Businesses bid to help set Rio+20 goals

21st June 2012

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World leaders at the Earth Summit will be told that private sector companies should have a role in developing new international sustainable development goals

The proposal was endorsed by representatives from national governments, UN agencies and public sector organisations alongside business executives, at the close of the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum earlier this week and will be presented to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and heads of state today (21 June).

The four-day forum, hosted by the UN Global Compact initiative and attended by 1,400 representatives from the private sector, resulted in 200 voluntary commitments from companies to their improve environmental impacts; the launch of a new framework to help businesses tackle impacts on biodiversity; and a pledge by 37 finance bodies to work towards considering natural capital in their products.

At the forum’s final meeting, delegates agreed that private firms had a key role in promoting sustainable consumption and development. They voted in favour of companies having a voice in the creation of any new long-term targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals.

Global Compact’s executive director Georg Kell said the forum had shown that businesses were ready to take on the challenges of resource efficiency and working within environmental limits.

“Entering into the Rio+20 process we were concerned that corporate action on deteriorating environments needed to be scaled up drastically. We now know that momentum is here and that there is no turning back for business,” he said.

Firms attending the forum included members of Cambridge University’s Natural Capital Leadership Compact, such as Unilever, Nestle and SABMiller, which last week called on policymakers attending Rio+20 to take urgent action to safeguard and better value the natural resources and ecosystems services.

“The choice between economic development and sustaining natural capital is a false one,” said Martin Roberts, director of the Natural Capital Leadership Platform. “Businesses’ bottom line – and that of our entire global society – is built on products and services provided by natural capital.”

Ban Ki-moon in opening the summit yesterday warned the attending heads of state that Rio+20 was a second chance to make good on promises made in at the first Rio summit 1992.

“Twenty years ago the Earth Summit gave us a blueprint for sustainable development. Since then, progress has been too slow,” he said. “We have not gone nearly far enough down the road mapped out in 1992.

“Let us not waste this opportunity. The world is watching to see if words will translate into action, as we know they must.”

Over the next two days, international policymakers will examine and vote on ratifying a document outlining joint action to encourage sustainable development, to follow in the footsteps of the groundbreaking Agenda 21 paper agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit.

Representatives from 190 countries agreed the actions outlined in a paper, entitled “The future we want”, which include:

  • launching a process to set new international sustainable development goals;
  • promoting corporate sustainability reporting
  • taking steps to move beyond gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of country’s worth; and
  • adopting a framework for tackling sustainable production and consumption.

However, the paper has already been criticised by environmental groups as lacking in substance, with no timetables, no clear definitions and no agreed ways of monitoring success in delivery sustainable development.

“The future we want has gotten a little further away,” said Kumi Naidoo, international executive director of Greenpeace, “Rio+20 has turned into an epic failure. We were promised the 'future we want' but are now being present with a 'common vision' of a polluter’s charter.

“This is not a foundation on which to grow economies or pull people out of poverty, it’s the last will and testament of a destructive twentieth century development model.”

Connie Hedegaard, the EU commissioner for climate action, tweeted from the event seemingly confirming negotiators weren’t pleased with the draft text:

“[It’s] telling that nobody in that room adopting the text was happy. That's how weak it is. And they all knew. Disappointing,” she said.

However, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who is representing the UK at the talks, maintained the paper was “a real step forward”.

"By definition, any text that is agreed by 190 countries will always involve compromises and dilution ... The key is what direction does this point us all in,” he said. “The draft text...unambiguously pushes us all towards a world where we treasure, measure and protect sustainable development in a way we have never done.”


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