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Next Steps to 'The Future We Want'

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By Wu Hongbo
United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

One year ago, the world's leaders met in Rio de Janeiro, together with fifty thousand concerned individuals and representatives that hailed from major groups of society including business and academia. These leaders, in an outcome entitled "The Future We Want," agreed to pursue the necessary steps to advance the world towards a more sustainable future.

The Rio+20 conference was a milestone on the long road to sustainable development. It cemented support for the agreements reached at the 1992 Earth Summit and renewed the commitment of leaders to put their countries on a path towards improving people's lives today while preserving the planet for future generations. It was a bright moment of international cooperation at a time of profound national and global challenges. Leaders agreed to develop a new set of sustainable development goals, building upon the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that the UN launched 13 years ago and that have been so instrumental in the fight against poverty.

The MDGs have been a powerful galvanizing force for efforts - from the global to the local level - to reduce poverty, provide basic health and education, and promote gender equality.

Yet there is enormous potential to do more in the remaining time before we reach the deadline of 2015. And even if we were to reach all the MDGs, we know there is still far more to do in order to eradicate extreme poverty and address climate change and other growing environmental threats .

At Rio last year, governments recognized that future goals in the post-2015 era must be equal to the complex challenges facing the world today, and in coming decades. They recognized that if we are to irreversibly eradicate poverty and ensure social progress, we must build new economies that can decisively move people out of poverty, withstand shocks and adapt to the growing impacts of climate change. Without action now, climate change and other environmental threats have the real potential to set back social and economic progress for future generations.

Member States of the United Nations are now deliberating on the goals that can propel a new sustainable development agenda, and will present a proposal to the General Assembly in 2014. A rich ferment of ideas is brewing in academia, major groups of society and governments, with recent proposals from high-level reports, including that of the Secretary-General's panel of eminent persons and of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, as well as the suggestions of thousands of people. It is expected that sustainable development goals will be set that are transformative, universal and equitable, with sustainable development at their core.

The new goals will guide all economies - developed and developing alike - on more sustainable development paths. That is why Rio+20 agreed that the goals should be universal and applicable to all countries. Sustainable development is not only about promoting economic and social well-being while protecting the environment, it is about working together, across the globe, to responsibly manage the earth's life support systems and ecosystems.

This is a collective undertaking that requires all countries to cooperate to secure our common future. It also requires the engagement of all actors, particularly business and industry and other major groups of society, in developing and deploying many of the technologies that will be needed. Voluntary commitments and partnerships, such as the 1,382 already registered at and since Rio+20 that are worth over $600 billion, will be key to realizing a more sustainable world.

Indeed, many countries have the know-how. And many have already begun to pioneer new ways of organizing their economies with more sustainable energy and transport systems. A number are also investing heavily in renewable energy technologies and low-carbon public transport.

Yet, considering the scale of the economic transformations that are needed, we will have to develop and disseminate technology that is better, clean and affordable on a far grander scale. Let's be clear. The best brains are needed, wherever they live.

If the positive legacy of Rio + 20 is to be realized, the international community will need to rally around an ambitious set of sustainable development goals in 2015, and agree concretely on how we will work together to achieve them.

The future we are aiming at is one where poverty is history and where all human beings can achieve the full development of their potential and live lives of dignity, while consuming and producing within the limits of the planet. Such a world is within our reach. This is the future we want.