It is June 15, 2012 and Rio+20 is about to start.
What it will bring is yet unknown, but of course we come here each with our own hopes, goals and expectations.
On the plane to Rio coming over from Europe I overheard a conversation between two business men:
“you’ve heard there is a big environmental conference in Rio going on this week”
“...really, that means its gonna be busy with those people from government and the environmentalists.”
“...lots of people spending tax money, talking about new stories on global warming, that are all made up fairy tales, what a waste...”
“...if you've been drilling oil 2.000 feet under water and have seen all the fossils down there, you know that this is a planet that is constantly changing, nothing to do with human interventions...”
We all know, there will always be different views on everything everywhere. But this conversation seen through the lens of the Planetary Boundary science, or through that of the recent publications from hard-nosed institutions like the OECD or the IEA, can only be called ignorant at best. It also makes clear why business is not trusted in all parts of society, simply because business does not have one voice.
And yet if we listen to the lack of progress that the governments of the world over recent weeks have been making in coming to an agreement on a set of actions to address our Planet’s and it’s people's challenges, it is hard not to conclude that in these corners also, the urgency of the situation is not well recognized enough to overcome political differences.
Is that a reason to go to Rio with no or low expectations? I don't think so ... First, it is clear that progress has been made in the last 20 years. A recent UNEP publication demonstrated that of the 90 goals agreed 20 years ago, significant progress was made on four, and moderate improvements on 40 of them. So there is reason to celebrate some progress, and focus on where to achieve more.
But on 24 of the 90 goals there was no progress visible, and in 14 cases serious degradation occurred during the last 20 years. This makes it clear that these celebrations must be short lived and a focus on action is badly needed.
In my mind world leaders would best serve all of us if they could present the following outcomes:
- Create and communicate a common sense of urgency around all the sustainability challenges we face
- Commit to a multilateral system to develop a set of targets for the sustainable development of life on our planet
- Invite progressive business (and others of like mind) to mobilize willing multi-country coalitions that will undertake a set of actions to scale up the solutions that will help achieve those goals
WBCSD and many of its members will be in Rio to act as the voice of progressive business that stands ready to undertake the actions necessary to scale up solutions. Together with our great Brazilian sister organization, CEBDS, we will cover as many platforms as we can.
WBCSD has published a document called Changing Pace that invites governments to enter into a dialogue with business to put in place policies that give business the incentive to reach for scale in solutions.
On June 19 WBCSD together with CEBDS, ICC, UNGC and other business associations will convene the Rio+20 Business Day, where solutions from different sectors and angles will be discussed and progressed.
We teamed up with UNGC and Sustainable Energy for All to encourage our members and the broad business community to make and publish clear business commitments. I am extremely proud to see that so many of our members can already be found on that list.
And so, I am neither ignorant nor pessimistic about what Rio+20 will bring. The challenges are recognized and the limits of political action should be realized. But with a willingness and room for dialogue, a process towards clear targets, and the momentum and implementation power that business will bring, Rio should be the birthplace of many new coalitions of the willing. These should all be dedicated to urgent action that bring solutions to scale.