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Most people were disappointed in the outcome of the Rio+20 climate summit. AlertNet has brought together a useful summary of verdicts from some of the principal (English-language) NGOs who attended the summit or the parallel People’s Summit. 

rio_noPeople protest against the current economic system at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, June 21, 2012. REUTERS/Ueslei MarcelinoLONDON (AlertNet) – Many environment and development groups have expressed disappointment with the political agreement that emerged from the U.N. conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro last week.

The prevailing view is that it was short on specific commitments and targets, and lacked the level of ambition required to tackle the triple challenges of sustainable development – environmental, economic and social.

On the bright side, there’s recognition that some governments, businesses, charities and local communities are getting on with the action needed to shift towards a greener approach to development, irrespective of world leaders’ weak words.

Here’s a flavour of what some NGOs have said about the outcomes of the Rio+20 summit.


Friends of the Earth: “World leaders are understandably concerned about the broken economy – but until they stop treating it separately from our social and environmental problems this will never be fixed… It’s time for a fresh approach by a new generation of leaders – we need different ways of doing business that put the wellbeing of people and the planet we depend on first.”

Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, Augustine Njamnshi: “Africa is at the forefront of the interlinked crises facing humanity: a broken economic system that kills the planet leaves millions in poverty scrambling for the most basic essence of human dignity. And yet developed countries’ governments came here and have not been able to live up to their meagre promises on resources for sustainable development. Is this what we call renewed political commitment? This is unfortunate!”

Oxfam GB, Barbara Stocking, chief executive: “We elect governments to tackle the issues that we can’t tackle alone. But they are not providing the leadership the world desperately needs. Paralysed by inertia and in hock to vested interests, too many are unable to join up the dots and solve the connected crises of environment, equity and economy.”

“Governments have embraced globalisation, but failed to govern it. The poorest people on earth are paying the highest price. The failure of Rio+20 will feed the growing public insecurity and anger. Oxfam will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners and allies to turn that anger into an irresistible demand for change.”


World Development Movement, Kirsty Wright, campaigner: “For all the talk about sustainable development and a green economy, rich industrialised countries have failed to make any meaningful commitment to new and additional finance. They have not provided the financial or technological resources they promised for years, yet they still expect commitments from developing countries.”


World Resources Institute, Manish Bapna, acting president: “We cannot lose sight of the big picture. It would be a mistake to conflate the outcome here with what’s happening on the ground around the world. Real action is taking place on national and local levels in many countries. Just look at Germany’s shift to clean energy, Niger’s efforts to re-green its landscape, or Rio’s just launched bus rapid transit system.

“As we leave Rio and return to our homes around the globe, we must not give up on the vision of a more sustainable pathway. Given the urgency of the challenges, we must continue to push forward with ambitious solutions that will create a more sustainable future.”


Oxfam GB, Barbara Stocking, chief executive: “It’s been a painful birth but the vision of an ambitious set of goals on environment and development, applicable to all countries, is a solitary light in the fog of Rio. But we need one set of goals for the people and the planet – ending poverty and protecting the environment are inextricably linked and cannot be addressed in isolation.”

Christian Aid, Alison Doig, senior advisor on sustainable development: “There is some hope that Rio will yet have a positive legacy, because leaders have committed to create a new set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) which will set the direction of global development work from 2015. The SDGs could help make global food production more sustainable and ensure that many millions more people can enjoy clean water and sustainable, modern energy. But this will only happen if citizens keep up the pressure as work to shape the goals continues.

“We’re pleased with much of what the text says on the SDGs – for instance that they must be universal, developed by a wide range of different interests and integrated with whatever replaces the Millennium Development Goals. But we’re disappointed that the text is so vague on how – and even if – the SDGs will be merged with what succeeds the MDGs to produce a single set of strong global development goals. We would also urge that opportunities are created for greater civil society involvement in the SDG process going forward to ensure that the voices of all, including those living in poverty, are heard.”


Amnesty International: For the first time at a major U.N. summit meeting, countries reaffirmed the right to safe drinking water and sanitation. Governments committed to work to progressively make access a reality for all. “It is unfortunate that some governments attempted arbitrarily to exclude transboundary water issues from the scope of the right to water. That these attempts were unsuccessful is a win for human rights,” said Savio Carvalho, Demand Dignity programme director.

World Development Movement, Kirsty Wright, campaigner: “The final document reasserts commitments to the human right to water, but an agenda to commodify and privatise it has been pushed forward in parallel with the official summit. This will do nothing to ensure access to water for the 1.2 billion people facing water shortages.”

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Center for International Environment Law (CIEL): The Holy See led the charge against sexual and reproductive rights, with support of the G77, an organization of developing countries. The participating countries emphasized the need for universal access to reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health and the integration of reproductive health in national strategies and programs in the outcome document. But express reproductive rights language was deleted.

“Canada, the G77, and the United States united against reaffirming the responsibility of businesses to respect rights. Throughout the negotiations, governments also failed to address their human rights obligations when they sit as shareholders of international financial institutions.

“The G77 countries, the Holy See, and Canada formed a shameful alliance against making a commitment to human rights, on occasion aided by the US. Despite opposition, rights language has survived in the outcome document – but it does not go far enough,” said Jan Egeland, deputy executive director of Human Rights Watch.

“The G77 challenged the rights to freedom of assembly and association, while past champions refused to fight for these rights. It is amazing that in the wake of the Arab spring, governments did not find their voices to support free speech rights in the context of sustainable development.”


World Vision International, Chris Derksen Hiebert, external relations director: “The importance of child health, particularly access to good nutrition and improving food security, has been agreed upon by all parties. This reflects the issues that we believed, coming to Rio, were the most pressing. But they have failed to recognise the real and immediate need to address issues now and, frustratingly, to state their vision for how to ensure big, bold changes are taken to reduce poverty and tackle extreme inequality. How we as an international community tackle poverty in the years and decades to come is in the process of being decided – and we want to make sure children and young people are included in that.


ActionAid, Sameer Dossani: “The good thing about the Zero Hunger Challenge is that it sets out an ambitious agenda. Ambition and urgency are exactly what the world needs right now with nearly a billion people living in hunger and no powerful governments taking a stand for meaningful solutions. The Rio summit outcome document seems unlikely to include any commitments to action on hunger – proof that countries are not taking these problems seriously. You can’t have zero hunger with zero money.

“Leaders need to take action. There are solutions on the table that would cost very little such as ending subsidies and mandates for biofuels. There are also mechanisms for generating finance through, for example, a financial transaction tax or taxes on shipping, aviation and other polluting sectors. But so far governments have refused to put forward these proposals and prefer instead to sit on their hands while the world burns.”

Oxfam GB, Barbara Stocking, chief executive: “Ban Ki-Moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge is a welcome ray of hope in a summit that has been shamefully devoid of progress for the almost billion people who go to bed hungry every night.”

(Compiled by Megan Rowling)


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