Rio+20 and challenges towards sustainable development

East Asia Forum, June 21st, 2012, Author: Fitrian Ardiansyah, ANU
Original link: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/06/21/rio20-and-challenges-towards-sustainable-development/
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), otherwise known as Rio+20, commenced yesterday (20 June) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This is one of the world’s largest-ever environment conferences, and a useful point at which to examine the progress and regress of countries in advancing sustainable development over the past few decades.

Sustainable development emphasises a holistic, equitable and forward-looking approach to decision making at all levels — not just focusing on economic performance but also on the environmental and social aspects of development, including intra-generational and inter-generatonal equity. The concept was developed in the 1987 Brundtland Report, and re-affirmed at the Rio Earth Summit 1992. This year’s UNCSD marks the 20th anniversary of that summit.

Twenty years on, countries around the world must now demonstrate whether their development paths have upheld the principles of sustainable development, through rethinking their economic growth, advancing social equity and ensuring environmental protection at all levels.

According to many scholars, some progress toward achieving sustainable development is being accomplished, albeit very slowly. Reports show an increase in collaboration between state and non-state actors, which has brought about gradual but important changes, including the promotion, development and application of sustainability principles in the management of key commodities, including forestry (through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)), fishery (through the Marine Stewardship Council) and palm oil (through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).

In Indonesia, prior to 2009, only 1.1 million hectares of forests were certified under the FSC, amounting to 2 per cent of the country’s production forests. Now, approximately 26 companies with a total 2.6 million hectares of forests are undertaking a rigorous process for FSC certification.

In addition to the Timber Legality Verification System (SVLK) implemented in 2009, which aims to verify the legality of all traded Indonesian timber products, forest certification is seeing Indonesia gradually move toward sustainable forestry practices. But, as those forests certified under FSC still make up only a small proportion of Indonesia’s total forests, achieving sustainability in this sector is still a significant challenge.

Progress has also been made in the prevention of biodiversity loss. In this sense, the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiative can be seen as a test for Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei in conserving and sustainably managing 22 million hectares of important forest and terrestrial ecosystems.

However, promoting conservation and sustainable forest managementon such a significant scale requires not only political willingness but also concrete incentives and practical solutions on the ground.

Another immmediate political challenge for the HoB initiative is that a development policy released by the same government, the Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development (MP3EI), may contradict efforts to protect, conserve and sustainably manage its forests and biodiversity in this area.

A recent discussion among scholars, high-ranking government officials, business practioners and NGO activists in Jakarta, facilitated by the Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy, agreed that the MP3EI may overlook environmental persectives and parameters.

If the conflict is not addressed, some actors involved in land-use activities in Borneo may use the economic development master plan as an excuse to continue their business-as-usual activities.

When it comes to creating incentives and developing practical solutions, the Rio+20 conference lists ‘green economy’ as one of its two major themes. The ‘green economy’ approach will presumably provide a platform for countries or other entities to address threats to sustainable developmant and conservation, and improve enabling conditions and propose solutions at a practical level.

The HoB initiative, at the Rio+20 conference, is launching a report entitled ‘Investing in Nature for a Green Economy’. This report is intended to show that the initiative concretely and seriously tackles existing and future threats, particularly from unsustainable land-use activities, and further improves enabling conditions, namely good economic policies that create positive incentives, good governance, clear land tenure and environmentally friendly sectoral development.

By using the ‘green economy’ concept, it is expected that the initiative can transform economic growth in the area, particularly through shifting investments — public and private, domestic and international — toward emerging green sectors and the greening of existing sectors, complemented by changes to unsustainable consumption patterns.

Natural capital, especially biodiversity, is under threat at the global level. In its State of Biodiversity of Asia and the Pacific (2010), UNEP ranked Indonesia second after Australia as having the most threatened plant and animal species in the region. The HoB initiative is an important model to demonstrate that development can take place in biodiversity-rich areas without further threatening fragile resources.

For developing countries like Indonesia and its neighbours, reforming and balancing their development pathways is a Herculean task. It is how to move forward with this challenge that is now being hotly discussed at Rio.

Fitrian Ardiansyah is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, and the recipient of the Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.

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Rio+20 and the fate of sustainable development

Strategic Review

The Indonesian Journal of Leadership, Policy and World Affairs, by Fitrian Ardiansyah, 18 May 2012

Original link: http://www.sr-indonesia.com/2011-08-09-22-09-10/commentaries/193-rio20-and-the-fate-of-sustainable-development

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), being held in June in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, will undoubtedly raise a critical question about how far countries have advanced sustainable development and mitigated environmental degradation.

Sustainable development, defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, was introduced in the 1987 Brundtland Report and reaffirmed 20 years ago in Rio. This is why this year’s UNCSD is also known as Rio+20, marking the 20th anniversary of one of the famous large-scale gatherings on environmental issues, the 1992 Earth Summit, which was held in the same city.

During the 1992 Earth Summit, world leaders agreed to uphold sustainable development, demonstrated by, among others, the adoption of Agenda 21, the signings of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the issuance of the Declaration of Forest Principles. Agenda 21 is a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection at the global, national and local levels.

The CBD, signed by 150 government leaders, provides a platform to achieve sustainable development since it recognizes crucial functions and services of biodiversity and natural ecosystems that directly and indirectly support people and their needs. The Forest Principles, which focuses particularly on forest ecosystems, is the first global consensus that encourages nations to conserve, restore and manage these already fragile and threatened resources.

Another major breakthrough in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit was the signing of the UNFCCC. The convention created an umbrella for global efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change, which is perceived as one of the biggest threats to human civilization. With the UNFCCC, nations recognize that the climate system is a shared resource and all governments and people on our planet have the responsibility to ensure its stability.

Two decades have passed since the first UNCSD, yet progress toward the achievement of the objectives of the above conventions and commitments, according to many scholars, has been very slow.

In the 2010 editorial section of Wiley’s Interdisciplinary Reviews (WIREs) of Climate Change—Climate and Development, Daniel Murdiyarso of the Center for International Forestry Research argued that global programs and actions to achieve safe drinking water, improved health and reduced mortality, food security and reduced hunger, and environment sustainability – as also reflected in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – fell very short toward their targets.

When commenting about the MDGs in 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said: “We have made important progress toward all eight goals, but we are not on track to fulfill our commitments.”

With regard to food security and the use of land and water, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, for example, reported in 2011 that although agricultural production has as much as tripled due to significant increases in the yield of major crops, global achievements in production in some regions have been associated with degradation of land and water resources and the deterioration of related ecosystem goods and services.

The report indicated that significant biomass, carbon storage, soil health, water storage and supply, biodiversity and social and cultural services have been negatively affected by the global agriculture production from the use of 11 percent of the world’s land surface and 70 percent of all water withdrawn from aquifers, streams and lakes for crop production. In the same report, agricultural policies are viewed to have primarily benefitted farmers with productive land and access to water, bypassing the majority of small-scale producers who are still locked in a poverty trap of high vulnerability, land degradation and climatic uncertainty.

In Indonesia, a 2008 study written by Sugiyanto and Candra R Samekto of the ministries of Public Works and National Development Planning revealed that the country had already experienced water shortages in some areas during the dry season and flood events during the rainy season.

Specific water issues that Indonesia faces, as described in this study, include in imbalance between supply and demand in a spatial and temporal perspective and degraded river basins. For instance, increasing water demand – the total water needs of the country was 112.3 billion cubic meters in 2003 and approximately 117.7 billion cubic meters in 2009 – combined with limited water availability will certainly aggravate the water scarcity problem and trigger water conflict.

Biodiversity is also under threat. In the 2010 State of the Planet’s Biodiversity, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) provided gloomy facts. Species extinction is a natural part of Earth’s evolution, the reported noted, but during the past 100 years humans have increased the extinction rate by at least 100 times compared to the natural rate.

The report stated that virtually all of Earth’s ecosystems have been dramatically transformed through human actions; for example, 35 percent of mangroves and 20 percent of coral reefs have been lost. The report further argued that important ecosystems continue to be converted for agricultural and other uses at a constant pace during at least the past century.

In the 2010 State of Biodiversity of Asia and the Pacific, UNEP ranked Indonesia second after Australia as having the most threatened plant and animal species in the region. This is due to, among other things, high rates of fragmentation and net loss of forests that have continued in many countries in Southeast Asia between 2000 and 2009.

Still, 20 years after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, it is not all doom and gloom for the Earth and its people. Increasing collaborative works among state and non-state actors or between businesses and nongovernmental organizations have brought about gradual but important changes toward achieving sustainable development.

The development and application of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – a pioneering certification scheme for forest products harvested based on strict environmental, social and economic criteria – is an example of a concrete step forward from the 1992 Forest Principles. Under the FSC, more than 130 million hectares of forest and 8.5 percent of forest products in international trade are now certified, allowing important reforms in the relevant chains of custody and behavioral changes of end consumers. Other forest certification schemes have also been developed.

A similar case can be argued about the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a certification scheme for wild-caught seafood. To date, this scheme has produced more than 100 MSC-certified fisheries and 7,000 certified products available worldwide.

When it comes to the protection of large-scale threatened biodiversity and ecosystems, a multi-partners work that launched a 10-year initiative to preserve 12 percent, or 60 million hectares, of the Brazilian Amazon under the Amazon Region Protected Area can be used as a showcase. The protected area and other similar efforts in the Amazon are the world’s largest in situ conservation schemes, creating more than 30 million hectares of protected areas, ensuring further protection and improved management of 80 percent of the Amazon’s original forest and establishing a $29 million conservation fund.

Similar efforts have taken place in the Central Africa and Southeast Asia regions, such as the adoption of the Yaoundé Declaration (resulting in the protection and sustainable management of more than 10 percent of the Congo forest), and the creation of the Heart of Borneo (conservation and sustainable management of 22 million hectares of forest and terrestrial ecosystems).

In marine areas, comparable efforts have been undertaken through the Coral Triangle Initiative, a multilateral partnership of six countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste) formed in 2009 to address the urgent threats facing the coastal and marine resources of one of the most biologically diverse and ecologically rich regions on Earth.

Such progress, however, can only be further continued if existing and future threats, particularly from unsustainable land use and marine activities, are mitigated and important enabling conditions are improved, namely good economic policies that create positive incentives, good governance, clear land tenure and environmentally-friendly infrastructure development.

Rio+20, under one of the two themes of its upcoming conference, “Green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication,” provides a venue for countries to openly and informally discuss comprehensive approaches using a green economy concept to address such threats and improve enabling conditions and propose solutions.

By using the green economy concept, it is expected that countries can be helped to transform their engines of economic growth, particularly through shifting investments – public and private, domestic and international – towards emerging green sectors and the greening of existing sectors, complemented by changes to unsustainable consumption patterns.

Such transformation is crucial to ensure sustainable development in most countries, especially developing countries including Indonesia. Without significant transformation in countries’ economies, sustainable development is likely to remain an oxymoron concept.

Indonesia, as a large developing country, has a real stake and hence is required to come up with a strong position to negotiate so that countries agree at Rio+20 for a worldwide transition toward a green economy and concrete application of sustainable development.


Fitrian Ardiansyah is a Climate and Sustainability Specialist, doctoral candidate at the Australian National University and the recipient of the Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.