Rio+20: green economy added to the sustainable development agenda

Bern, 23.06.2012 - The UN member states renewed the global commitment to sustainable development with their acceptance of a closing document at the UN Conference on Sustainability in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). Switzerland was represented at the conference by Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard. The Rio resolution marked the introduction of the green economy to the global policy agenda. The Rio final document achieves some progress, such as the creation of goals for sustainable development, but does not meet the challenge it poses in all respects.

The closing document adopted in Rio de Janeiro on 22 June 2012 identifies the green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development as one of the key tools that will enable mankind to live sustainably and without overexploiting resources. According to the outcome of Rio, a green economy is characterised, among other things, by the generation of well-being and the creation of dignified employment without causing damage to ecosystems.

The Rio document encourages countries to implement the green economy as a part of their sustainable development policies. A ten-year programme for sustainable consumption and production patterns was also adopted. Switzerland played a significant role in the drafting process and made a particularly important contribution to the programme for sustainable public procurement, among other things.

Advancing the green economy in Switzerland

Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard, who represented Switzerland at the meeting for the formal approval of the Rio document, now aims to act on this global policy signal and advance the work already under way on developing a Swiss green economy. The Federal Council defined six areas of action for a green economy back in 2010, including the greening of the tax system and the promotion of clean technologies (cleantech). Other measures are contained in the Federal Council's Sustainable Development Strategy. In a report to the Federal Council, Ms Leuthard, the Head of the DETEC, aims to define further areas of action with the aim of reducing the ecological footprint to a sustainable level in terms of resources by the middle of the century.

In view of the financial crisis in Europe and the new world order with the emergent newly industrialised countries, which are aiming to attain a standard of life equivalent to that in the industrialised countries, the document passed in Rio should be assessed positively: the global community has renewed the commitment of 1992 and continues to support the aims of sustainable development with its three environmental, social and economic dimensions.

In the opinion of the Swiss delegation, however, the measures contained in the final document are not generally incisive enough to reduce resource consumption and eradicate poverty (see box). Hence, it is up to the individual countries to decide on the level of commitment they will adopt in approaching their implementation.

The UN Conference on Sustainability in Rio should not be judged solely on the outcome of the negotiations. A wide range of events took place in Rio, both in advance of and during the summit of the heads of state and government: the representatives of environmental, development and women's organisations, business, indigenous peoples, youth groups and state officials met to present and debate possible approaches to sustainable development. Two thousand senior company representatives, including representatives from Switzerland, participated in the Corporate Sustainability Forum organised by the UN Global Compact. They signalled to the UN Secretary-General that business is committed to the topic of sustainable development and aims to contribute to its achievement.

Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard availed of her visit to Rio to lobby for Geneva's candidature as the headquarters of the Green Climate Fund and to meet with environment ministers. She discussed topics for important future environmental dossiers, for example the establishment of an international mercury convention, the negotiations for a new climate agreement and the forthcoming UN biodiversity conference in India. She also participated in a round of talks with economic and finance ministers and business representatives.

On the invitation of the UN women's organisation UN Women, Federal Councillor Leuthard, the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and other top politicians signed an appeal for greater gender equality and the empowerment of disadvantaged women. Complete gender equality has a positive effect on economic growth, poverty eradication, food security and public health. Federal Councillor Leuthard also availed of this opportunity to deliver a resolution on Rio+20 compiled by Swiss umbrella organisations of women parliamentarians and the Federal Commission for Women's Issues.


Detailed assessment

The following points contain the Swiss delegation's detailed assessment of the Rio text:

  • A process for the development of sustainable development goals was initiated in Rio. Such goals are important to demonstrate the need for action to each country and render the progress made in attaining sustainable development quantifiable and comparable. The Rio conference did not make a final decision in this regard and merely signalled the topics to be taken into account.
  • The United Nations Environment Programme UNEP should be strengthened by making the membership of the UNEP administrative council universal in future, and no longer restricted to a small group. This would strengthen UNEP's position and enable the UNEP administrative council to fulfil its role as the central body of international environmental policy more effectively. It was also decided to develop an environmental strategy for the UN system. In contrast, the role of UNEP was not sufficiently reinforced in Rio as compared with the numerous environmental agreements.
  • The establishment of a sustainability council as proposed by Switzerland was not decided on in Rio in the desired form. As opposed to this, a new high-ranking forum is to be established to replace the existing Commission on Sustainable Development. Hence the potential for real reform exists, however binding decisions on the establishment and concrete form to be taken by this forum were deferred to a later date.
  • Switzerland succeeded in having the topic of disaster prevention included on the international agenda and in highlighting the importance of mountain regions.
  • The protection of the oceans remains insufficient. The formulation on the human right to water was also attenuated in the concluding document.

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