The High Stakes of Rio+20

NAIROBI – With just weeks to go before the Rio+20 Earth Summit, many are speculating about how many world leaders will show up and what kind of agreements they might reach on the key agenda items: creating a “green economy” and establishing an “international framework for sustainable development.” It is no coincidence that these two items appear side by side.

The term “green economy” was coined years ago – even prior to the first Earth Summit in 1992 – to provide a new lens through which to examine the links between economics and sustainability.

But it has gained a new impetus in a world where climate change is already a reality, commodity prices are rising, and basic resources such as clean air, arable land, and fresh water are increasingly scarce. A growing body of science, including the United Nations Environment Program’s upcoming Global Environment Outlook-5, is confirming what was glimpsed at Rio 20 years ago.

Those who have invested in an economic model and production processes based on nineteenth- and twentieth-century models are perhaps understandably nervous about a paradigm shift. But so are some segments of civil society, which are concerned that a transition to a green economy might negatively affect the poor and expose them to greater risks and vulnerabilities.