Rio+20: UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012

The international community renewed its commitment to sustainable development at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012. The green economy was added to the global political agenda for the first time with the Rio+20 resolution. Measures for the consolidation of institutional framework conditions were also adopted. Furthermore, it was decided at this Conference that Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) should be developed.

With the Rio+20 conference, which was held 40 years after the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm and 20 years after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro,  the international community aimed to renew the political commitment to sustainable development, examine the progress and gaps in the implementation of previous resolutions, and identify solutions to new challenges. The focal topics were the green economy in the context of sustainable development, poverty reduction, and the reform of sustainability and environmental governance within the UN. The formulation of global sustainability goals and the adoption of an action framework for the promotion of sustainable development were also discussed.

The Swiss Federal Council had entrusted the FOEN with the task of leading and coordinating the preparations and negotiations for Rio+20. Various other federal agencies and civil society representatives, i.e. from scientific, business, environmental, development and youth organisations, were also involved.

The Rio+20 outcome document was less ambitious than Switzerland would have wished, but put important emphases on individual areas and began processes to strengthen sustainable development. The decision was made to prepare Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which ultimately led to the adoption of the UN’s “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, whose core is formed by 17 goals and 169 targets. The goals are important as they will enable each country to identify its action requirement and make it possible to quantify and compare the progress made in the area of sustainable development. It was also decided to establish a high-ranking political forum for sustainable development, which replaced the Commission on Sustainable Development. It acts as the global review panel for the implementation of the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

  • The topic of the green economy was strengthened and became a fixture in the political agenda. The Rio+20 outcome document explicitly states that the green economy can contribute to sustainable development and poverty reduction.
  • The conference also succeeded in passing a ten-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production patterns (10FYP). The 10FYP is a concrete instrument for the promotion of sustainable consumption and production patterns and, hence also, for the implementation of the green economy. Switzerland played an active part in the development of this instrument.
  • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was strengthened in that it now has universal membership and will include all states in future. This increases the political authority and legitimacy of UNEP.
  • Finally, it was also possible to make progress in concrete areas, in which Switzerland was actively involved: i.e. agriculture and food security, chemicals and waste management, health and natural disasters.

UN Conferences: milestones in international environmental and sustainability policy

  • 1972 Stockholm: The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm was the beginning of international environmental policy. June 5, the day on which the conference began, is now World Environment Day. In the Stockholm Declaration, member states agreed for the first time ever to work together to protect the environment. The right of the states to use their own resources became secondary to the obligation to ensure that domestic activities do not harm other states. The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) was created in the wake of the Stockholm Conference.
  • 1992 Rio: At the UN Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED), key principles such as the precautionary principle and the concept of sustainable development were developed. In addition, the member states approved five documents, including the Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • 2002 Johannesburg: The main achievement of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) was that efforts to implement the sustainable development model were prioritised and supported by the Plan of Implementation. Furthermore, institutions were reinforced and thematic goals formulated for specific themes such as chemicals.

Further information

Last modification 26.06.2023

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