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The Needs of the Present


Text by Zhou Jianxiong

Twenty years ago, history was made in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the June 1992 Earth Summit, a landmark global meeting that adopted Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of the Forest Principles ? documents laying down the guidelines for sustainable global development.

On June 20, 2012, the city was once again in the global spotlight as the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, convened for three days to continue the work of the 1992 summit, as well as the 2002 Johannesburg summit.

Tangible results have been attained during the past 20 years, as many countries made sustainability a national development priority. China, for instance, published its own agenda as early as 1994, and the country has made significant progress in reducing poverty ? one of the Millennium Development Goals agreed upon by all UN member countries at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000.

However, many of those goals remain largely unfulfilled. The persistent problems of environmental degradation, depletion of natural resources and climate change have worsened, and new problems caused by unbalanced regional development and widening income gaps across the globe continue to emerge. Many people have been led to believe that unless drastic remedies are adopted to reverse the situation, sustainable development will be an unattainable dream.

Opposing Positions

The failure to fully carry out those commitments was largely attributed to the confrontation between the developed countries (hereinafter referred to as North) and the developing countries (hereinafter referred to as South) over the issue of how to approach sustainability.

Zhao Yumin, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation (CAITEC), believes that for developing countries, priority should be given to eradicating or reducing poverty and closing the gaps with the developed world. This means they will have to adopt a development model compatible with the actual level of their national development. “Sustainable development should be carried out step by step, just like a baby shouldn’t be expected to run before he can walk,” she said.

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