Human Impacts Institute on the Road to Rio+20: The Importance of Civil Society Participation

Join the Human Impacts Institute for our weekly blog series on our journey to Rio+20 in June of 2012. We will explore the role of U.S. communities in the Rio+20 process, and investigate tools for engagement and issues surrounding sustainable development domestically and abroad. Check out our MobilizeUS! coalition for more ways to engage in Rio+20 and to see what our partners are up to for healthy communities and a healthy environment in the US.

The Importance of Civil Society Participation in Rio+20

Community is at the heart of sustainable development. This was recognized twenty years ago at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero, where world leaders agreed on voluntary implementation of the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. These documents established the foundations for public involvement in global environmental governance, providing guiding principles and a blueprint for application at all levels of society.In June 2012, the Rio+20 Conference will follow up on what progress has been made towards translating these documents into action.

The level of civil society participation in the Rio+20 process is a historical first. The United Nations encouraged people and organizations to contribute to the outcome document to be finalized at Rio+20, and the majority of the 686 submissions made were in fact from public groups. These submissions were synthesized into the zero draft, which civil society has been actively amending and will continue to negotiate at the preparatory meetings in these months leading up to June. Meanwhile, people are constantly organizing parallel events for networking and capacity building. There will be an estimated 50,000 people participating in events throughout the city of Rio de Janiero in June.

Organizations with accreditation to take part in the official process are divided into nine ‘Major Groups.’ Each represents a perspective which may have traditionally been systematically disenfranchised, but is nevertheless indispensable to sustainable development. The Major Groups, as originally outlined in Agenda 21, are:

  • Children & Youth

  • Indigenous Peoples

  • Women

  • Farmers

  • Workers & Trade Unions

  • Business & Industry

  • Scientific & Technological Community

  • Non-Governmental Organizations

  • Local Authorities

Each of these categories offers a unique perspective, combined with a range of local knowledge and experience, which a governmental representative alone cannot provide. Many still see opportunity, however, to improve the inclusiveness and effectiveness of the process. Rio+20 intends to deal with this, as one of its themes is to assess the institutional framework for sustainable development. This means the political structure will be evaluated and readjusted to more appropriately deal with increasingly complex global issues.

Decades later, civil society is now better equipped to play its vital role in the implementation of sustainable development. Thanks to technology like social media, NGOs and other community groups have been bridging the gap between the state and the individual, in more ways than just influencing politicians on behalf of the public. Organizations are proving themselves to be political actors in their own right, and by increasing public awareness and providing education, they are also empowering individuals to become politically active and learn through communication.

Rio+20 seeks to find sustainable solutions to global issues by understanding the interconnection between varying experiences of local communities. Coordinating this diverse range of personal perspectives throughout the globe is a challenge. But there is strength in diversity, and even the solutions will not be one-size-fits-all.At the end of the day, sustainability calls for a collective shift of individual action. Success of Rio+20 depends on the participation of every individual within civil society, whether during the preparatory process or for the next two decades and beyond.

The ways you can get involved are endless!To start, explore the MobilizeUS! Resources, tell the UN your vision for the Future We Want, or check out this youth participation guide from Rio+twenties. Stay informed with Twitter hashtags #RioPlus20 and #FutureWeWant.

By Melanie Sluyter, 2012 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern

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