Secretary-General’s remarks to General Assembly on outcome of Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

By | 2 July 2012

New York – Thank you for inviting me to speak today.

I returned on Saturday from the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

Immediately before that I was in Los Cabos, Mexico, for the G20 Summit.

In Los Cabos, I encouraged leaders to focus on reducing poverty, creating jobs and prioritizing sustainable development.

And in Rio I saw that the world’s governments are prepared to do just that.

I arrived with the news that the Rio+20 outcome document – The Future We Want – had been agreed.

This represents an important victory for multilateralism after months of difficult negotiations.

I thank President Rousseff of Brazil and her team for their leadership and the diplomacy that brought us to this fruitful conclusion.

I also thank the many members of the General Assembly whose negotiators had been working day and night with a sense of flexibility and compromise.

And I also thank Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang and his team, who has been working as Secretary-General of the Conference, who made this Rio+20 Conference a great success.


Let me be clear. Rio+20 was a success.

In Rio we saw the further evolution of an undeniable global movement for change.

More than 100 Heads of State or Government were represented at the conference. Many others engaged directly from their capitals.

And civil society and the private sector played an unprecedented role.

The core of Rio+20 is the outcome document. This provides a firm foundation for building a sustainable future.

There are many highlights of The Future We Want — too many to list here — so let me select just seven.

First – and most important – Rio+20 renewed and strengthened political commitment to sustainable development.

It balanced the views of 193 United Nations Member States, and recognized poverty as the greatest challenge to economic, social and environmental well-being.

Second, you – the Member States — agreed to launch a process to establish universal sustainable development goals, SDGs.

The SDGs will build on our advances under the Millennium Development Goals, and they will be an integral part of the post-2015 development framework.

The United Nations system will work closely with Member States to develop these SDGs, and the tools we will need to measure their success.

Third, the document emphasises the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment. This is a major priority for me. It is central to sustainable development. I commend Member States for emphasizing this important issue.

Fourth, partnerships.

Governments stand at the centre. But we know that governments alone cannot get the job done. We need the active involvement and support of all major groups of civil society, including the private sector.

For my second term I have identified partnership as a central means of achieving our core mandates. Our partnerships on women and children’s health, food and nutrition security and Sustainable Energy for All are having a growing impact.

Fifth, the outcome document agrees to strengthen the architecture to support international actions for sustainable development.

This includes establishing a high-level political forum on sustainable development and strengthening the UN Environment Programme.

Sixth, Rio+20 adopted a ten-year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production.

Further, the outcome document recognized the need to go beyond gross domestic product as a measure of progress, and acknowledged the role that the green economy can play in poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental care.

The United Nations system has considerable experience in this field and is ready to work with all Member States that want to explore green economy options.

Seventh, Rio + 20 recognized the right to food and the importance of food and nutrition security for all. It acknowledged that these can be achieved through sustainable agriculture and food systems.

At Rio + 20 I launched the Zero Hunger Challenge. Working with governments, civil society, business and development partners, we aim to provide better access to nutritious food for all. We want to end childhood malnutrition, promote sustainable food systems, increase smallholder productivity and stop the loss and waste of food.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

If the outcome document is the foundation for the next stage of our journey to sustainable development, the commitments announced at Rio are the bricks and cement.

They will be a concrete and lasting legacy of Rio+20.

They will help us to implement our vision in all regions.

More than 700 commitments were registered.

Among them are commitments on sustainable transport from eight multilateral banks, led by the Asian Development Bank.

Another major highlight of the commitments is Sustainable Energy for All.

Energy is the golden thread that connects development, social inclusion and environmental protection.

More than one billion people will benefit from public and private commitments to Sustainable Energy for All over the next two decades.

More than 50 governments are moving ahead, with more joining every day.

But the Rio commitments do not end there.

The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative attracted hundreds of endorsers and commitments from 250 universities in about 50 countries.

This initiative is transformative, global in reach and could reach thousands of graduates from universities and business schools.

And let us not forget the 64 million individual actions captured by the “Volunteer Action Counts” initiative spearheaded by the UN Volunteers.

This is a remarkable testament to bottom-up, grassroots commitment.

It is yet one more demonstration of how Rio+20 is mobilizing a global movement for change.

Rio+20 was also the first UN conference to focus on engaging people around the world through social media.

Hundreds of millions of people from all around the world joined the online conversation to share their visions for the future and demand action.

And the conversation will continue.

The world is watching and will hold us all accountable to the commitments made in Rio.


Immediately before Rio+20, the Government of Brazil helped to organize the People’s Summit.

I met their representatives the last day of the conference, and listened to their concerns.

The People’s Summit reminds us that the UN Charter begins with the words “We the Peoples”.

Sustainable development is about people – the well-being of individuals, families, communities and nations.

Rio+20 has given us a new chance.

It was not an end, but a new beginning – a milestone on an essential journey.

Rio+20 has reaffirmed essential principles for sustainable development.

It has given us advances in a range of sectoral and institutional issues.

And it has brought new commitments from a wide range of partners.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Now the work begins.

We have the tools. Let us use them to make this world sustainable for all.

Thank you.

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