‘What will you do differently now?’: Rio+20 interview with Susanne Salz, Former Head of the Secretary General’s Office at ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability

Susanne Salz is the former Executive and Policy Assistant to the Secretary General of ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability. ICLEI represents local authorities in numerous global forums, and in her role Susanne coordinated ICLEI’s global strategic relationships, working with partners such as UN-Habitat, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. At Rio+20, she represented local authorities. In the past, Susanne worked at the Education Directorate of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and at UN Volunteers.

How would you evaluate the Future We Want outcome document in two sentences?

The Future We Want outcome document is far from certain to actually lead us to the future we want, due to its lack of ambition, and the lack of commitment by the national government leaders of the world. Yet it does contain some seeds that allow us to hope and which could form the basis of important action by many.

Do you think the conference was a success or a failure? Does the outcome give you hope or do you feel that it has regressed in terms of the progress?

Rio+20 was not the success the world and its young people needed it to be, but neither was it a catastrophic failure. Instead, it continues the tendency of making little improvements, and for the world to continue muddling through, which is really not good enough.

Which stakeholder should have the biggest responsibility and make more efforts after Rio+20?

All stakeholders should do what they can: national governments, local and sub-national governments, companies, individuals and civil society as a whole. Rio+20 encouraged this multifaceted action, in side events as well as in provisions in the official text, such as specific sections on all nine Major Groups, on corporate sustainability reporting, on sustainable cities and on voluntary commitments.

What is the biggest development in the outcome document?

There are several seeds that could lead to important action, such as the process towards Sustainable Development Goals. From a local authority and ICLEI perspective, the paragraphs on sustainable cities are important and will encourage action in communities around the world.

How would you define the most crucial missed points in the document?

More ambition, vision and leadership on all issues! There was not enough commitment and not enough sense of urgency. Setting up lots of processes that may or may not lead to meaningful action in future just isn't enough.

What can be done to follow up the process after Rio+20?

Lots can be done by everyone! After the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009 I decided to eat less or no meat, for example. Change begins with the individual. What will you do differently now?