Joint programme of the
Center for Russian Evironmental Policy &
the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation

Sustainable Development and Civil Society. Rio+20 - New Opportunities

    Sustainable development… The essence of this idea lies in the necessity to "inscribe" our constantly growing demands in the planet's natural capacity. The idea is not new; its official life in the world community will soon be 20 years old. Few political slogans have lived for so long. Some people say that it is time to propose something new. Perhaps, it would be advisable to change the slogan and to present the idea in a different way. Yet its essence will never become outdated. It establishes the rules of the game and is a condition of survival. We can shut our eyes, try not to think about such things, or pay no attention to anything. There were many attempts of this kind. Their results, however, were never long in coming but left longstanding memory. Once, at the dawn of industrialization, the English parliament had to take a break from work and to take urgent measures: smog made eyes tearing, and it was difficult to breathe. The Great Lakes in the United States and Canada and rivers in Western Europe were turning into lifeless wastewater basins, which were dangerous for people. The cost and effort spent to improve that situation are unimaginable. Meanwhile, lessons are becoming increasingly harder, and their consequences are increasingly expensive. They include the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the recent anomalous heat in Central Russia. Note that it is increasingly more difficult to find concrete persons who are to blame or a concrete cause of an emergency. We should rather find fault with our attitude to ourselves and to nature, as well as with our erroneous behavior.

    Who should be leaders in this process? Apparently, those for whom this is especially topical. This implies understanding the necessity of this way of development and the presence of certain economic possibilities to implement it. A number of developed countries actively joined this process after the Rio Summit of 1992. As a result, new strategies of development appeared, such as Sustainable America, Sustainable Development in the Netherlands, and others. These countries still adhere to this vector, although they assess their achievements in this respect as quite moderate. Today, they are more enthusiastic about specific tasks, associated with green growth and the prevention of climate change. Many other countries, which are focused on economic growth to solve acute social problems, have failed to accede properly to this call of the world community. We should admit that, although ideas of sustainable development are very topical for all countries and need joint efforts of the world community, only economically highly developed countries are able to ensure sufficient advance in this respect. Other countries may join them as they develop and upon the condition that developed countries help them.

    Russia is among the countries for which this is topical today. There are a number of reasons for this. They include economic growth, rich natural resources, and the necessity to seek the optimal way of development. The country's priorities in innovation policy, energy efficiency, and economic modernization in accordance with modern requirements naturally determine our movement toward sustainable development.

    Progress in the propagation of the ideas of sustainable development and active participation in this process presuppose adapting them to the specifics of each country. The concepts of sustainable development and the ways of its accomplishment are different in different countries and will no doubt keep changing. At the international level, this implies not only UN-based official cooperation within the world community but also informal partnership between representatives of different countries.

    At the national level, it is necessary to assess achievements and problems on the way toward sustainable development. With respect to Russia, generalizing rich regional experience is of great importance.

    Civil society should play a decisive role in ensuring this activity. This means propagating the ideas; supporting them and participating in their implementation; and, ultimately, delegating the power to propel the country in this direction to the authorities.

    In the first place, this implies broad educational activity in propagating the ideas of sustainable development. At present, not only man in the street but also many persons responsible for making decisions have practically no idea about what is sustainable development and why it is a priority for the world community. Despite the fact that Russia remains formally inactive with regard to education in the field of sustainable development, ecology and sustainable development are taught at many universities and secondary schools in a number of Russian regions; in addition, many public organizations carry out relevant educational activities. The urgent problem of studying the fundamentals of environmental knowledge and sustainable development in the system of compulsory school education is waiting for its solution at the official level.

    A significant role in this respect may be played by institutes of public policy, which unite efforts of experts and activists to look for ways of solving problems in the interests of civil society. Developing a network of such institutes on the basis of higher education establishments, research centers, and civil society structures would no doubt favor the propagation of the idea, promote proposals on ways of solving the problems, ensure further movement toward sustainable development under concrete conditions, and help assimilate positive experience.

    Additional possibilities for this activity are open due to the Rio-plus-20 process, which was launched with the view of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development that will take place in 2012, 20 years after the summit in Rio de Janeiro. This implies generalizing and assessing national experience, achievements, future tasks, problems, and their possible solutions, as well as determining priorities and leaders. Russia together with other BRIC countries (including Brazil,  India and China), could be a leader of the “Rio+20” movement towards sustainable development.

    Civil society may initiate this process, which, after necessary estimations have been obtained and priority tasks have been determined, could demonstrate the interest of population and help delegate to the authorities the country's active participation in the movement of the world community toward sustainable development.

Vladimir Zakharov


© Institute of Sustainable Development 2009  
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