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Planet Ark World Environment News Factbox: The Rio+20 Development Conference

Date: 19-Jun-12
Country: USA
Author: Valerie Volcovici

More than 50,000 representatives of governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations are expected to descend on Rio de Janeiro this week for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, where they will try to pave a common path toward greener and fairer growth.

The conference aims to secure fresh political commitment from world leaders for "sustainable development" that takes into account economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

With the world population projected to increase from 7 million currently to 9 billion in 2050, the summit may offer an opportunity to help map out avenues for economic growth without the continued depletion of natural resources and harm to the environment.

ONCE IN A GENERATION

U.N. Secretary General Ban-ki Moon said earlier this month that Rio+20, as the summit is informally known, will be a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to make progress towards a sustainable economy. Among the outcomes he said he expects:

* Agreement on a path to an "inclusive green economy"

* Agreement on defining "sustainable development goals with clear and measurable targets and indicators"

* Progress on implementing goals through renewed commitments on trade, finance, and technology transfer.

Negotiators so far have made little progress on a final declaration for the summit, which their heads of state will review and debate during plenary meetings from June 20-22.

TWENTY YEARS LATER

Twenty years ago, the Earth Summit, held in the same Rio convention center, resulted in five key documents. Two of those were landmark, legally binding treaties on biodiversity and climate change.

Although Rio+20 is expected to be bigger than the 1992 summit in terms of projected attendance and scope, the ambition level of the conference is low as the world grapples with other priorities like the economic crisis in Europe.

Unlike the 1992 gathering, U.N. officials have stressed that Rio+20 will not yield any legally binding treaties.

The conference is expected to produce three key outcomes: a negotiated political document pledging international cooperation on sustainable development; a list of recommendations from civil society; and a list of countries' sustainable development initiatives and pledges.

The United Nations has said the conference will focus on more than a half dozen areas of "priority attention," including energy, sustainable cities, food security, agriculture, water and oceans.

THEN AND NOW

The world has changed dramatically since the first Earth Summit. For one, emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa play a bigger economic role than they did two decades ago.

"We have moved from a unipolar to a multipolar world. The type of leadership the emerging economies within the developing world show at Rio+20 will be important to the outcome," said Manish Bapna, acting president of the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental think tank.

He said the summit comes as the majority of the world's middle class moves toward urban areas of the developing world, particularly in Asia.

He cited a recent study by consulting firm McKinsey, which projected that the middle class worldwide will grow from 1.8 billion in 2010 to 4.8 billion in 2022.

"The majority of people (in the middle class) will live in the developing world and in cities. How they commute, what they eat and what they buy - it's the choices they make that will decide a sustainable pathway," he said.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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