No place for cynics: Rio and the first 20 years of a long journey

18 June 2012

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - Group dynamics and a shared and thorough understanding of life support systems is what ensures survival of species. As E.O.Wilson succinctly puts in his recent book The Social Conquest of the Earth, in the history of our planet, “colonies of cheaters lose to colonies of cooperators.”


Two decades ago here in Rio de Janeiro, it was clear to all of us that the global debate engendered by the UNCED process - and by the summit itself - was just the beginning of a long and daunting journey. The formal outcome of the effort was not insignificant by any measure. Countries ambitiously agreed to an explicit shared understanding of the challenges facing the planet at the turn of the millennium in the form of Principles, an agenda for action, and treaties on the Earth’s support systems.

The outcome was a collective call for transformation, for correcting course, for shifting pathways. Governments committed to redesign policies, to provide resources and induce technological responses, and to cooperate among themselves for the global good. Businesses, on the eve of the fastest integration of national economies into global markets and a revolution in communication technology, enthusiastically embraced the challenge. Civil society had also been openly invited to partake in the Rio bazaar of hopes and ideas and it rose to the occasion. Indeed, the aftermath of the Rio Summit saw not only governmental and intergovernmental activity, but also an unprecedented proliferation of initiatives aimed at incorporating stakeholders in policy-making and harnessing the behaviour of consumers and producers to the high ideals of sustainability.

ICTSD is a child of Rio ‘92. We came about as a response to the interest of those influenced by the sustainable development challenges, and as a part of the inspired think tanks, organisations and governments who choose to act in that interest. Since our founding in 1996, we’ve been tirelessly working to advance the cause of sustainable development in a rapidly globalising economy - and we know that much is still to be done. We understand sustainable development as a system of interactions among markets, environmental forces, and social policies that support human subsistence and freedoms over generations. And we recognise that the novel formulation of the green economy is integral part of it.

As governments and the international community focus their attention back to those critical ambitions in Rio, I would like to invite you to attend ICTSD’s Trade and Sustainable Development Symposium taking place on the sidelines of the conference in Rio. The Symposium will explore a range of issues, including natural resource management, green technology and innovation, green trade opportunities, and sustainable energy scale-up. Participants will have an opportunity to address success stories and areas of concern and search for ways forward.

Of course, if you are not in Rio, be sure to check in on our website for updates and reports from all of our sessions and discussions.

Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz
Co-founder and Chief Executive, ICTSD

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