Send pre-printed postcards to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, urging the U.S. to play a positive role in creating new measurements of progress at Rio+20. Order postcards from the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns to distribute to your communities; each card requires a 32 cent stamp if mailed in the United States. §

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