by Robert D. Hormats | Leaders from around the globe will gather this upcoming June in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20. The conference provides a venue for governments and stakeholders to consider cross-cutting global environment, development, and economic needs. Indeed, there is much to be discussed. The population of the world is seven billion, of which almost one-seventh go hungry every day, one-fourth do not have access to electricity, and one-fifth live in areas where water is scarce. In addition, approximately one-third of the world’s biodiversity has been lost since 1970, three-fourths of the world’s marine fisheries are fully or over exploited, and two-fifths of the planet’s original forests are gone.
Rio+20 marks a new foundation for engaging the global community to build greener and more inclusive economies, smarter cities, and to strengthen institutions and networks to address current and future challenges. The Obama Administration has set a strong foundation and trajectory for enhancing sustainability and building a green economy at home and abroad. Our Global Development Policy recognizes that sustainable development offers a promise of long-term, inclusive, and enduring growth that builds on accountability, effectiveness, efficiency, coordination, and innovation. The United States’ approach to Rio+20 is focused on three key areas:
1. The Built Environment: Clean Energy and Urbanization – Energy is vital for the function of businesses, factories, farms, and schools. Energy security challenges are therefore directly linked to advancing economic development in many countries, especially to reach the 1.3 billion people who do not have access to electricity. We are using development resources to create markets that attract private sector energy-related investments to underserved populations. On the demand side, we are connecting the conservation of natural resources to profitability, thereby protecting the environment and freeing business resources for other types of job creating activities. Urban centers, in particular, offer the opportunity to capture these types of cross-cutting efficiencies.
2. The Natural Environment: Ecosystems Management and Rural Development – Nearly one billion people worldwide suffer from chronic hunger. To increase food yields and nutrition with fewer inputs and smaller impacts on the environment, we need both innovative agricultural technologies and improved understanding of agricultural systems—as well as integrated resource management of our terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems. We are extending support for sustainable, agriculture-led growth that will help lift people out of poverty through the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future.
3. The Institutional Environment: Modernizing Global Cooperation – The Internet, social media, and other connection technologies allow us to transcend the walls of traditional institutions, fostering truly global collaboration. By embracing twenty-first century connectivity, we can deploy the collective ingenuity and capability of governments, citizens, businesses, and civil society stakeholders from around the world to promote economic development and sustainable environmental practices. In addition, we can enhance national governance capacity in an inclusive manner by improving transparency, public participation in decision making, accountability, and institutional arrangements for effective implementation and enforcement.
The Rio+20 conference offers a chance to come together and consider the needs of our people and planet. How we deal with this moment—whether we succumb to a zero-sum competition over increasingly limited resources or cooperate with each other to build green economies—will determine in large part the security and prosperity of America and the world in the twenty-first century. Mobilizing our greatest asset, the collective capacity and strength of our citizens is vital to our success.
Robert D. Hormats is Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment.