The concept of sustainable development has been in use for about 40 years. It was a response to growing concern that economic development was being promoted at the expense of the environment. Sustainable development was a key theme at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, and it 1987 the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, defined it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The objective of sustainable development is to create an economic system that takes into account both the wellbeing of people and the balance of the ecosystem.
Despite many international conferences, various legally binding agreements between States, and a monitoring system that is responsible for the implementation of Sustainable Development (UN Commission on Sustainable Development, established in 1992 by the UN General Assembly), indicators demonstrate the failure of the current international system and its inability to deal with the challenges we are facing such as poverty, deterioration of the environment, depletion of natural resources, extinction of species, pollution, human rights violations, land grabbing and climate change.
The UN General Assembly decided in 2009 to organise a conference on sustainable development in 2012 for Heads of State, UN agencies and stakeholders. The objectives of the conference are to assess progress to date and remaining gaps in implementation of the outcomes of major summits, to address new and emerging challenges, and to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development. The focus of the Conference will include two themes: green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development.
The current worldwide situation indicates the weakness of efforts to promote Sustainable Development. Historically, development has occurred in the context of capitalism, a system characterized by the free market, competitiveness, personal interest, concentration of capital, monopolies and the rise of transnational corporations. It has proven to be predatory in regard to the environment, and has led to violation of human rights, exclusion of countries and destruction of peoples’ cultures. At the dawn of the 21st century we are experiencing multiples crises that endanger our future. Critical events like the 2005 food crisis and the 2008 financial crisis are alarming warnings. Unless we change our unsustainable ways of living, our unfair trade system, and our greedy behaviour, the world situation will continue to generate increasing impoverishment, conflict and chaos, and to promote more ecological degradation and natural resource depletion.
In the spirit of the Earth Chapter “we urgently need a shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community”. Eradication of poverty must be part of such a vision. No form of development can claim to be sustainable if it does nothing to reduce significantly the causes and the effects of poverty. The Rio+20 Conference offers an opportunity to advocate strongly for an ethical foundation for the emerging world community taking into account the value of harmony between human beings and nature, and to strengthen the institutional framework for Sustainable Development. (The Earth Charter, Preamble)