Paving the Road to Rio+20 with Meaningful Dialogue at DSDS 2012


The countdown to the June 2012 Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development picked up speed last week at the annual Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS). The DSDS, whose timely theme was “Protecting the Global Commons: 20 years post Rio,” brought together a diverse representation of leaders from around the world for annual deliberations, including the Prime Minister of India, Hon. Manmohan Singh, and California’s former governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. NRDC’s President, Frances Beinecke, spoke at the conference about the urgent need to act now to address imperative environmental and developmental issues, complementing NRDC’s efforts to have a meaningful Rio+20 Earth Summit through our “Race to Rio” campaign.


The recent release of the heavily critiqued “zero draft” of the output document for the Rio+20 Earth Summit, entitled “The Future We Want,” supplied a pertinent backdrop to the Delhi deliberations. By identifying issues for discussion during the UN Earth Summit (almost all of which were embedded in the DSDS 2012 agenda), DSDS provided an earlier forum for deliberations and agreements among diverse stakeholders regarding actionable outcome-based policy suggestions for Rio+20. This summit also presented an opportunity to build partnerships to chip away at a legacy of appeasing multilateral objectives buried in – as my colleague Jacob Scherr put it – “too much jargon and repetition and too many abstract incremental promises and far off goals.”

DSDS should help catalyze new partnerships with institutional actors working on Rio+20 within India too.  We have found that these smaller and more personal interactions allow for a greater understanding of individual stakeholder motivations, and in turn help forge action coalitions in the policy realm. Focusing on commitments to short-term and medium-term actions by national and sub-national governments, entrepreneurs and civil society groups is one way to ensure concrete goals and targets are achievable. NRDC’s submission to the United Nations for Rio+20 lists about 40 such action items   Similarly, in the climate change and clean energy space, which is the focus of NRDC’s India Initiative, another colleague, Jake Schmidt, has laid out how the vague promises in the “zero draft” for Rio +20 can translate into results on the ground by delineating specific initiatives against each broad goal.

Specifically, we believe India’s sustainable development opportunities and policy commitment can be more effectively implemented through concrete action-items, including the following:

In past DSDS conferences, policymakers have spoken of India’s sustainability policy in the national and international context. However, as a recent appraisal of India’s environmental goals and clean energy targets shows, national implementation tends to fall short of policy intent. Twenty years after the original Earth Summit at Rio, DSDS 2012 provided a productive platform to help generate action-items for India to contribute to, and benefit from, the Global Commons.

Co-authored by Sangeeta Nandi, NRDC India Initiative Volunteer