Sustainable Development for the Next Twenty Years United States Views on Rio+20

Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs

New York City

November 1, 2011

Submission to the United Nations on November 1, 2011

Our Vision

The United States welcomes the opportunity to join the global community and engage representatives from across society to chart a course for the future of sustainable development. At the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) we aspire to explore ways to better integrate the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, building on the successes of the 1992 Earth Summit and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. Since we last convened, world population has risen to 7 billion and is expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050, with many still living on less than $2.00 a day. Rio+20 must prioritize resource productivity and efficiency as ways to promote sustainable development. At the same time, global institutions have shifted to recognize the rise, roles, and responsibilities of major emerging economies. Within this new landscape, we recognize that sustainable development is not a luxury; it is a necessity for countries at all stages of development.

The Obama Administration has set a strong foundation and trajectory for enhancing sustainability and building a green economy at home and abroad. Our Global Development Policy recognizes that sustainable development offers a promise of long-term, inclusive, and enduring growth that builds on accountability, effectiveness, efficiency, coordination, and innovation. Rio+20 should seek to make governments around the world more transparent and accessible, to better engage citizens, and to build new networks across all sectors of our societies. The role of women and youth is also fundamental to securing a sustainable future.

We recognize that sustainable development offers pathways out of short-term disruptions, such as financial shocks, and long-term challenges, such as climate change. We are also committed to spurring developments in science and innovation through the use of incentive systems; investments in education, the workforce, and basic research; and promoting innovative, open, and competitive markets, supported by strong protection for intellectual property rights and transparent, science-based, regulatory approaches and standards. Respect for international obligations as we chart a future course for sustainable development is also critical.

At Rio+20, the global community should re-energize action on sustainable development through a concise, political statement that focuses on actionable high-level messages. Each conference participant should also come to Rio with their own “compendium of commitments” that describes in detail how the individual groups or coalitions of participants will undertake action to help build a sustainable future. The meeting itself should be a marketplace of ideas, and we look forward to presentations, side events, and the launch of networks and initiatives during the civil society days and the Conference that advance inclusive action on sustainable development.

In this submission, we highlight three key messages that speak to the evolving sustainable development agenda:

· The Built Environment: Clean Energy and Urbanization

· The Natural Environment: Ecosystems Management and Rural Development

· The Institutional Environment: Modernizing Global Cooperation

These key messages guide the U.S. approach to Rio+20, building on the global transformation that has taken place since 1992. For the first time in recorded history the majority of people live in cities and coastal areas; our “natural infrastructure” is being used more intensively and straining our global capacity; and advances in technology are revolutionizing the way we connect, interact, and take cooperative action that is more inclusive of all stakeholders to address sustainable development challenges. Leading up to the Conference, the United States will come forward with our commitments that describe the national, regional, and global actions we propose for collaboration and partnership in each of these areas.

The Built Environment: Clean Energy and Urbanization

Clean Energy, New Infrastructure, and Access for All

Energy is a critical component of development, and it is essential that new supplies of energy are generated and delivered in a commercially viable and environmentally sustainable manner. Modern energy services are critical to creating economic opportunities to allow people to rise out of poverty, advance prospects for education and health services, and address climate change. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that 1.3 billion people do not have access to electricity. Development aid alone is grossly insufficient to meet the need. The challenge, therefore, is for the global community to scale up investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy access by creating a commercial landscape that demonstrates a return on capital and attracts private sector investments to underserved areas and populations. To achieve this, governments must put in place enabling policies and regulatory frameworks, and target public resources carefully, to leverage private capital, reduce the risk and cost of capital, stimulate innovation, and create competitive and viable markets for electricity and energy.

Also important are programs for reducing the energy consumed by buildings, vehicles, equipment, and appliances. We should work to accelerate development and dissemination of clean energy, efficiency, and conservation technologies; and remove market distortions, including phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and barriers to trade in environmentally friendly goods and services; and leverage private finance through public agencies, for example the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs). Through forums such as the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate and the Clean Energy Ministerial governments can work together to catalyze greater global cooperation. We are committed to enhancing existing institutions, mobilizing complementary networks from across the private sector, and sharing best practices with a diverse network of actors.

Urbanization and Sustainable Cities

In the future, the majority of global population growth will live in cities. Cities are major consumers of resources, and also centers for job creation, making them the front line of a green economy. Opportunities abound to modernize service delivery, especially for underserved communities. This includes: deploying green technologies and services; prioritizing green infrastructure and buildings; protecting and restoring green spaces; creating more housing opportunities; reducing emissions, resource use and waste; and making more sustainable urban system and land use decisions. Coordination of place-based policies can enhance transportation choices, improve air and water quality, reduce waste, maintain reliable water and energy supply, advance public health and awareness, enhance disaster preparedness and response, increase climate resilience, use public resources more efficiently, help mobilize private investment, and strengthen local decision-making. Cities offer opportunities for capturing cross-cutting efficiencies, for example across water and energy systems, with joint strategies for resource management and public-private finance. Such sustainable urban development not only improves the health and wellbeing of current residents and businesses, but can also create jobs and attract new business.

As part of our cooperative efforts on the new sustainable development agenda, the United States has developed domestic cross-agency partnerships to integrate environment and infrastructure funding decisions and has also expanded our global cooperation to launch initiatives, for example the recently agreed U.S.-Brazil Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability (JIUS). These kinds of efforts provide concrete examples of the components necessary to build greener economies and smarter cities through public-private partnerships, cross-agency and international collaboration, and improved networks across sectors that can help cities mobilize financial and other support for sustainable urban development activities. We are committed to expanding these partnerships bilaterally and multilaterally, to demonstrate the benefits of a green economic pathway for rapidly urbanizing communities.

Water Systems

Water is both an essential and finite resource, and sustainable development is not possible without water security. The provision of adequate water supply and sanitation services generates substantial benefits for social well-being, the economy, and the environment. In many places throughout the world, the treatment and transport of water is a significant consumer of energy, and water scarcity is becoming a limiting factor in energy production. We need to work to better manage hydrological variability, incentivize sound water resources management through policy and regulatory reform and better access to information, and increase the productivity of water resources by improving both efficiency and reuse.

Sustainable Manufacturing and Environmental Goods and Services

A green economy is also built on sustainable manufacturing, industrial efficiency, open trade and investment policies, and consumer-driven demand for environmental goods and services. Consumers include not just households, but also business-to-business supply chains, retailers stocking and marketing green products, as well as local and national governments, who through public procurement policies represent a major market force in promoting sustainable manufacturing and green products. Governments at the national and sub-national level can achieve these goals through an array of regulatory strategies, economic and fiscal instruments, eco-innovation incentive programs, voluntary partnerships and standards, and various information-driven initiatives. We also see important opportunities to promote greener products and markets using science based life-cycle data systems and tools, and to expand international knowledge hubs to support cleaner production and sustainable green chemistry. Importantly, sustainable manufacturing, recycling, and remanufacturing, for example of used electronics, are important sources of green jobs and we should seek opportunities to ensure that workers benefit from the green economy.

Human Capacity and Green Jobs

The development of human capacity is essential to achieving broad-based economic growth, building strong, sustainable communities, promoting social well-being, and improving the environment. Workers must have the skills and protections necessary to participate in and benefit from the green economy. New sustainable energy and infrastructure developments, sustainable approaches to disaster preparedness and response, energy and resource efficiency, recycling, and agricultural and natural resources conservation are examples of areas that can provide jobs and economic growth while protecting the environment. Because the growth of green industries can be limited by a shortage of trained professionals, collaboration among government, industry, non-profits, and academia is critical to build human capacity to meet local and global demand.

The Natural Environment: Ecosystem Management and Rural Development

Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture

Access to adequate, safe, and nutritious food is a necessary precondition to economic and social development. Nearly 1 billion people suffer from chronic hunger, and more than 3.5 million mothers and children under the age of five die annually as a result of malnutrition. In order to meet the food security needs of a world population of 9 billion expected in 2050, global food production will have to increase by 70 percent to feed the hungry and account for the increase in population. This will require, in part, intensifying production on existing agricultural lands and expansion into grasslands, savanna and forests. Sustainable intensification of agricultural production is required to meet the multiple challenges of growing more food within a constrained natural resource base, and mitigating and adapting to climate change. In order to increase yields with fewer inputs and smaller impacts on the environment, we need both innovative agricultural technologies and improved understanding of agricultural systems, as well as integrated resource management of our terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems. A range of innovations will be needed, including, but not limited to crop improvements, soil conservation, biotechnology, integrated pest management strategies, agro-forestry, and ecologically-based management systems that require investments in research and science. Improving access to information about best practices, enhancing interactions among farmers and experts through education and extension advisory systems, and increasing the use of connection technologies, such as cell phones, can help to meet these challenges. We also support country-owned, multi-stakeholder networks to promote rural development, integrated ecosystem planning, and sustainable agricultural intensification through initiatives, such as the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future, and efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

Oceans, Coasts, and Fisheries

Healthy oceans and coasts and their resources are necessary for global prosperity. Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture practices also play an essential role in ensuring global food security and a green economy. We support reducing excess fishing fleet capacity, including pressing for elimination of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing; maintaining or restoring fish stock harvest to levels that do not exceed maximum sustainable yield; increasing transparency in fisheries regulation, management, and enforcement; implementing and sharing sustainable aquaculture practices; and combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU), and destructive fishing practices.

Ocean acidification and changes in sea level are emerging issues that endanger the survival of individual marine species and entire marine ecosystems, increasing the vulnerability of coastal communities. Due to the global and connected nature of the oceans, the need for international collaboration and transparency is clear. Given the importance of data and assessments in oceans management, we support implementation of an international observing network for ocean acidification; we also support increased international collaboration on observation and research, including through the Process for the Assessment of the Marine Environment, and the Global Ocean Observing System to better understand and predict the changing conditions on the marine environment, biodiversity, and food security. Further, we support integrated, ecosystem-based, and science-based conservation and management, including: the use of spatial planning; addressing land- and ocean-based sources of pollution; and the continued establishment of marine protected areas.

Ecosystem Services and Natural Resource Management

The planet’s natural ecosystems and biodiversity are key assets for economic growth and human well-being. Ecosystem services – such as fresh water, soil production and stability, pollination, coastal protection, and carbon sequestration– provide the “natural infrastructure” essential to sustainable economic growth and poverty alleviation and serve as “safety nets” for many of the world’s most vulnerable people. Our natural ecosystems also provide multiple economic goods worth many billions of dollars, such as food, feed, fuel, timber, fish, and raw material for medicine, agriculture, and industry, as well as the basic subsistence, cooking, and heating of billions of people, and important social and cultural benefits. Two central challenges to ensure sustainable uses are: to develop and implement ecosystem-based management and planning approaches, and for markets and government policies to adequately recognize the values of biodiversity and ecosystems. While there is no one metric used today that goes “beyond GDP,” an important first step towards better characterization of market externalities –such as depletion of natural resources or negative public health outcomes–is for national governments to systematically quantify, monitor, and assess our natural capital. Rio+20 should prioritize the ability of all countries to monitor and assess their own environment and integrate social, economic, and environmental information to inform the development decision making process. Further, we should continue to work together on methodologies to move closer to achieving multi-dimensional measures of wealth.

The Institutional Environment: Modernizing Global Cooperation

Making New Connections: Linking Governments, Communities, and Businesses for Action

The second theme of Rio+20, Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD), speaks to how participants in the Conference and broader networks of stakeholders can achieve the goals of sustainable development. We have new and evolving means to stimulate international action that go beyond traditional models for global cooperation centered on government to government meetings and formal institutions. The rapid uptake and use of social media and connection technologies is making the world a more inclusive place and the power of connectivity can transcend the walls of traditional institutions. These advances can help achieve more rapid action on sustainable development, at lower cost, with more inclusive stakeholder participation ranging from women, youth, and civil society groups to non-government organizations, small businesses, large industries, and private sector finance institutions.

These new technologies can be harnessed by countries at all stages of development to address sustainable development challenges, including in the areas of agriculture, health, environment, and economic growth. Governments should strive to create the enabling environments to allow innovation to flourish and to spur greater investment in the development and application of ground breaking technologies to solve global challenges. This February, the United States will host a conference on “Rio+2.0: Bridging Connection Technologies and Sustainable Development” as one way to identify strategic opportunities to generate solutions to specific challenges.

The world’s youth have an enormous stake in the outcomes of Rio+20 and can play a powerful role in defining the next generation of sustainable development using the technologies of the future. There is also a strong case for the inclusion of women as a vital source of economic growth. Every individual has the opportunity to be a contributing and valued member of the global marketplace—globally, we must support removing barriers that have prevented youth and women from being full participants in the economy and unlocking their potential as drivers of economic growth.

Transforming Traditional Institutions

At the 1992 Earth Summit, leaders recognized the importance of transparent, participatory decision-making at the national level. These dialogues focused on brick-and-mortar institutions. Today, technology is making it easier for governments to share information with the public and for the public to hold decision makers accountable to realize the promise of Principle 10 through diverse and diffuse networks. The Rio+20 Conference is an opportunity to further enhance these efforts – for all participants to share best practices on good national governance and explore cooperative actions to deepen implementation through formal institutions and informal networks.

The UN system needs to identify a focal point to efficiently bring together the environmental, economic, and social elements of sustainable development. We see an opportunity to reform and modernize existing institutions, such as the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), in a manner that engages the entire UN system and provides the UN with cohesive, government-driven policy guidance on sustainable development, a vehicle for engaging civil society, non-government, and private sector stakeholders, and a coordination mechanism to track overall progress.

Multilateral diplomacy has been enhanced by the growth of smaller and more flexible global arrangements and partnerships such as the G20, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and other regional fora that complement work taking place in the UN, Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), and International Financial Institutions (IFIs). All of these international and sub-regional entities play a critical role in advancing sustainable development and must work closely with national actors to help integrate the three pillars of sustainable development and translate policy and political will into action. The development and adoption of strong environmental and social safeguards to avoid, minimize, or mitigate potentially adverse environmental or social impacts of investments exemplifies the type of activity that MDBs can help promote alongside UN institutions, especially in areas with significant donor and lender engagement, such as fragile states. Any new institutional reform must also engage IFIs and MDBs centrally to create opportunities for greater progress through coordinated action.

Strengthening International Environmental Governance (IEG)

We agree that the UN needs a body through which governments can cooperate to recommend environmental policies, promote best practices, and build national capacity for governance, monitoring, and assessment. That institution – the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) – already exists and at Rio+20 we need to work together to strengthen it within the UN system to assure a viable environmental pillar that can meet 21st century demands. We do not believe that alternative proposals for a new statutory institution on the environment will strengthen environmental governance or solve any of the problems that we all recognize persist. We think the more effective course is to focus intellectual and financial resources on strengthening existing institutions that have already proven their worth and avoid the distraction of trying to set up something new and untested.

At Rio+20, we want to pursue reforms to increase UNEP’s stature and capacity to contribute to sustainable development commensurate with the importance we attach to these issues. Reforms might include seeking universal membership in UNEP, under appropriately-altered governance structures; enhancing UNEP’s leadership within the UN system on implementation and science; and strengthening UNEP’s ability to assist countries committed to good governance and science-based decision-making in a manner that creates positive spillover into the economic and social domains of development. These reforms can also improve UNEP’s operational efficiency by streamlining administrative arrangements of key multilateral environment agreements.

These international efforts must be supported by a strong foundation of national environmental governance. Systematic and coordinated efforts to assess and build national governance capacity – enhancing transparency, public participation in decision making, accountability, and institutional arrangements for effective implementation and enforcement – are critical to establishing a sound foundation for sustainable development. These efforts should be promoted at all levels by improving coordination among existing national and international institutions, including environment, finance, trade, development, and energy ministries, among others.

Informing Decisions, Catalyzing Action, and Measuring Progress

Efforts to help countries obtain and provide environmental information to their citizens and global experts are important contributions to Rio+20. For sustainable development to take hold, policies must be based on sound science and reliable data. With advances in technology, it is now quicker and less costly to collect, monitor, assess, and disseminate data. Countries need to have the capacity to monitor the environment and to integrate that data with economic and social development plans. The United States is cooperating internationally through other fora to share environmental information and promote the use of compatible data systems so that we can better identify where we are achieving sustainable outcomes and where work still remains to be done.

In this vein, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), if structured correctly, could be a useful means to assess progress, catalyze action, and enhance integration among all three pillars of sustainable development. Any goals that we might set should go beyond measuring traditional assistance and towards data-driven and evidence-based tracking of intermediate and end outcomes that are realized through all sources of investment in the green economy. We believe the concept of sustainable development goals is worthy of consideration at Rio+20, and that the discussions at Rio+20 can inform ongoing and future deliberations about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as we approach 2015.

Inspiring Future Generations

The 1992 Conference on Environment and Development was a landmark event. Rio+20 marks a new foundation for engaging the global community and building the greener and more inclusive economies, smarter cities, and advanced institutions and networks that will define the future. Achieving these goals will require new ways of working with diverse stakeholders and communities at all stages of development. The United States stands ready to collaborate, innovate, and realize the promise of sustainable development for the next 20 years and beyond.


One response to “Sustainable Development for the Next Twenty Years United States Views on Rio+20

  1. Pingback: How to create resilient agriculture | National Association for Environmental Education

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