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High Stakes at Rio: The World Bank's Key Issues for Rio +20

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May 21, 2012 

The UN Conference on Sustainable Development is an opportunity to build the planning and policy structures, measurement systems, and ambition that the world needs to deal with the food, water, and energy crises and prepare for the future.

These are the stakes: In the next 40 years, the Earth’s population will expand from 7 billion to 9 billion people, and they will all count on the planet to provide them with energy, water, and food. The course we are on right now will make that extremely difficult.

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20, offers an opportunity to build the planning and policy structures, measurement systems, and ambition that we need to prepare for the future and to deal with the converging food, water, and energy crises that we face today.

Around the world, there is a growing understanding that to make progress we must give equal attention to the economic, environmental, and social pillars of sustainable development. The conference—expected to draw 75,000 people including over 100 heads of state and thousands of people from the private sector to Rio de Janeiro in June—is a chance for the global community to harness the power of inclusive green growth as the pathway to sustainable development, to move beyond just GDP and incorporate natural capital and ecosystem services into national wealth accounting, and to scale up new integrated public and private sector approaches to cityscapes, landscapes, and oceans.

Rachel Kyte

We’re seeing the nexus of food crises, water insecurity, and energy needs, all made much more complicated by climate change. Countries and communities need to build resilience and grow more efficiently. Green growth is at the heart of that. It is the path to sustainable development."  
|| Rachel Kyte, Vice President, Sustainable Development, World Bank

At Rio, the global community can also begin developing a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) for energy, food, and water to complement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and put us all on a better path that benefits planet, people, and progress all at the same time.

The World Bank Group has been working closely with governments, civil society, and the private sector and will be going into Rio +20 with six key messages:

Inclusive Green Growth

The world’s current growth patterns are not only unsustainable, they are also deeply inefficient. That is why inclusive green growth is necessary and urgent. It is also far more affordable for countries to act now than to grow dirty and expect to clean up later when growth patterns may be irreversible and will certainly be expensive and socially disruptive to change.

Inclusive green growth increases efficiency by reducing unnecessary wasting of energy and natural resources, improving urban planning to make the best use of public transport and other services, creating multiuse infrastructure, and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies that provide greater benefit to the wealthy and are a costly way to help the poor. The real challenges to inclusive green growth are governance failures, entrenched behaviors and financing constraints – all of which can be overcome.

At Rio, we would like to see widespread endorsement of and commitment to inclusive green growth. The private sector has a key role to play, as well, in terms of innovative financing and business models that can leader to sustainable growth today and less waste, pollution and energy use tomorrow.

Natural Capital Accounting

Since before the Earth Summit in 1992 there has been growing recognition that GDP alone is not a sufficient measure of progress towards sustainable development. GDP looks at only one part of economic performance—output —but says nothing about the wealth and assets that underlie this. For example, when a country exploits its minerals, it is actually depleting wealth. The same holds true for overexploiting fisheries or degrading water resources. Relying on GDP alone to assess economic performance can be misleading, as countries could grow in the short run by running down their assets, thus endangering growth in the long term.

Hasan Tuluy

Latin America has been a creative source of knowledge for the rest of the world on how to green a growing economy, from payments for ecosystems services to solar and wind power and rapid mass transit systems. Converting these sparks of innovation into widespread practices is the challenge that lies ahead for the region." || Hasan A. Tuluy, Regional Vice President, Latin America and the Caribbean, World Bank

The recent adoption by the UN Statistical Commission of the System for Environmental and Economic Accounts (SEEA) of a method to account for natural resources such as minerals, timber, and fisheries is a major step forward.

Rio+20 is an opportunity for countries and the private sector to step up their commitment to comprehensive wealth accounting and integrated reporting. Several financial institutions have already signed a Natural Capital Declaration, and many companies have signed up to integrated reporting initiatives that help them factor in biodiversity and respect for the environment into account when taking management decisions.


This spring, the World Bank convened a coalition of 130 of the world’s leaders in ocean health and use, including governments, international organizations, scientists, and industry to form a Global Partnership for Oceans to begin confronting the problems of overfishing, marine degradation, and habitat loss. This includes setting goals for action over the next 10 years.

The oceans provide food security, coastal protection, and economic security for billions of people. They supply about 15 percent of all protein, but at the same time, mismanagement, development, and pollution has led to 85% of fisheries being fully exploited, overexploited, depleted or recovering, and 35% of mangrove forests and 20 percent of coral reefs destroyed.

At Rio, we will be looking for commitments to improve marine stewardship, including acting on the commitments to agreements written in Rio 1992, Johannesburg 2002, and Nagoya 2010. We want to enhance food security, reduce pollution, and increase the coverage of marine protected areas.


Meeting international goals for food security and inclusive green growth will require better integrating the management of land, forest, and water resources. Consider these facts: agricultural production must increase by 70 percent to feed the growing population, with little increase in available land and water; by 2025, nearly two-thirds of countries will be water-stressed and 2.4 billion people will face absolute water scarcity; forests cover 25-30 percent of the earth’s land surface and absorb about 15 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions; agriculture accounts for more than 70 percent of the world’s fresh water use and about 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, or approximately 30 percent when considering land-use change, such as deforestation driven by agricultural expansion for food, fiber, and fuel.

Credit: Curt Carnemark/World Bank

Green growth isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. There are many points of inspiration – Botswana, Costa Rica, the Philippines are all emerging countries that are plotting their way to a sustainable future and embracing data on natural capital." || Rachel Kyte, Vice President, Sustainable Development, World Bank

Integrating management of resources across landscapes will help to maximize productivity, improve livelihoods, and reduce negative impacts on the environment. That could involve restoring degraded parts of the landscape; enhancing productivity on the most fertile land; integrating different production systems such as livestock, crop, and tree production into the same landscape; and including local communities in the design and implementation of the approach to managing a landscape.

Leaders will be using the Rio conference to share best practices, and we will be encouraging holistic solutions.

Urban Development

As the global community considers the way forward, the 70 million people who move into urban areas in developing countries each year warrant particular attention. Urbanization has enabled economic growth, innovation, and poverty reduction, as the world's urban areas currently account for three-quarters of global economic production. At the same time, urbanization has contributed to environmental and socioeconomic challenges, including climate change, pollution, traffic congestion, and the growth of slums with their associated health and security impacts.

We have an historic opportunity to imagine, design, build and operate smart cities with decisions based on good data. These are cities that provide for the needs of residents today without reducing options for future generations. Green growth starts with smart urban planning that prepares for a growing population with public connectivity that reduces congestion and smog, provides basic health and education services, and invests in efficient infrastructure for water, electricity, and dealing with municipal waste. It also requires data and common metrics to set targets and assess progress, such as urban risk assessments and green building standards. Urban infrastructure decisions made today will impact communities for years to come.

At Rio, we would like to see commitments to and support for sustainable and resilient cities in the context of inclusive green growth that emphasizes the importance of urban planning and land markets; financing for infrastructure, housing, and public services; and common metrics and open data.

Sustainable Energy

Vital to sustainable development is sustainable energy. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is leading a push for universal access to electricity and clean cooking fuels, doubling the share of the world’s energy supplied by renewable sources from 15% to 30%, and doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency—all by 2030.

The World Bank Group is mobilizing its knowledge, financing, and innovative market-based solutions to help achieve these goals in an effort that would complement the emerging road map for Sustainable Development Goals. It also is actively engaged in the search for innovative public and private sector solutions that will advance the new global agenda and make all of us winners of tomorrow’s green industrial revolution.

At Rio +20, we would like to see serious commitments to an inclusive, green growth path to sustainable development. That includes incorporating natural capital accounting into national measures of wealth to ensure that all decisions made are properly valuing the tradeoffs in resources uses or destroyed. It requires a holistic view that recognizes how urban development, agriculture, private sector development, ecosystems, natural resources, job creation, and social development are intertwined. It also requires balanced management of ocean and forest environments and careful thought in how we will provide water and energy for all in sustainable ways that reduce poverty and improve lives.

The inclusive green growth path will be different for each country to meet its specific needs, but the goal is the same: growth and development that is sustainable for people, planet, and progress.


Last updated: 2012-05-21

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