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Finding Optimism After Rio+20

Although more than 50,000 participants have left Rio de Janeiro, the buzz surrounding Rio+20 remains. The conference, which marked the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, concluded on June 22, with responses already hitting the internet before the jets left the tarmac.

20 years ago in Rio delegates adopted Agenda 21 and this year hopes were that through a combination of high-level proceedings and hundreds of smaller side events inspiration would be ignited and commitment to action would follow. Unfortunately, some are disappointed with the outcome of Rio+20, particularly from formal meetings. However, many are finding perspective in writing about the conference and are encouraging bloggers and reporters not to jump to conclusions. In fact, one particularly poignant point of reflection is how Rio’s predecessor in 1992 was initially met with criticism but is now lauded for its achievements in bringing the world together to have an important conversation.

Bob Skinner of the UN Foundation’s New York office urges that we should continue to see this as a step forward, saying that nations did indeed come together to create a document and that in itself is a starting point which can begin to give direction to move forward. Fiona Macleod of South Africa’s Mail & Guardian wrote, “The Rio+20 conference may not have produced an Earth-saving global deal but it succeeded in keeping global development at the top of the agenda of the world’s leaders.”

Furthermore,  Macleod opines that Rio+20 was not expected to generate the same landmark decisions we saw in 1992 but rather that the focus this year was on bringing together participants from every corner of the globe and from various sectors to engage in dialogue about the environment’s most pressing issues. This was certainly achieved: decision-makers from every sector (as well as global citizens who were more active than ever on social media platforms!) all came together in an impressive, unprecedented way.

A breakdown of Rio’s “The Future We Want” document.

In addition to high-level meetings and roundtables, 500+ side events at Rio+20 offered a promise of real progress. Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated in an opinion piece for CNN that a “lack of political leadership was countered by the incredible vitality, determination, and commitment of civil society.” Outside of the scope of governing bodies, corporations, NGOs, and non-profits, identified action-steps to take in order to address environmental crises. Microsoft, for example, proposed an internal carbon fee on its operations in more than 100 countries; they hope to achieve carbon neutrality by the end of 2013.

Seeing actors from all sectors, public, private, not-for-profit, and civil society, work together and represent the next generation of environmental leaders is a positive note of the conference. It shows that key players acknowledge the importance of the multilateral, multinational cooperation that needs to take place in order to catalyze real change. Mary Robinson writes, “the legacy of Rio+20 will not just be the text of the Declaration.  Hopefully it will be the mobilization of people to build the future they desire.”

This brings us back to our original question and the theme of Rio+20, “The Future We Want”. In light of dissatisfaction from many concerning the Earth Summit, now is the time to voice our opinions and act locally to show our commitment as global citizens! We have been asked about the future we want and it is our duty to answer.

So, what can you do?!

Take social media by storm, express your opinions online or in your local newspaper, write to editors or government officials! Spread the good word – check out The Guardian’s article on 5 Reasons to Be Cheery About Rio+20 and pass it on!  And make some easy changes to your lifestyle that can benefit our environment. These are just a few suggestions that can make a big impact.

-Jessica P

Rio+20 images were used from The Interdependent’s photo diary.