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All – world leaders, national delegations, journalists and civil society – have now left beautiful Rio and the Rio+20 summit.

What have we learned? What to do next?

Although, as many others, I initially expected a document giving clear indication about green job creation and deadlines for development goals; this summit still gives me hope.

Unlike the Rio summit in ’92 where a clear ‘transaction’ was in place, rich countries giving money to poor countries to clean up; now, nothing is clear. And yet, maybe it has just become crystal clear.

The divide is no longer as sharp, developing economies are part of the G20 calling the shots, there is no need for a global deal.

The players are many more, so are the interests. Power is not in the hands of few but shifting, moving, balancing between those many. Developing economies/BRICs will change their development models to what and how it suits them best (they understand the need for it and is in their best interest to do so).

The shift in power can be seen in simple yet important actions (French/German ARTE reportage – a 30 minute illuminating clip). Europe, which must import 60% of its fish, is buying the right to throw its nets in Mauritanian waters (Western Africa). While Europe has a certain quota and pays a certain amount of money for 1 year, China has just struck a better deal. It pays the same amount for 10 years and no quota. The big difference for Mauritanians is that the Chinese are also investing in their country. They are putting in money for infrastructure, providing jobs and as one of the fisherman says “I see a building, something that will be useful for us, even the fish that will be here, I am sure we will find at the market … for certain a Mauritanian driver will drive a car for the Chinese, that is very important” (currently Mauritanians only find second quality fish on their market).

The documentary clearly shows the diminishing influence of Europe and the needed and appreciated actions of a future world power. (No comment will be made about the sustainability of these actions, although it is important to mention the increasing concern about this resource and its ability to renew itself. Greenpeace has on different occasions tried to bring the issue to international attention.)

Another change – the role and type of involvement of business at UN meetings. While it can be argued that 20 years ago, most businesses were present because of concerns linked to ‘negative’ impact on their business; nowadays (as I had already stated in my dissertation and widely known) many companies see environmental sustainability as a means to productivity.

Most businesses (FTSE 100) include social and environmental vows in their mission statement and implement triple bottom line reporting (environmental and social results measured and reported along with financial results).

Business IS actually leading this transformation and it is government that is responding positively to these changes. The UK Government is encouraging the rise of CSR – “an increasing number of companies of all sizes are finding that there are real business benefits from being socially responsible…” The results of my research showed that companies understand the value of sustainability and they communicate, encourage others and apply basic sustainable principles (in Scotland, tourism industry case study).

Reading one of Futerra Sustainability Communications’ posts (one of my favourite sustainability communications agency, used also previously in my work), I find Solitare’s comments – fundamental – to achieving a sustainable future:

“Without mass public mobilisation, any Sustainable Development Goals are doomed to stagnation. From sustainable consumption to water efficiency, public enthusiasm is the gatekeeper to Rio+20’s ambitions.

Futerra recommends that public engagement and mobilisation for sustainability is explicitly included in the final Rio+20 communiqué.”


Although public engagement, as such, is not included in the Rio+20 documents, I have found an interesting point related to civil society and technology.

Point 44: “acknowledge the role of civil society and the importance of enabling all members of civil society to be actively engaged in sustainable development… recognize that improved participation of civil society… strengthening access to information, building civil society participation… recognize that information and communication technology (ICT) is facilitating flow of information between government and the public. In this regard, it is essential to work toward improved access to ICT…»

Of course, this is not enough. But it is another step in the right direction. Just as the following campaign ‘Volunteer action counts for sustainable development’ (UNV):


I haven’t set out to defend the UN, by no means… What I am trying to say is that it cannot be denied that things are changing and either thanks to or by being angry at the lack of result from Rio+20; many others WILL be DOING the same or much more.

See here the side events at Rio+20, many NGOs, businesses, institutions etc http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/meetings_sidevents.html).

It is actually ONLY by involving/engaging many individuals, ALL together, doing THEIR/OUR bit, that sustainable development can truly be achieved.

It is time to STOP expecting leadership – as resolutions, actions, sanctions, binding documents – from the UN.

As one of the protesters at Rio+20 puts it “but what has come out of Rio this June is a mobilized Civil Society that will not wait for ‘leaders to lead’: NGOs that have initiated various action oriented projects, youth groups that are taking action and mobilizing fellow youth, a business community that has pledged commitments, local government bodies that have committed to far more than their central governments, an academia that is committed to their research and media that will raise awareness: a ‘civil society that leads itself’; and that is priceless.”


The success of Rio+20 lies in the fact that we see clearly now – while state leaders ‘urge’, ‘acknowledge’, ‘reaffirm’, ‘recognize’ what we already know, WE WILL ACT.

Civil society, smart business, local government, ALL together – towards a better future for our children and generations to come.

If you do not have the necessary tools, here is a suggestion – Report by Futerra and UNEP – on how to communicate, encourage, and support sustainability.