Road to Rio: What kind of world do we want to live in? | Helen Clark

17 Apr 2012

Men planting seeds in a field, Bangladesh.

I personally want to live in a sustainable and equitable world, where decisions taken at all levels are driven by respect for and promotion of people’s choices, freedoms and opportunities, while also respecting the boundaries of nature.

For me, achieving sustainable development is not about trading economic, social, and environmental objectives off against each other. It is about seeing them as interconnected objectives which are best pursued together.

The act and consequences of reducing environmental degradation, for example, can stimulate employment and reduce poverty. The reverse is also true: in degrading the environment, a country can undermine the long term prospects of its economy and society.

Such ideas shaped discussions in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Known as the Earth Summit, it attracted more heads of states and governments than any previous UN meeting had, addressed an unprecedentedly broad set of concerns, and attracted record numbers of actively involved and newly empowered non-governmental organisations.

In about two months, the international community will meet again in Rio, twenty years after the Earth Summit, for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or what is called Rio + 20.

So often, discussions about sustainable development seem to focus on its environmental pillar, and neglect its connections to the nature of economic and social development.

All three dimensions need to be addressed at Rio +20.

Rio + 20 could draw attention to the heavy costs of doing business as usual, and increase the understanding of sustainable development as a source of green and inclusive growth and innovation. By implementing ‘triple win’ approaches, we’ve learned that when benefits are widely seen and appreciated, they can gather a momentum of their own, and inspire others to work along similar lines.

The question being posed in the lead up to Rio is, “What kind of world do we want to live in?”

I want to live in a world where the goals we aspire to and plan around are not only sustainable and equitable, but transformational, universal, and able to galvanize individual and collective action.

Talk to me: What kind of world do YOU want to live in?

“Road to Rio” is a series of posts by senior officials of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), outlining some of the key challenges around human development central for achieving the sustainable future we want. This post was adapted from a series of public lectures at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Science and Humanities at the University of Cambridge 16-17 April 2012. See the full version of this speech

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