CANBERRA – For the next two weeks, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will host a global discussion on sustainable development – the United Nations-sponsored “Rio+20” Conference on Sustainable Development. At the heart of the challenge facing the more than 50,000 participants expected to attend is the need for innovative new approaches to addressing global challenges. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, without substantially new ways of thinking, we cannot solve old problems.
Balancing economic growth and poverty reduction with policies aimed at ensuring environmental sustainability is undoubtedly the greatest challenge that our globally interconnected society has ever faced. But, for the 20 years since the last Earth Summit, we have been locked into the kind of business-as-usual thinking that got us into trouble in the first place.
The next decade offers an opportunity to break the paralysis. However, to provide enough food and energy for a growing global population – which the UN forecasts to reach 9.3 billion by 2050 – while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, eliminating poverty, and improving human and environmental well-being, we need ideas. Moreover, we need systems that can overcome outdated thinking and obsolete institutions to translate ideas into action quickly.