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Québec at Rio+20

The Rio+20 event

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) was held from June 20 to June 22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Conference will focused on two themes: the green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication; and the institutional framework for sustainable development. The United Nations had invited member states and major stakeholders to present their contributions to these two themes during the Conference. More than 650 reports were submitted, most of them from major stakeholder groups.

The two major themes of the Conference

1. The green economy

In its report entitled Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20 ( PDF, 5 MB) the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) describes the environmental, social and economic changes that have swept the planet since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Despite the gains made through the combined efforts of governments and NGOs during the last 20 years that aimed at reaching the goals set by previous international conferences, the pressure of human and economic activity on the environment has increased, with resulting environmental problems that affect health and safety. From a societal point of view, iniquities remain in how wealth and resources are shared both in the North and in the South.

The efforts required to attack these problems also open the door to innovation and provide an opportunity to rethink the ways societies produce and consume. By placing the green economy on its agenda, the United Nations has restarted discussions about the preponderant role played by economic actors in making this shift. This is the context in which the green economy has attracted interest as an instrument of sustainable development.

Towards a definition of the green economy

While no precise definition of the green economy has yet emerged, there is consensus on a number of recurring themes, such as the intersection of the environment and the economy. Heavily articulated around the technological development of green goods and services, the purpose of the green economy is to reduce the environmental impact of the production-consumption cycle.

Far from being a substitute for the concept of sustainable development, the green economy is pictured as a portal whereby the overall challenges of sustainable development can be incorporated into an economic model. Seen from this perspective, stakeholders agree that the green economy must be an integral part of sustainable development in order to ensure that measures taken help strengthen the fabric and vitality of societies and reduce inequality. The transition to a green economy must take place with emphasis on improving the well-being of populations and workers.

What is a "green economy?"

The green economy has been described as one that produces a low level of carbon emissions and manages its resources economically. It acknowledges the value of natural capital as a factor in collective wealth and protects and sustains biological diversity, recognizing the economic and social value of the environment. In the green economy, resources such as air, water, soil and forests are respected, inasmuch as they offer invaluable services that meet fundamental human needs and ensure economic prosperity. Finally, the green economy is socially responsible, facilitating social inclusion and promoting the goals of fairness and solidarity.

The main channels involved in the development of the green economy

The green economy places great emphasis on innovation, technology and green goods and services. In particular, it supports the growth of development channels such as renewable energy. Transitioning to this model is presented as a way of stimulating economic activity and job creation through the development and use of new products, processes and markets. The most frequent pathways to the green economy involve:

  • Fighting and adapting to climate change, and reducing air pollution
  • Energy efficiency and renewable energy
  • Ecological design of goods and services and ecological efficiency of production processes
  • Sustainable management of residual materials
  • Carbon-free transportation and sustainable mobility
  • Sustainable agriculture and fisheries
  • Conservation and sustainable development of biodiversity, water, soil and forests
  • Sustainable tourism
  • Green training and jobs
  • Ecological compatibility and green financial mechanisms

While some of the above channels have received major showcasing due to their growth potential, the target remains changes to all economic activities, through a ripple effect that will see the use of green technology and include new business models and the marketing of innovative goods and services within traditional channels.

Learn more:
Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication. A Synthesis for Policy Makers ( PDF, 3 MB)

2. Institutional framework (governance)


The institutional framework of sustainable development includes a multitude of bodies, organizations, networks in more or less formal arrangements for participating in policy definition and application at local, regional, national and international levels.

Internationally, it refers to all United Nations organizations that work in the field of sustainable development, as well as to the treaties, conventions and other multilateral agreements that support sustainable development under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly.

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