Global environmental protection has featured high on the international political agenda since the United Nations (UN) Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. Yet, despite more than 900 environmental treaties coming into force over the past 40 years, human-induced environmental degradation is reaching unprecedented levels. Human societies must change course and steer away from critical tipping points in the earth system that might lead to rapid and irreversible change, while ensuring sustainable livelihoods for all. This requires a fundamental transformation of existing practices. If we are to achieve more sustainable development in the future, we have to reorient and restructure our national and international institutions and governance mechanisms. Incrementalism will not suffice to bring about societal change at the level required; the world needs structural change in global governance. 

The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development must become a major stepping stone towards introducing a stronger institutional framework for sustainable development. We urge decision makers to seize this opportunity to develop a clear and ambitious roadmap for institutional change and bring about fundamental reform of current sustainability governance within the next decade. This policy brief outlines the core areas needing most urgent action.

This Policy Brief is a key product of the Earth System Governance Project’s initiative on the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development and International Environmental Governance contributing to the process leading to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) – www.ieg.earthsystemgovernance.org.

Rio+20 Policy Briefs 

This is one of nine policy briefs produced by the scientific community to inform the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). These briefs were commissioned by the international conference Planet Under Pressure: New Knowledge Towards Solutions (www.planetunderpressure2012.net).