In the end, the governmental negotiators at Rio produced few tangible solutions — they largely reaffirmed the outcomes of the original 1992 event. (The Associated Press reported that the word “reaffirm” appears 59 times in the final, 50-page document.) And there were few specifics as to how the sustainability goals would be achieved or who would pay. Pretty much status quo.
But the business community didn’t hide behind that fig leaf. Well before the summit’s uneventful conclusion, coalitions of companies and business groups were making their own commitments, or urging governments to do so. A sampling:
- 86 CEOs agreed to develop natural capital accounting methodologies to inform business decisions. They were joined by more than 50 countries, including the United States, who agreed to place a value on, and account for, the services nature provides.
- 45 CEOs called on governments to increase the price of water and committed to improve water-management practices.
- More than 25 companies from the insurance industry, worth over $5 trillion in total assets and representing over 10 percent of world premium volume, joined to promote a set of Principles for Sustainable Insurance that aim to provide insurance tools for risk management in support of environmental, social and economic sustainability.
It wasn’t just companies. Cities, too, were at the front of the parade. At a Rio event sponsored by C40, an organization representing the world’s largest cities, a new report revealed that 45 cities, accounting for roughly 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, were implementing a range of carbon emission reduction activities and 71% of those had made citywide reduction targets. “The vast majority of the conversation in Rio is around cities,” Jay Carson, C40’s executive director, told me.
Rio+20 represented the largest corporate participation of any United Nations event in history, so I was eager to hear from some of those present. Most of the corporate types downplayed the importance of the official conference, but played up the conversations going on around it.
“For me, the lesson of Rio is that national governments will not resolve the issue,” said Harry Hendriks, Global Head of Government Affairs and CEO, Philips Benelux. “You need go to regions, to cities; you need to turn to practical examples in order to move to action.” Clay Nesler, VP, Global Energy and Sustainability at Johnson Controls called the official UN document “a very interesting outcome that not everyone will love, but not everyone hates.” Faint praise, indeed.
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