Cities win big in leaked agenda for UN Rio+20


A leaked agenda for the United Nations Rio+20 conference places urban sustainability in a major role for UN member nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put forth for ratification this June. The document acknowledges that cities are on par with nations in terms of implementing and measuring sustainability progress over the next 18
years–the-make-or-break period for mitigating and adapting to global
climate change.

The Rio+20 agenda, leaked today in the UK’s The Guardian under the Ogilvy Mather
promoted slogan “The Future We Want,” lays out ten areas for new
Sustainable Development Goals that will be released in Rio; urban sustainability is one of the key goals (other nine major categories include climate change, food security, water, green jobs, oceans, natural disasters, forests and biodiversity, mountains, and chemicals and waste).

The Rio+20 draft agenda states: “We recognize the need to integrate sustainable urban development policy as a key component of national sustainable development policy and, in this regard, to empower local authorities….We recognize that partnerships among cities have emerged as a leading force for action on sustainable development. We commit to support international cooperation among local authorities, including through assistance from international organizations.”

Officially, the
UN Conference on Sustainable Development,follow-up to the historic UN 1992 “Earth Summit,” also held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, isdedicated to marshalling the global Green Economy.

The leaked 19-page agenda calls for major global actions in financing, policy, technology implementation and collaboration in the face of global climate change and economic turmoil, developing-nation poverty and climate-exacerbated natural disasters.

Elaborating on the importance of cities as part of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, the document includes the following recommendations:

  • “We commit to promote an integrated and holistic approach to planning and building sustainable cities through support to local authorities, efficient transportation and communication networks, greener buildings and an efficient human settlements and service delivery system, improved air and water quality, reduced waste, improved disaster preparedness and response, and increased climate resilience.”
  • “…members of civil society to be actively engaged in sustainable development by incorporating their specific knowledge and practice know-how into national and local policy making.”
  • “…the essential role of local governments and the need to fully integrate them into all levels of decision-making on sustainable development.”
  • need for “…a toolbox of good practices in applying green economy policies at regional, national and local levels.”
  • “…creation of Centers of Excellence as nodal points for Green technology R&D”
  •  “…call for strengthening of regional and sub-regional mechanism, including the regional commissions, in promoting sustainable development through capacity building.”

The Sustainable Development Goals will be obtained through a three-part process over an 18-year period, staring this year with the Rio+20 event:

    • 2012-2015: establishment of indicators
    • 2015-2030: implementation and periodic assessment of progress
    • 2030: comprehensive assessment of progress

On the road to Rio, the UN’s “Shanghai Manual for Sustainable Cities”was released by the UN Department of
Economic and Social Affairs in December as a playbook for mayors of
global cities
so they can deploy triple bottom line strategies (I co-authored the
manual with
the UN). Non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders began last fall high-level discussions with the UN
and NGOs ICLEI and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group,
on potential Rio+20 standards for ecocities including the International Ecocity
Framework and Standards

Out of the 1992 Earth Summit,with 110 heads of state and thousands of
non-governmental leaders, emerged pivotal treaties and frameworks for decades to
come, including the Kyoto Protocol
and Agenda 21.
Other products of the first Earth Summit include the Global Environmental
at the World Bank,
and national sustainability agendas in 86 countries based off Agenda 21,
according to Jacob Scherr, director of global strategy and advocacy for the
Natural Resources Defense Council.

Scherr is coordinating a Ford Foundation-sponsored effort called “Sustainable + Just Cities” to make cities a top priority of Rio+20 agreements.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, author of How Green is Your City? and co-author
the UN’s Shanghai Manual on global
sustainable city planning and management.