[author: Sean Patterson]
The Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development was held last month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The “Rio+20” conference was held on the 20th anniversary of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. The stated focus of the Rio+20 conference was the end of poverty through the development of a sustainable global economy, and the conference was divided into two related themes: (1) a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication; and (2) the institutional framework for sustainable development.
Participants included heads of state or representatives from 188 nations, including all UN member states, as well as representatives from the major group organizations (business and industry, children and youth, farmers, indigenous peoples, local authorities, NGOs, etc.). At the conclusion of the summit, a wide-ranging outcome document – titled The Future We Want – was published by the UN. The outcome document set forth the various conclusions and resolutions reached by the participants at Rio+20. Importantly, one of the adopted resolutions was a commitment to provide more secure funding and powers to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
UNEP is the UN’s environmental watchdog, tasked with monitoring global environmental conditions and promoting best practices for environmental sustainability. One of UNEP’s functions is also to help develop international environmental law. Another focus set forth in the outcome document was a reaffirmation of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management plan and deadline of 2020, which was originally created and set forth at the 2002 World Summit. UNEP was tasked with creating a proposal for the global financing of chemicals/waste management, with an emphasis on increased regulation in developing countries. UNEP’s proposal(s) will be presented to the General Assembly and the International Conference on Chemicals Management in February 2013. Another resolution adopted and set forth in the outcome document was a commitment to create a task force comprised of nominated representatives from each of the five UN regional groups, which would create and submit proposals for global sustainable development goals to the General Assembly at the Assembly’s 68th Session in September 2013.
Many of the conclusions and resolutions in the outcome document have been criticized by participants and observers as mere reaffirmations of agreements reached in prior summits, with little significant headway toward their practical implementation. However, it appears that there is growing global support for increased international environmental regulation and oversight. What real-world impact, if any, this may have on environmental regulation and common law in the United States is unknown at this time.