Sustainable development: Two lost decades

The UN Rio+20 conference will takes place in May 2012 in Rio de Janeiro. Twenty years on from the first Earth Summit on Environment and Development, it will be seen whether the international community will eventually find the path of sustainable development despite two lost decades. What is needed is a post-growth economy.

At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit the international community committed itself to the path of sustainable development. That signaled the birth of «outward-looking domestic policy» and the promise of a new development paradigm. The «Agenda 21» action programme approved at the time states: «The only way to assure ourselves of a safer, more prosperous future is to deal with environment and development issues together in a balanced manner. […]. We must fulfill basic human needs, improve living standards for all and better protect and manage ecosystems.»

In keeping with the polluter-pays principle, the industrialized countries assumed the main responsibility.

On the path of self-destruction

Developments over the past 20 years make a mockery of the Rio decisions. Key economic, social and environmental indicators are sounding the alarm. The earth's ecosystem is becoming increasingly out of joint. The ecological footprint of the industrialized countries exceeds what the earth can bear or regenerate. Deforestation continues unabated, the biodiversity is disappearing, clean water is becoming increasingly scarce and the oceans are being over-fished. The number of starving people is increasing, yet enormous areas are being used to grow fuel rather than food. The competition for non-renewable resources is becoming increasingly reckless. Climate change is the perfect illustration of our unsustainable production and consumption models.