How do we provide energy, health care and other services to people around the world as the population grows and resources dwindle? It’s a challenge that was front and center this June at Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
It’s a challenge the U. N. Foundation and Devex embraced in Rio+Solutions, a high-visibility campaign that is coming to a close now. Rio+Solutions was meant to raise awareness of key challenges — and solutions! — in the run-up to the high-level gathering in Brazil — and it did just that. Over the course of several month, a who’s who of leading thinkers and doers lent their voices, suggesting innovative and sustainable ways to improving food security, the job market, disaster preparedness, and the environment.
Kandeh K. Yumkella, UNIDO director-general and co-chair of the U.N. secretary-general’s High Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All, set the tone with his guest opinion ”Sustainable development is not possible without sustainable energy,” which encouraged the international community to work toward sustainable energy access for all — a U.N. goal that finally received a hearty thumbs-up from the United States - a major coup given the U.S. position as the world’s largest foreign aid donor.
Rio+Solutions contributors came with a variety of backgrounds in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, highlighted the potential of renewables in ensuring energy access. Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, CEO of Vestergaard Frandsen, wrote about huge impact small, innovative gadgets can have on poverty reduction. And Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, called on the aid community to shift its focus from providing relief to strengthening resilience within the developing world.
Other contributors include Stephen O’Brien, U.K. parliamentary under-secretary of state for international development; Bill Drayton, CEO of Ashoka and chair of Get America Working; Carl Pope, former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club; Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance; Barbara Frost, chief executive of WaterAid; Fabien Cousteau, founder of Plant A Fish; Pape Gaye, president and CEO of IntraHealth International.
Even a rock musician weighed in to support the U.N.’s sustainable energy targets: Dave ‘Phoenix’ Farrell, bassist and backup vocalist for Linkin Park.
The response from the international community — on the Devex website and social media — was impressive. Readers shared their own innovative solutions and engaged in spirited back-and-forth on Facebook and Twitter. There was broad support for the sustainable energy goals that began emerging in the run-up to Rio, but also some concern about leadership: Will government, corporate and civil society leaders be able to work jointly toward a future that sees positive socio-economic change with minimal environmental impact?
World leaders left Brazil after signing an agreement that — while perhaps not as bold as some had hoped — can be seen as an important milestone to a more comprehensive, longer-term agreement that is expected to emerge in the coming years. So the work is far from over, and the international development community — you! — will need to stay engaged to make a difference.