1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Special Events (2000 - 2009)

UNRISD’s Contribution to Rio+10: The World Summit on Sustainable Development

  • Project from: 2002 to 2002


The United Nations is preparing for a 10-year review of progress in the implementation of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992. This 10-year review process, referred to as “Rio+10”, places particular emphasis on accomplishments and obstacles in efforts to implement the Rio Conference’s Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. The review and appraisal process will culminate in a World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in September 2002.

According to General Assembly Resolution A/RES/55/199 (20 December 2000), this Summit Conference and its preparation should strive for “a balance between economic development, social development and environmental protection as these are interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable development”. The same resolution “invites relevant agencies and bodies of the United Nations…to participate fully in the review”.

In answer to this invitation, UNRISD is preparing a report that synthesizes the principal findings of its research on environmental issues, and situates these findings in the context of broader debates on environment and sustainable development. Solon Barraclough, UNRISD Senior Consultant, is preparing the report.

Since its founding in the mid-1960s, UNRISD has taken a holistic, political economy approach to social development. This has necessarily included integration of environmental issues in its research. During the 1990s, in connection with preparations for and follow-up to the 1992 Rio Conference, an important portion of the Institute’s work focused on social development issues related to deforestation, biodiversity protection, desertification, grassroots environmental management, urban sustainability and corporate environmental responsibility. The UNRISD report for Rio+10 will draw heavily on this work related to environmental and social sustainability.

In contrast to Agenda 21 and many other mainstream policy documents that often focus on “win-win” scenarios and complementarities, this report will emphasize the fact that processes of economic, social and environmental change tend to be associated with winners and losers, conflicts, trade-offs and contradictions. It will also highlight the way in which local-level outcomes are shaped by national and global policies and processes, and the crucial role of power relations and equity issues in processes of “unsustainable development” and the success or failure of remedial actions.

The report will address four principal questions that have been central to the Institute’s research in this field: How do market forces, government policies and other factors influence the way different social groups use and manage natural resources? How are these social groups affected by environmental degradation? How and to what extent can people manage natural resources on a sustainable basis at the local level? What have been the impacts of mainstream conservation initiatives on patterns of natural resource use and people’s livelihoods?

The report will examine these questions in diverse institutional and environmental contexts. It will focus on institutional and political economy aspects of sustainable development, thus highlighting the need for integrated approaches to environmental problems at local, sub-national, national and international levels. Particular attention will be paid to the role of grassroots environmental action for promoting sustainable development, and the types of favourable institutional and policy contexts required at all levels for such action to be effective in stopping social and environmental degradation. The report will also discuss the relevance of UNRISD’s work to ongoing international debates on sustainable development issues. It will raise several unresolved conceptual problems in assessing environmental degradation or enhancement, and will attempt to highlight some policy implications of UNRISD’s research. The draft report should be completed by mid-2002.

UNRISD will also prepare an annotated bibliography of all its environment-related work as part of its contribution. And it will commission a number of additional papers to highlight the importance of a political economy approach when analysing environmental problems and proposing solutions. Authors are now being identified and contacted.

The UNRISD report and the commissioned papers will be presented at a meeting to be held in Johannesburg during Rio+10.

Funding for this project is provided by the government of Norway, in addition to UNRISD core funds.