After Rio+20, when planning becomes democratic

This year’s Rio Conference on Sustainable Development echoes the summit that took place in 1992. It is entitled “Rio+20”, as if a simple and direct line connected 1992 to 2012. In twenty years, however, the world has changed a lot. It became globalized and the centers of production of wealth have shifted. Today, the economic and political rise of emerging countries takes place against the backdrop of a four-fold environmental, social, financial and political crisis among old industrial countries. This phenomenon goes hand in hand with a growing gap in wealth and increasing asymmetries between the capability of actors and populations from local communities to the whole planet.

On the other hand, the sustainable development that was put into action at the 1992 conference has largely spread within society, sometimes in an invasive manner, and its content is not anymore the exact same. At last, in the past twenty years, the conscience of the environmental, economic and social challenges of our planet and its inhabitants has greatly evolved.

In fact, in August 2012, the International Commission on Stratigraphy recognized that we have entered, since the 19th century, a new era of the Earth’s history: the anthropocene. Human activity has become the main determining factor of the state of the planet, from its biosphere to its land, from its climate to its seas. This has a huge symbolic import. How to better highlight, in a globalized world, the responsibility of human societies vis-à-vis the future of “spaceship Earth” (to use the expression of the ecologist Howard T. Odum)? The two great themes of the new Rio Conference refer to these new realities:

  • The “green” economy as an instrument to reduce poverty;
  • The institutional and organizational framework of sustainable development.

It is clear that the current institutional framework of sustainable development is not properly defined. It is also particularly ineffective at whatever scale. The required tools are missing. The recurring issue of coordination mechanisms—at the local, regional, national or international level—is far from being solved. The second “Rencontres Internationales de Reims” in Sustainability Studies** tries to contribute to this debate.

Four months after Rio+20, the aim is more to discuss the consequences of Rio than to understand what happened. This will be done starting from the following questions: which governances to combine social justice and the transition to sustainability? Engaging which parties? Thus —and it is a tip of the hat to Jean-Jacques Rousseau this year’s celebration of its birth— the objective here is to reconsider the social contract.

Thinking about these governances clearly reaffirms the need for planning, conceived as the construction of a long term democratic project, taking place simultaneously in its social, environmental and spatial dimension. This is not the normative, prescriptive, mostly technical planning that failed in the past, but of a planning where the populations concerned are the main actors and that has the following elements at its heart:

  • Coupled human-environmental systems (HES);
  • Participative processes to construct political decisions;
  • New information models integrating uncertainty.

This kind of planning is therefore and first of all a political process corresponding to the following questions which are crucial for the implementation of sustainable development: which kind of society do we want to live in? Which compromises between the goals and interests of the different groups? Which articulation between one decision-making level and the other? The second “Rencontres Internationales de Reims” in Sustainability Studies will try to address these questions.


Wednesday 26 September 2012

9.30am – Welcome around a coffee pot
10.00am – Welcome speech

Gilles Baillat, President of Reims University

10.20am – Opening

François Mancebo, Professeur, Université de Reims, Coordinateur du point focal en Sustainablity science

Inaugural speech

10.45am – Scientific Assessment of Climate Change and Policy Options

Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC President, Director of the Tata Energy Research Institute – India

11.45am – We Need to Go Back to the Visible Hand: Shared Responsability in Action on the Verge of the Anthropocene

Ignacy Sachs, EHESS, Honorary Professor

12.45am – Lunch break

First session

2.30pm – Sustainable Development: the End of the Age of Innocence

Jean-Charles Hourcade, Director of the CIRED

3.15pm – 20 Years After, «Noble Lies» in Action for an Inclusive Green Economy?

Rathana Peou Van der Heuvel, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development – ULAB

4.00pm – Increasing Capacity to Adapt to Climate Change: the Co-construction of Collective Intervention

Christopher Bryant, Director of the Laboratoire de Développement Durable et Dynamique Territoriale at the Université de Montréal

4.45pm – Normation, Regulation And Sustainable Planning: An International Relations Perspective

Jon-Marco Church, Harvard University, Ruffolo Fellow in Sustainability Science

5.30pm – Combining Social Justice and Sustainability in Environmental Services and Industrial Business: Suez Environnement

Thomas Perianu, Vice-President Strategic Analysis and Sustainable Development at Suez-Environnement

Thursday 27 September 2012

10.00am – Welcome around a coffee pot

Keynote speeches

10.30am – Crisis and Recovery in the World Economy: Towards a Sustainable Macroeconomics

Deepak Nayyar, Past Rector at Nehru University (Delhi), Honorary Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford University

11.30am – Brazil’s New Governances: Integrating Sustainability into Public Policy

Ladislau Dowbor, Pontifical University of Sao Paulo, Professor of Economics

12.45am – Lunch break

Second session

2.30pm – International Institutions for Sustainable Planning at the Regional Scale: Challenges and Perspectives

Jon-Marco Church, UN, Ruffolo Fellow in Sustainability Science at Harvard University

3.15pm – How Metropolitan Governance Dynamics Meet Sustainability’s Requirements

Sharam Alijani, RMS Reims

4.00pm – Synthesis : Planning Development: Conditions to Enhance Public Participation

Christian Comeliau, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies of Geneva, Honorary Professor


4.45pm – Transition to Sustainability and Governance: Addressing the Social Process of Decision Making

François Mancebo, Director of Reims University Sustainability Science Research Center


Next events

Underground Cities - Living Below the Surface: Supporting Urban Transition to Sustainability

The next Rencontres de Reims in sustainability studies will be host on October 2016 on the theme of "Underground Cities".
The third dimension of the city concerned, essentially, height growth. However, basements are already important components of urban operation and more and more cities around the world are also considering their development underground.
The sixth Rencontres Internationales de Reims in Sustainability Science meet, to discuss this subject, eight leading researchers: Jeremy Rifkin, Alain Berthoz, Alain Bourdin, Catherine Grout, Amos Kloner, François Mancebo, Aurèle Parriaux and Sylvie Salles.
This event will take place on Wednesday 26 and Thursday, October 27, 2016 in Reims (Faculty of Arts and Humanities).

You could visit the web page of the event for more information.

Past events

5th Rencontres

Urban Agriculture

15-16 October 2015

4th Rencontres

Urban Transition to Sustainability

24-26 June 2014

1st Summer School

Urban Transition to Sustainability

23-26 June 2014

3rd Rencontres

Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals:
Towards a New Social Contract

19-20 June 2013

2nd Rencontres

Which Systems of Governance for Which Sustainability after Rio+20?

26-27 September 2012

1st Rencontres

Social Justice and Sustainability:
Back to Planning?

22-23 June 2011