Islamic Relief participated in the Rio+20, a UN conference on sustainable development. The conference took place June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dr Muhtari Aminu-Kano, Senior Policy Advisor at Islamic Relief, shared his reflections of the conference:
Most local social, economic and environmental questions have a global dimension, and there is no way you can tackle them seriously unless you have a meaningful international, multilateral process to engage people in. Speculation was rife though about what the conference cost. Rumour has it that the Brazilian authorities spent $250 million on it. Imagine how far that would go if it were spent on the poor of Rio de Janeiro! On balance, however, I think it was a worthwhile event.
Progress in three key areas:
The lack of ambition, urgency and leadership that we have seen from the world’s richest countries was a big disappointment. But progress was nonetheless made in three important areas:
First, the summit has achieved unprecedented recognition for the importance of the green economy. Everyone is acknowledging the importance of bringing economic and environmental considerations closer together and gearing up the global economy to generate green jobs.
Second, a step forward has been taken with the decision to abolish the Commission for Sustainable Development and replace it with something more effective. This UN body has been moribund for some time, and we need stronger leadership and a more robust approach if we are to see a greener, more prosperous future.
Third, the governments in attendance have gone away from Rio promising to develop and start moving towards
concrete targets within the framework of the so-called sustainable development goals over the next three years. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but Islamic Relief and other civil society organisations are hopeful that this process will give us an opportunity to hold our politicians to account and ensure that the vital objective of sustainable development is pursued more effectively.
Workshops on Sustainable Development
There were many workshops at the summit where local groups shared how they are grappling with the challenges of sustainable development. The one that inspired me most involves a small community-based organisation in India that has developed a way to bring renewable energy to people who have never even had access to electricity before.
The project involves solar panels and solar-powered lanterns. The panels are installed on the roofs of people’s homes, collecting solar energy during the day that can be used to power the lanterns at night.
The poorest families are using these lanterns instead of oil or kerosene lamps, saving money on fuel and sparing them unhealthy fumes in their homes. When lighting is cheap it can also transform children’s education, enabling the poorest to study at night even if they have to miss school to work during the day in order to contribute to the family finances.
Perhaps most significantly of all, this project is turning women in the villages into entrepreneurs by encouraging them to rent out solar lanterns on a nightly rate – a welcome source of extra income.
Ideas like this could become really influential if they could be scaled up, but too often they don’t get the attention and the resources they deserve. It makes my blood boil.
Faith-based groups and development
Faith-based groups were marginalised at the Conference. Religion and faith did get a mention in the original Earth Summit declaration, but 20 years on the leading faith communities are not among the nine key civil society groups recognised by the UN as having a special part to play in the Rio +20 process. This means we found ourselves with limited opportunities to participate fully in the summit.
Encouragingly, however, the faith-based groups are not taking this lying down. There was a high-level meeting to discuss and promote faith-based perspectives, organised by the World Council of Churches and Religions for Peace among other groups. It included presentations from Muslim, Christian and Jewish groups and traditions.
I believe that the special solidarity that can be found in faith communities and the spiritual element of our identities have an important contribution to make to development dialogue.