Fulfilling the Rio+20 promises: A review of progress made on key negotiated and voluntary commitments

Amy Cutter, Stakeholder Forum, and John Romano, Natural Resources Defense Council

Stakeholder Forum and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) yesterday hosted an event at the Ford Foundation to launch their new report, ‘Fulfilling the Rio+20 promises: Reviewing progress since the UN Conference on Sustainable Development’.

The report summarises and assesses progress made since Rio+20 on a selection of key negotiated and voluntary commitments made at the Summit.

The diverse range of civil society, UN and government representatives, and other stakeholders present heard a summary of the report’s findings, as well as reflections from some key actors in the Rio+20 process, including Executive Coordinator, Brice Lalonde and former UN Local Authorities Major Group Organising Partner Maruxa Cardama. 

Globally Negotiated Agreements

While merely a year and a half has passed since Rio+20, significant progress has been made on some of the key negotiated outcomes. The process to develop a new set of Sustainable Development Goals is now well underway and will serve as a critical part of shaping the UN’s vision for sustainable development when the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015. A new high-level political forum for sustainable development has been established at the UN, and a process to develop an effective and ambitious financing strategy for sustainable development has begun; both of which will be crucial to the implementation of the SDGs framework. In addition to these landmark outcomes, good progress has also been seen in the preparations for the Third Conference on Small Island Developing States, to be held in 2014, and the process to develop broader measures of progress that go beyond GDP. However, the headway made on other commitments — such as those on oceans and seas and the integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development — has been much less marked.

In terms of negotiated commitments, Rio+20 is perhaps best seen as a starting-point rather than an ending-point for action on sustainable development, with the true impact of many commitments still yet to be felt due to the long implementation processes involved. Stakeholders have a key role to play in maintaining the impetus for action and holding governments to account on their commitments.

Voluntary Commitments

The emerging world of voluntary commitments and Action Networks is finally beginning to take shape. We’ve seen Microsoft fulfill their commitment to become carbon neutral just one year after Rio+20 and progress toward the MDBs’ USD$175 billion commitment to sustainable transport is well on track. Brazil’s ground-breaking USD$235 billion commitment to Sustainable Energy for All is spurring huge investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy access, and Australia has nearly tripled its marine reserves, fulfilling its commitment to create the world’s largest network of marine reserves.

Rio+20 highlighted more than ever the significance of voluntary commitments as a means of achieving the goals set forth by globally negotiated agreements; however, the United Nations will need to recognise fully their importance in creating a new global architecture for action on sustainable development.

The way forward

Action through just one of these approaches — globally negotiated agreements or voluntary commitments — is not sufficient if we are to address the myriad of environmental, social and economic issues we face today. While significant progress has been made on many of the negotiated and voluntary commitments established at Rio+20, stakeholders have a responsibility to maintain the momentum initiated at the Summit and hold governments and other commitment makers to account on their promises. In support of this, mechanisms that facilitate accountability and transparency are needed for both types of commitments, in order to encourage the support, drive and ownership of all actors, and ensure that the promises made at Rio+20 are indeed fulfilled.


The full report is available here: