Separated at birth, reunited in Rio? A roadmap to bring environment and development back together

Working and discussion papers
May 2012
Claire Melamed, Andrew Scott and Tom Mitchell

Tackling climate change, avoiding environmental degradation, reducing inequality and eliminating poverty are all key issues for international policy in the 21st century. Is it possible to achieve progress on poverty while remaining within environmental limits? What role can global agreements play in promoting positive action on both environmental and development issues?

Clearly there are significant overlaps between these issues. Dirty development causes climate change, climate change impacts poor people, and the health of ecosystems and availability of environmental resources shapes economic growth and well-being. 

2015 will be a defining year for international policy on development and the environment. However, the history of trying to link development and environmental objectives through actual policy initiatives is not encouraging. ‘Sustainable development’, a concept originating in the Brundtland Report of 1987, has become the mantra in global policy circles since the first Rio conference in 1992, but it has had remarkably little impact on actual policy.

This paper sets out to explain why reconciling the two agendas has been so difficult at a practical level, and suggests how Rio+20 could start to bridge the gaps between the two.