Our planet is in a precarious state. The trajectory towards sustainability is even further off track than 20 years ago, when the first UN Conference on Sustainable Development took place in Rio de Janeiro. We knew the challenges and the solutions then, and we know them today. But, as world leaders gather in one week's time, what is holding us back? It is not science or resources that are lacking. It is a profound failure in our political and economic systems to stop social injustice, stamp out poverty and address environmental degradation. It is a lack of political will and ambition to improve the lives of millions of poor women and men and to safeguard our natural environment.
Our current model of blunt economic growth delivers prosperity primarily for a global minority: people living in developed nations. While it has lifted some of the world's most vulnerable people out of poverty, it is still failing the millions more who still survive in grinding poverty. Economic growth is predicated on the exploitation of natural resources and increasingly comes at a devastating cost to our natural world. Global disparities in power and access over resources, coupled with the excessive consumption of industrialised economies are exacerbating social and economic inequality and driving environmental degradation, both locally through resource extraction and globally through the effects of climate change and other drivers. Such a development pathway - fuelled by environmental degradation and perpetuating social injustice - is truly unsustainable.
The extent of environmental degradation is now threatening to reverse our gains in poverty reduction and is already limiting development choices for both current and future generations. Climate change, high rates of biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystems is undermining the health of the planet and the natural capital that we all depend upon. This natural capital is essential to our societies and economies but especially to the world's poorest people who depend on their soil, access to water and fuel wood for survival.
Clearly we need a radical change, a transition towards equitable and resilient sustainable development. Such a transition must be rights based and prioritise the needs of the world's poor, whilst ensuring the sustainability of our natural environment. Such a transition must focus on equity and building resilience of local communities whilst tackling climate change, feeding a growing population and ensuring gender equality. Delivering sustainability cannot come at the expense of the poor and for development to be truly sustainable we can no longer tolerate the injustices of poverty.
Global leaders coming to Rio+20 in June 2012 have the opportunity to signal the grave reality of the problems facing our one planet, but they also have the chance to act on the real opportunities that are available to transition our economies to a green and sustainable pathway. Without sufficient action political leaders will not only fail current generations but future generations who will inherit an unsustainable planet.
Ultimately to achieve a large-scale shift of the size needed requires a radical transition, signalled by unprecedented global leadership. As such, we need to put pressure on our leaders and hold them accountable, but also support them to seize opportunities, demonstrate successes and formulate new ambition and cooperation to transition to a more sustainable future. We have much to lose from political inaction. At stake is the very future of our one planet and the well-being of its environment and its people. In short, we have no time to lose - the transition must start now.
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