2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit, held in Rio, which, at least to environmental lawyers, is known for gifting us with the Rio Declaration (27 soft-law principles setting out the basic standards of international environmental law), Agenda 21 (a road map aiming at achieving sustainable development), and the Forest Principles (a non-binding good practice document on forest management). 20 years down the line, 120 heads of state find themselves in Rio once again for the follow-up summit titled the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), or Rio+20. The summit will run from June 20-22 (in 2002, a summit was held in Johannesburg, South Africa).
As is usual practice, a self- perpetuating community of hundreds of international lawyers, environmental organisations, campaigners and grassroots organisations will descend on Rio in what is varyingly described as ‘an action-packed programme’ and a ‘crucial opportunity for leaders to put the global economy on a more sustainable footing’ of parallel workshops and discussion forums. The central themes of the summit are the Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and the institutional framework for sustainable development. To this end, a draft agreement is currently making the rounds although it would seem that agreement is still far off. Other central issues are likely to include: the setting of ‘sustainable development goals’, if agreement can be reached; attempts to facilitate institutional change to the UN’s environmental setup; the launching of a natural capital declaration for the financial sector; possible changes to the UN Commission for Sustainable Development; and possibly, work on an international chemical treaty aimed at the phase-out of hazardous substances.
With so many issues on the agenda it seems likely that some participants will end up disappointed. For example, other more ambitious initiatives to be discussed in one form or the other at the summit include the possibility of the creation of an international environment court and the adoption of a declaration on the ‘crime of ecocide’. In light of the current unwillingness found among states in relation to agreeing to multilateral climate change targets, one might be better off by keeping expectations low or, at least, hope for the best but prepare for the worse.
More information about the summit can be found on the UN’s official website here.