Rio+20 Conference Focuses on Solutions for Global Sustainability

Dr. Dov Jaron

In a world with a rapidly growing urban population, it is expected that two billion people will be added to urban populations over the next 30 years, living primarily in informal or slum settlements. Health and well-being are issues of the utmost importance to urban as well as global sustainability.

In 1992, these issues were discussed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (also known as the Rio Summit), a major conference concerned primarily with climate change and environmental protection. This past June, the U.N. held Rio+20, an event that once again brought together government officials, international institutions and industry leaders to review measures for reducing poverty while promoting health and jobs and addressing the challenges to global sustainability.

A major, five-day forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development was held in Rio de Janeiro prior to the Rio+20 conference (June 20-22).  The forum brought together leading international scientists, policy-makers, industry, NGOs and journalists to explore the key role of interdisciplinary science and innovation in the transition to sustainable development and make recommendations to the UN conference, held the following week. The forum consisted of thematic sessions that explored key topics in-depth. One of the sessions dealt with urban health and well-being.

DrexelNow recently spoke with Dr. Dov Jaron, Calhoun Distinguished Professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, who made a presentation and was a panelist in the session on urban health. He explains the complexity in understanding and analyzing urban areas due to the large number of “environmental, social, cultural and economic factors [that] have an impact on individual and population health and well-being.”

In order for scientists to understand and communicate knowledge in a way that usefully informs policy choices based on the realities of urban environments, it is necessary to create a new conceptual framework that encompasses the many factors that influence health and well-being in these populations. Jaron presented a new initiative on urban health and well-being that deals with the new conceptual framework that is being launched by the International Council for Science (ICSU).

Jaron’s presentation, titled “Systems Analysis Approach to Health and Wellbeing in the Changing Urban Environment,” outlined the reasons for launching the new program, including “its important elements, the unique systems analysis approach and its relationship to global sustainability,” stressing the fact that health is a critical determinant and driver of sustainability. The presentation also explained the requirements for participating in the plan and described how the program will be implemented. As Jaron explains, the plan is ambitious and its success “depends on the engagement of multiple stakeholders: scientists, policymakers, representatives of civil society and funders.”

Though the summit covered a vast range of topics, the ultimate goal was to stress the importance of interdisciplinary research. The forums helped to highlight the need for collaboration and communication across scientific communities and to emphasize their critical roles in addressing the need for global sustainable development and the urgency to develop and maintain relationships between the scientific community and policy makers. As a result of this forum, the United Nations is expected to establish a new scientific advisory committee. The science community will focus on interdisciplinary problem-solving research—engaging with the public as well as policy and business leaders—that will ultimately inform policies that can be adopted by governments.