Organisation Internationale de Droit du Développement

IDLO Statement on the Rio+20 Outcomes

The role of law, and the rule of law, are crucial for sustainable development. The Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 recognized this 20 years ago when the concept of sustainable development was launched on the world stage at the 1992 Earth Summit. The world called for the strong roots, emphasizing the need for fundamental changes - for new laws, new institutions, and a new commitment to face global challenges collaboratively through international law. We declared the 1992 Rio Principles to be distinctly human-centered, placing people and their right to productive lives and a healthy environment as a central concern for sustainable development.

The zero draft of the Rio+20 document, released in January 2012, builds up from this strong legal foundation. It calls for full respect of international law and the Rio principles, as well as human rights and fundamental freedoms, rule of law, and gender equality. However, the chosen focus on general guidance and voluntary commitments provides weak support for the “bold and decisive” action we hope to take. The ongoing negotiations have highlighted this gap, with certain nations calling for a focus on concrete guidance, human rights, social equity and gender equality.

In defining the outcome for the Rio+20 Conference, we must recognize that there can be no sustainability without justice and equity. Without effective legal frameworks, fundamental human rights will remain at risk and ecosystems exposed to exploitation. Laws can be both enablers and obstacles to sustainable development. Innovative new laws can guide actions and build relationships, setting the stage for a new era of cooperative global action.

Laws and legal institutions filled implementation gaps and improved integration of the economic, social and environmental pillars, two of the main objectives of the upcoming Rio+20 Conference. Recognition of the contribution of law to the Rio+20 Agenda can lead to inspired and reinvigorated outcomes. IDLO and its partners, through the International Law for Sustainable Development (ILSD) Partnership, has focused on tracking the remarkable progress in field of sustainable development over the past decade and beyond.

To achieve a just and equitable green economy, an integrated, human-rights based approach will be vital. We will need not simply tailored market-based mechanisms but also firm commitments to social development and ecosystem health. Innovative national law and institutions can and are leading the way in crafting new green economy pathways where human rights and social equity are fully-respected. But greater efforts are needed to ensure widespread adoption and sharing of these legal best practices.

Laws and legal institutions constitute a fundamental cornerstone of the institutional framework for sustainable development. We should recognize, as a significant global achievement, that the international treaties we have negotiated have made great strides in incorporating the Rio Principles. More than 40 multilateral and regional treaties addressing diverse issues from environmental protection and climate change, but also international relations, human rights, and trade and investment, now recognize sustainable development as an explicit objective. These treaties reflect sustainable development principles in their text, and set innovative mechanisms in place to operationalize the commitment. Going forward in the Rio+20 negotiations, we support further regulations to enable and enforce these treaties, to ensure ambitious words become concrete action.

This is happening already in the international courts and tribunals charged with adjudicating these treaties. In the past 20 years, over 100 parties including States, corporations, indigenous communities, and private citizens have entrusted international courts and tribunals to peacefully resolve over 70 matters addressing issues of sustainable development. No more simply a concern of specialized environmental courts, the Rio Principles are considered by distinguished courts including the International Court of Justice, Inter-American Court of Human Rights and World Trade Appellate Body, among others as well as international trade arbitrators and mediators. Importantly, these courts provide a forum where developing countries can resolve disputes, and rely on tailored, nuanced results. The Rio Principles are turning from concepts into reality, treaty by treaty, case by case, giving new clarity to the terms being used across the negotiation floor. This can move the discussion forward towards concrete commitments and actions based on our common, growing understanding of what sustainable development can mean.

These important contributions of law to the Rio+20 Agenda need to be highlighted in upcoming UN CSD. IDLO is active in assisting developing country governments and jurists to develop, implement and share this legal progress. At the UN CSD, we will release a series of important Compendia of Legal Best Practices that monitor, analyse and share regulatory innovations on sustainable economic development. We will launch a new online Legal Resource Centre for developing country jurists who seek to incorporate principles of sustainable development law in the their legal arguments. Further, we will renew the ILSD Partnership, committing to a further decade of progressing the important contribution of law to sustainable development.

For the UNCSD, these instruments will be helpful in ongoing discussions on the development of new Sustainable Development Goals. It is time to move forward, resting firmly on the strong roots set by the Rio Principles, towards measurable Sustainable Development Goals that will define in concrete commitments the future path of the aspirational journey we began 20 years ago.