ICLEI's Evaluation of Rio+20, and What It Means for Citiesby ICLEI World Secretariat
Now that Rio+20 is over, how can we evaluate it from the perspective of local governments? While much has been made of the summit's overall failure to achieve meaningful agreements among nations, Rio+20 was a showcase for the leadership of cities, and ICLEI played a primary role in this result and helped further a global exchange of best practices to create more sustainable cities and a green economy. Read on for our evaluation of Rio+20 from a local government point of view, and our hope for next steps toward a more sustainable future.
ICLEI at Rio+20
The Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,
from 20-22 June 2012. ICLEI has been involved in the Rio+20 process in three ways:
Advocacy. ICLEI has followed the preparations and negotiations of the outcome document closely
and is the only Local Government Organization which has been present and actively engaged at
every single UN preparatory meeting from May 2010 to June 2012. In addition, ICLEI has made a
number of substantive contributions. ICLEI has also acted as Local Authority Major Group Co-
Organizing Partner (LAMG OP) for the Rio+20 Secretariat.
Global Town Hall. ICLEI organized the Global Town Hall as an arena for presentations, dialogues
and debates on a sustainable urban future. We invited our sister Local Government organizations,
relevant UN agencies and international partners to join. The Global Town Hall was conceived as a
cristallization point for local governments and their partners to reflect on the themes of Rio+20,
green urban economy and institutional framework for sustainable development.
Participation in partners‘ events. ICLEI‘s political leadership as well as senior staff members
participated in a variety of side events organized by our international partners.
ICLEI’s Evaluation of the Outcomes of Rio+20
Human civilization on earth is under threat. The global trend of climate change and related trends
of increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, sea-level rise etc. as well as the
trends of natural resource decline and biodiversity loss are causing concern. Everyone we met and
heard from was of the opinion that we need to change course towards an inclusive, green
economy, and that we have to act rapidly and go for radical solutions.
Everyone agreed that not only cities and communities will be the main victims of these unfavorable
trends, but cities are key to turning our economy green and our civilization sustainable.
We had hoped that the Rio+20 summit would result in decisions by the governments assembled in
Rio which would trigger the development of an inclusive, green economy and establish a global
institutional architecture endowed with competencies and powers that would ensure the
safeguarding of human living conditions and ecosystems services.
Lots of Paper, Little Commitment
We now see that all the good will, energy, brain capacity and money that went into the Rio+20
process have resulted in dozens of pages of paper, which contain hardly any commitment by
governments. Instead, national governments reaffirm what they had already resolved long ago, list
non-binding intentions, and acknowledge the activities by other actors such as local governments.
It remains unclear who should be in charge and accountable for taking decisions on the
transformative actions needed, and for rapid implementation.
Cities Are the Only Leaders Right Now
Do cities have to step in where governments are failing to take effective action? Cities are
cooperating internationally without borders, without customs, without military forces. They can
address the issues of the future without the global power play that we see going on at intergovernmental level. We have once more seen governments defending national interests rather
than working together on a common global agenda. We suspect that the mechanisms, rules and
routines of international diplomacy are outdated and incapable of designing and bringing about a
Will the United Nations want to include local governments in the mechanism of decision shaping
and even decision making, or shall local governments create their own voluntary institutional
frameworks for commitments and accountability? They have actually started doing so. It took nations 13 years to get from the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to the entry into force of the rules for implementation, the Kyoto Protocol. In contrast, it took local governments only 8 months until ICLEI convened the first municipal leaders summit on climate change and initiated the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign which involved about thousand local governments in local climate action planning. In 2010, Mayors signed the Global Cities Covenant on Climate (Mexico City Pact), committed to voluntary climate action and accountability, and established the carbonn Cities Climate Registry as a global reporting platform. In 2011, Mayors
signed the Durban Adaptation Charter, thereby making commitments to climate change adaptation
The most remarkable outcome of Rio+20 may indeed be the global and regional, voluntary
commitments. We think it’s good to get all relevant actors committing to sustainability action. But
Rio+20 failed establishing an accountability framework with a performance reporting mechanism.
Even the development of an accountability framework is left to voluntary action.
20 years ago cities were referred to as a problem rather than as part of the solution. Today cities
are acknowledged as a major actor. The Rio+20 outcome document contains unprecedented
reference to cities and local governments. However, we are missing a tangible commitment by
governments to enhance the capacity of cities to take effective action.
Rio+20 failed addressing appropriately and resolving crucial issues, especially the elimination of
perverse subsidies such as subsidies to fossil fuel. We are proud that during the entire Rio+20 process we have seen ICLEI being elevated on the basis of its longstanding leadership in global advocacy, developing solutions, accelerating action, spurring change, and paving pathways towards local sustainability.
ICLEI Driving an Agenda and Real Progress
We have seen governments, businesses, research institutes, NGOs and media pay attention, or
even focus, on cities. For example, the three Rio Conventions staged a cities day, and the
Brazilian government organized a sustainability dialogue on cities.
ICLEI itself organized the Rio+20 Global Town Hall during the entire week from 18-22 June, which
was attended by 5000 people. The Global Town Hall was hosted by the State of Rio de Janeiro
and endorsed by UNDESA, UNEP and others. The program organized in partnership with many
other organizations saw 24 sessions with over hundred speakers.
The culminating session of the Rio+20 Global Town Hall was the session “Sustainability
Leadership for the Urban World 2030” with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
ICLEI held a successful official side event “Decisions we need for the city of 2030”, and ICLEI
Mayors and staff were asked to speak at about 25 side events organized by partner organizations.
Another special moment, ICLEI President David Cadman addressed the opening plenary of the
Our ICLEI World Congress 2012 in Belo Horizonte preceding Rio+20 saw more than 1400 ICLEI
Members, partners, global strategists, academics, businesses and NGOs exchanging solutions
and experiences and developing local sustainability strategies or the future.
At our World Congress 2012, we released the global review and case studies “Local Sustainability
2012- Taking Stock and Moving Forward” as well as Global Environmental Outlook (GEO) 5 for
Local Governments, with UNEP.
At Rio+20 we launched the GreenClimateCities initiative and, together with partners, the Global
Initiative on Urban Resilience. We have been encouraged by Rio+20 to continue driving the sustainable cities agenda. Rio+20 has reinvigorated our strategy of supporting cities on the pathway to becoming resilient, resourceefficient, biodiverse and low-carbon, to turn their urban economy green and build smart infrastructure, with the ultimate goal of ensuring a healthy & happy community.