Leaders around the world are questioning whether or not any real progress was made at the Rio+20 Summit last week. Critics charge that the Rio+20 Outcome Document entitled The Future We Want lacks specific commitments, credible action plans or funding to advance sustainability efforts. Others question the need for an international summit taking into account time, costs, security, etc. if all you end up with is a piece of paper that will bring little change. The Rio+20 Summit did matter as it is an important step in the continuing negotiations on how best to pursue a more sustainable environment worldwide. Progress was made last week as evidenced by these key achievements:

  1. More than $513 billion in funding was committed to address energy, food security, access to drinking water and management of oceans, among others;
  2. In excess of 700 concrete commitments were registered during the Summit from governments, business, industry, financial institutions and other groups; and,
  3. The outcome document was agreed on and adopted by Member States including a process for establishing new sustainable development goals by 2015 addressing topics such as change, water and sanitation, oceans and seas, energy and sustainable cities.  

The outcome document calls for a wide range of actions. These include not only beginning the process to establish sustainable development goals but also: detailing how the green economy can be used as a tool to achieve sustainable development; strengthening the UN Environment Programme (UNEP); promoting corporate sustainability reporting measures; taking steps to go beyond gross domestic product to assess the well-being of a country; developing a strategy for sustainable development financing; and, adopting a framework for tackling sustainable consumption and production.

More than 40,000 people – including parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, chief executive officers and civil society leaders – attended Rio+20 from 20-22 June. Over 50 million people from all over the world also participated in the Summit through social media platforms, voicing their comments, opinions and ideas, making the platforms a key component in establishing a conversation on sustainability issues both in the lead up and during the Summit.

The Rio+20 Summit may not have equaled its 1992 predecessor event in overall accomplishments and progress but given social, political and economic issues existing in the world today, the Summit's work will have positive impacts and was successful in advancing sustainable growth efforts. The importance of the Summit reminds us of the ever popular Rolling Stones' lyrics  "… you can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes... you might find you get what you need." The Summit gave the UNEP and world leaders what they need which is a clear process for moving forward and taking the next step on the path to a more sustainable environment.