Betty has got a solution. A small-scale farmer in Kenya, Betty is part of a global force which already feeds nearly one in three people on Earth. Betty has joined a co-operative, which means she can pool her resources with other farmers to grow more food and secure fairer prices.
This summer there is an opportunity to empower Betty and her colleagues. Oxfam will be campaigning as part of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and with the Co-operative movement to make a ‘Rio Connection’ to help ensure that the forthcoming “Rio+20” Conference not only addresses the environmental challenges, but tackles inequality and poverty reduction while ensuring that everyone on the planet can have enough to eat, always.
The conference vision and guiding principle for long-term global development is ‘sustainable development’ consisting of three pillars: economic development, social development and environmental protection.
Rio+20 — the short name for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, between June 20 and 22 – is a historic opportunity to define pathways to a safer, more equitable, cleaner, greener and more prosperous world for all.
Twenty years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, more than 130 heads of state, vice presidents, heads of government, and deputy prime ministers (including Nick Clegg) are currently inscribed on the speakers list for the conference.
“Rio+20 will be one of the most important global meetings on sustainable development in our time, says UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
If you look at progress and the timeline in modern environmental thinking, it has been a long, slow process. Public awareness and recognition of humanity’s connection with nature probably began with the famous book the ‘Silent Spring’ published in 1962.
A major breakthrough was the publication of the Brundtland Report Our Common Future by the former Prime Minister of Norway in October 1987 which laid the groundwork for the convening of the 1992 ground-breaking Rio Earth Summit, the adoption of Agenda 21, taken up Bristol and many other local authorities and the Rio Declaration.
Major agreements on Biodiversity, the Framework agreement on climate change and global principles on forests were also created. It also is credited with creating the most prevalent definition of sustainability: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Rio’s wake-up call in 1992 launched a global sustainability movement.”
Twenty years on and humanity is far from living within a ‘safe space’ that respects ecological and social limits. Deep inequalities of income, gender and power mean that millions of people are living in poverty. Nearly 900million people face hunger, 1.4billion live on less than $1.25 a day while 2.7billion have no access to clean cooking facilities.
At the same time, the environmental limits of the planet are being breached. Years of slow progress on hunger risk being reversed as demand for food outstrips supply, and food production and farmers’ livelihoods are hit by depleting natural resources, a scramble for fertile land and water, and climate change. All definitions of sustainable development require that we see the world as a system – system that connects space; and a system that connects time. That system is breaking down.
To avert disaster, we need a rapid transition to a new model of prosperity, which not only delivers economic development, but also respects planetary boundaries and has equity at its heart. One positive move is that momentum is building to define and agree new sustainable development goals (SDGs) to complement and reinforce the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals). It is likely that Prime Minister David Cameron will be chairing a new UN body to promote this.
You can join the movement of campaigners who will be making the Rio Connection a lobby of MPs to ask them to push the UK Government to champion increased investment in small-scale farming and asking them to sign up to a sustainable future. Another test for the ‘greenest government ever’, campaigners can also take Oxfam action online as we campaign with the Co-operative to collect and hand action cards to Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, and Caroline Spelman, Environment Minister, at the end of May, before they go to the conference.
You can follow progress before and during the conference by visiting the website or by following @UN_Rioplus20 or @EarthSummit2012 on Twitter.
Sha Zukang, Secretary-General of the Rio+20 Conference says: “Sustainable development is not an option! It is the only path that allows all of humanity to share a decent life on this, one planet. Rio+20 gives our generation the opportunity to choose this path.”
Hopes for this conference, 20 years on from this inspiring 1992 speech have been downplayed, but our public action is sorely needed to support the movement for change, to create more political will and to press for Global action.
Rio+20 may not change the system overnight but it is a chance to become part of the solution by supporting farmers like Betty and moving to a sustainable food production system.
Roger James is a campaigner for Oxfam South West in Bristol