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Published: September 28, 2011

Sustainable development requires fundamental reform of the United Nations

Press release |
Achieving genuine sustainable development will require restructuring of national and international institutions such as the United Nations and World Trade Organization, according to a series of policy briefs from the scientific community.
The four policy briefs, on key issues such as governance, food security, water security and biodiversity, provide a series of recommendations to ensure sustainable development policies succeed. The briefs are designed to provide input into the United Nations Rio+20 Summit in 2012.

Recommendations include upgrading the United Nations Environment Programme to an agency along the lines of the World Health Organization and strengthening the Commission on Sustainable Development.

Professor Frank Biermann, chair of the International Human Dimensions Programme’s Earth Systems Governance project and lead author of the policy brief on institutional frameworks for sustainable development says: “Current governance systems are failing to deliver on agreed sustainable development policies. Analysis indicates incremental improvements will be unlikely to improve matters sufficiently. Fundamental reforms of international institutions like the United Nations are required for effective Earth-system governance.”

“We need to have a ‘constitutional moment’ in world politics, akin to the major transformative shift in governance after 1945 that led to the establishment of the United Nations and numerous other international organizations, along with far-reaching new international legal norms on human rights and economic cooperation. The 2012 Rio Conference offers both an opportunity and a crucial test as to whether such conferences can bring about substantial and urgently needed change,” he added.

The policy brief also calls for greater transparency and more accountability in sustainable development policy. “Accountability can be strengthened when stakeholders gain better access to information and decision-making,” the authors argue.

Elsewhere, the policy brief on biodiversity and ecosystem services calls for green economies to be based on ‘inclusive wealth’, which includes all forms of capital – natural, social and human as well as financial and manufactured. The food security brief calls for the urgent need to develop policies and technologies for sustainable food production. While the water security brief outlines how an expanding population, growing economies and poor water management are putting unprecedented pressure on our freshwater resources. The authors state, “We simply cannot continue to use water as wastefully as we have in the past.” They conclude that scientists and policy makers have a responsibility to develop more sustainable solutions to existing and emerging water problems.

The policy briefs, the first four of nine are part of the scientific preparations for the international conference, Planet Under Pressure: new knowledge towards solutions. The conference, to be held in London in March 2012 – two months before the Rio+20 Summit – will provide a “State of the Planet” assessment based on the latest scientific research.

Five more policy briefs are forthcoming before the end of 2011: They will provide new policy recommendations and insights on the green economy, interconnected challenges, energy security, health and human well-being.

More information

Owen Gaffney
Director of communications
International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
Email: owen.gaffney@igbp.kva.se
Tel: +46 86739556
Mob: +46 730208418
Skype: owengaffneyigbp

The Policy Briefs are sponsored by:

IGBP - The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme

DIVERSITAS - an international programme of biodiversity science

IHDP - International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Envirionmental Change

WCRP - World Climate Research Programme


The international Planet Under Pressure conference, 26-29 March 2012, will be the largest gathering of global change and sustainability scientists in advance of the Rio+20 Summit. The conference will provide a “State of the Planet” assessment based on the latest research and discuss solutions to global sustainability. The conference is sponsored by ICSU and the four global change programmes, International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, DIVERSITAS, International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change and the World Climate Research Programme, and their Earth System Science Partnership

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