'The Future We Want': Christians speak out on Rio+20

By Alex Green
June 13, 2012

This month (20-22 June 2012), against a backdrop of severe ecological and financial crises, world governments are meeting in Rio, Brazil, trying to reach an agreement to secure a sustainable future for the planet and its people.

The original Rio Earth Summit in 1992 addressed a number of emerging problems. Many of these are now become urgent crises. We must act now.

Rio+20 is the final flourish in a global process which has taken many months of input, debate and negotiation by states, civil society and the private sector.

But progress in these negotiations has been so slow (‘painful’, as one colleague put it), the Brazilian hosts are rumoured to be planning a ‘Plan B’ document which will be used in the event of continuing deadlock.

The theme of the Rio+20 conference is ‘the future we want’. But what kind of future do we want? I’d say we need to test the Rio outcomes on three themes:

1. a just world, free from the indignity of poverty;
2. a sustainable world, valuing Creation;
3. a responsible world, living within the boundaries of the planet.

But to really be a success, Rio+20 needs to put the poorest people first because they suffer the most from environmental degradation and as a global community we have a responsibility towards the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. That’s the test of the global community.

How can we get a handle on this as Christians? A key principle of Catholic Social Teaching - which has also had an influence on opinion way beyond the church itself - really stands out here. That is, Solidarity: a deep and persevering commitment to the common good. Because what’s at stake in Rio affects us all.

We need a sustainable development that puts people first, not merely the economy. Rio+20 must be at the service of people.

And when we talk about sustainable development, we’re also thinking about future generations. As Pope Benedict has said, “Future generations cannot be saddled with the cost of our use of common environmental resources.”

Progressio’s policy focus is on water. Poor people must have fair and sustainable access to the water they need for their livelihoods, and should be actively involved in making that happen. We’ll be bringing these issues to world leaders at Rio for them to listen, take seriously and respond appropriately.

Get involved

Don't just watch from the sidelines! It’s easy to engage with Rio right now. We asked people linked with Progressio about the future they want, and compiled their responses. Watch them here: www.progressio.org.uk/futurewewant

If you head to progressio.org.uk/futurewewant, you can also leave a message about the future you want. We will take it to UK leaders before Rio and to world leaders at Rio.

It has been wonderful to hear about the ambition and energy of these ordinary people to build a better future. Here are some of the responses people have made so far:

“In an age when children and grandchildren are encouraged to judge success almost entirely by material possessions, I would like to see a greater emphasis on sharing the world's resources more fairly.” Bernard, Liverpool.

“A good quality of life respecting our planet's finite resources and not seeking everlasting 'economic growth.” Edward, Bexhill.

“The future is something we can never be sure of… but I want to know that when I look back in years to come that I want to have done my part to make a future to be proud of, one where I took my part in the worldwide community to help others.” - Louise, Crosby.

“A just world for all, not just the rich. Respect for the environment. It is not ours, but in our care to be handed on to the next generation, our children. What will we leave to hand on?” Rev Donnelly, Bromley.

“One where there is justice for the poorest. I realise that will involve sacrifice. Changes of lifestyle and living standards will need to happen in which I and others in our comparatively affluent western countries and communities will need to let go of what is not essential; to live simply so that others may simply live.” Fr Samuels, London.


© Alex Green and Daniel Hale campaign with Progressio (http://www.progressio.org.uk/) - an international development charity with Catholic roots that works alongside people and communities in 11 countries to help them overcome the barriers that keep them poor. It also works with these communities to push the UK government, the EU and global bodies to adopt pro-poor policies.

Ekklesia will be running regular updates throughout Rio+20 from our colleagues at Progressio, alongside commentary from other partners and allies in the movement for climate justice.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.