Guest Article #15

From Rio to Jeju: Nature Leads the Way

Just two months ago, world leaders assembled in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) —also known as Rio+20 — adopted the outcome document titled “The Future We Want.” Emerging from a protracted and arduous official process, the outcome document is hardly inspiring, but it is perhaps the best one could hope for from negotiations involving all countries and decisions based on consensus.

It could simply serve as a reminder of all of the areas in which more concerted and practical steps must be taken by all parts of society, not only governments and the UN system.

During the Rio+20 conference, there was a myriad of activities taking place outside the negotiation rooms that indicate a clear commitment to sustainable development by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), businesses, local authorities and many others. They illustrate the widespread and massive interest and momentum that the Rio+20 had generated.

The Sustainable Development Dialogues organized by the Government of Brazil in collaboration with the UN were no doubt an impressive and innovative mechanism of promoting civil society inputs to the conference. As IUCN's Director General, I participated as a panelist in the Sustainable Development Dialogue on Forests, advocating for the “Bonn Challenge” target: to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands by the year 2020.

In Rio, IUCN encouraged countries and others to make concrete pledges towards achieving this target. We were gratified by the announcements made by the United States Forest Service, the Government of Rwanda, the Brazilian Mata Atlantica Forest Restoration Pact – a coalition of government agencies, NGOs and private sector partners -- and the Mesoamerican Alliance of Indigenous Peoples who have committed to restoring a total of more than 18 million hectares of their forest landscape. These momentous announcements came the day after the results of the Rio+20 Dialogues public votes were announced – and where the IUCN recommendation on forest landscape restoration had topped the list!

Oceans were another subject of critical urgency for several delegations in Rio, with important links to the green economy and the environmental governance topics. Many had hoped to see the Rio+20 conference adopt a decision to initiate, without further delay, the negotiations of an implementing agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Despite strong support from the large majority of delegations, the decision was deferred until 2014. This last-minute setback was no doubt one of the major missed opportunities of the Rio+20 conference.

Another issue mired in controversy in the lead-up to Rio+20 was the concept of “green economy,” and how it can be utilized in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. IUCN supports a green economy that places nature at its center and adopts measures that ensure equity. We therefore feel that the outcome document, while strong on the need for social inclusion and recognizing gross domestic product (GDP) as an insufficient tool for measuring human well-being, lacks specific references to the role biodiversity and nature-based solutions play in economic development and poverty eradication. IUCN will continue to push for the value of nature and human dependency on nature being included in a newly defined GDP and we will actively participate in the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In Rio, IUCN organized a side event to showcase how nature can be a part of the solution for sound, equitable and sustainable development. The event highlighted the importance of implementing effective and equitable governance of nature's use, as well as suggested the application of nature-based solutions to climate, food and energy security and other development challenges.

So where do we go from here?

For IUCN, the way forward is crystal clear: nature is our life support; it provides solutions to improving livelihoods of all inhabitants of our planet, especially the poor. Rio+20 will be one of many steps to further action on the road to sustainable development.

The first major global environmental meeting that will seek to implement the Rio+20 outcomes is the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which will take place less than a month from now, from 6-15 September, in Jeju, Republic of Korea.

Bringing together a network of more than 1,200 government and NGO Members of IUCN, as well as many of our partners, the Congress will set in motion hundreds of conservation and development actions all over the world.

In order to achieve sustainable development, we need to apply nature-based solutions for a just world that values and conserves nature. It is for this reason that the slogan chosen for our Congress is Nature+ illustrating the resilience of nature and its essential role in all parts of life on our planet.

Our central message to Rio+20 was the need to invest in nature, starting now. I hope that, in Jeju, IUCN and our global membership will do exactly that. In this way, it will mark the beginning of the Rio “implementation phase” – one of putting commitments into action.