Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Rio+20 summit briefing

Quick links to sections below: 

What is Rio+20?

4-6 June 2012 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio+20, or United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), aims to:

  • secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development
  • assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the UN summits on sustainable development
  • address new and emerging challenges

Key dates

Key dates include:

  • 23 Apr 2012 - 4 May 2012, New York
    Second round of 'informal-informal' negotiations on the zero draft of outcome document:
  • 23 Apr 2012 - 25 Apr 2012, Stockholm, Sweden
    Stockholm+40 - international conference on sustainable living and innovative solutions
  • 15-23 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro
    The People's Summit
  • 16 - 19 June 2012 
    The Sustainable Development Dialogues: 

Learn more about the CSD negotiations here

What is sustainable development? 

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (United Nations  Brundtland Report, 1987) 

In this sense the term 'sustainable development' contains within it two key concepts:

  • the concept of 'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.

The United Nations 2005 World Summit Outcome Document refers to the 'interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars' of sustainable development as economic development, social development, and environmental protection.

How are members involved?

As the facilitator for the water and sanitation issue cluster, FAN Global has been coordinating inputs on water and sanitation into the negotiations in the run up to the conference. We will have a small delegation taking part in events surrounding the summit and will likely have a presence at the People's summit (see more info on this below). 


Throughout the negotiations FAN has been concerned by attempts to remove and weaken human rights language within the draft text, which would have the effect of further marginalising poor and vulnerable people and are calling on negotiators to ensure the rights features strongly in the final text.


This is in contrast to the 2011 Nexus conference organized by the German Federal Government which examined the nexus of water, energy and food security in the run up to Rio+20. Many FAN members participated and  the rights to water and sanitation were prominent throughout the conference which emphasised the importance of putting people and their basic human rights at the centre of the nexus.

Read more about FAN member participation in the Bonn Nexus conference 

The People's Summit

The People's Summit aims to present a critical approach to the principles of the Rio+20 official conference including the idea of the green economy, false solutions and an insufficient debate on global governance.

It will also:

  • Make visible peoples' struggles in confronting the current model and its global exploitative forms, particularly in Brazil and Latin America, while at the same time strengthening links of solidarity and the role of social actors in the symbolic political space of the peoples’ struggle in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil; 
  • Present theoretical and practical proposals and solutions built by the people to deal with the systemic crisis;
  • Accumulate force for after Rio+20, to re-establish guidelines for the movements’ struggles in the context of the anti-capitalist struggle that expresses the class, antiracist, anti-patriarchal, anti-homophobic struggles, against the commodification of life and nature, in defence of common goods and against the capitalist attack on people´s territories and against the loss of rights.
  • Produce a common agenda based on world struggles and converging proposals, built from social movements and civil society organizations that have been able to project the strength emerging from the current process towards the organization of the Summit, as its own agenda.

Read In Rio+20 run-up, activists form People’s Summit

Find out more about the People's Summit

Sustainable Development Dialogues

In the four days prior to the High Level Segment, top representatives from civil society, including private sector, NGOs, scientific community, among other major groups, will convene at the same venue of the Rio+20 Conference. They are expected to engage in an open and action-oriented debate on key topics related to sustainable development. There will be no participation of Governments or UN agencies. The recommendations emanating from the Dialogues will be conveyed to the Heads of State and Government present at the Summit. 

Find out more

Key issues

Read the WASH cluster's inputs into the draft zero text


Water post MDGs

The MDG for water has been met but 783 million of the world’s poorest people are still living without access to safe affordable water and one fifth of the global population live in water stress regions, a statistic that is projected to grow as a result of the different conflicting uses and overuses of water.

Sanitation as a priority 

Our response to the ‘draft zero’ included ensuring access to sanitation is a priority. 2.5 billion people still live without a safe place to go to the toilet. Diseases like diarrhoea and dysentery caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation result in the deaths of 4,000 children every day. 

The rights to water and sanitation as the solution

The problem of poor access to water and sanitation is not lack of water but of political will.  Recognition and implementation of the human rights to water and sanitation will help to bridge the accountability gap towards the poor and marginalised and should be part of the solutions agreed by governments at Rio+20.

Read Danielle's blog Water, sanitation and Rio+20: the importance of rights

Sustainable Development Goals 

Rights will provide a basis for development of equity indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals being discussed as part of the package to be agreed at Rio. Yet, despite recognition of the right to water and sanitation by both the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council in 2010, some governments are now trying to reverse progress made so far in previous lengthy negotiations through the Rio20 process. 


Read the water cluster three top priorities submitted to Rio+20

Get involved and take action

Contact your government to find out what their priorities are and let us know

Join the google group WASH Rio20, email us.

Read more

Water cluster changes to the Rio20 zero draft text

CSD 19 fails to end in negotiated agreement

Subscribe to Stakeholder Forum's Earth Summit mailing list to keep up to date with all the latest news

Rio+20 Facebook page

Rio+20 Twitter feed

On the issues and SDGs

There are 7 major issues that will be discussed or focused at Rio+20, and yes water is one of them, however, jobs, oceans, cities, food and energy could all be related to this page. It would be good to relate much of the water problems and link it to the potential creation of green jobs which is another large point to be discussed at Rio+20. Basically green jobs are aimed at stimulating economic development within the agricultural industry, however, we could keep an open mind and apply the green jobs potential into all of these 7 major issues.

Additionally, I would like to point out that the variance between MDGs and the SDGs is the sole fact that the MDGs helped us outline a basic quantified human right to access to food, education, a better living standard. Whereas the SDGs are attempting to bring our scope to the overall level of sustainability in different sectors. For example, in relation to food, MDG would point to "we need to get food for the poorest sectors of our planet" an SDG incorporates that point but now focuses on " okay, were going to have 9 billion people by 2050" how are we going to feed all these people?