Former Shell Exec Helps Corporations at WSSD Summit

Former Shell Exec Helps Corporations at WSSD Summit

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the United Nations (UN) is sending a clear message. Business is critical in achieving global sustainable development. This summit, which has perhaps one of the largest business delegations ever in any UN conference - over 700 business executives, 200 companies and approximately 100 chief executive officers -- is providing a critical platform for business to pitch their story: private investment is helping to raise the global standard of living while protecting the environment. And one person more than any is championing their cause.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former Chairman of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of companies and head of the main industry lobby group at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, is here to ensure that their voice is heard clearly at this Summit. No one thinks he has an easy job. Environmental groups, more than ever before, are loudly accusing big business of trying to hijack the summit and persuade governments to go soft on regulating industry excess, a charge that Moody-Stuart denies.

"There is a great deal of mutual distrust, which we have to get over," said Moody-Stuart in an exclusive interview with The Earth Times. "We believe in good international governance for issues like climate change and trade. It is a myth that we are not in favour of regulation."

"Why should business not be here?" added the former Shell chairman. "Business has been designated as one of the nine stakeholder groups of the United Nations. If it were not here, people would be protesting as well. You cannot have sustainable development without sound economic input."

But really why are these multinational companies here? More importantly what is in it for them?

By the end of next week, the U.N. is expected to bless dozens of partnerships between business and nongovernmental organizations that tackle issues such as AIDS, energy, water and sanitation and the environmental impact of oil and gas development. For the U.N., often criticized as ineffectual, the emphasis on partnerships is the latest in a series of steps to work more closely with business.

Moody-Stuart has come to this summit with proposals of over one hundred such partnerships between corporations, non-governmental organizations and governments. One such partnership is a project between Merck & Co., GlaxoSmithKline, UNICEF, World Bank to improve access to AIDS care in the hardest-hit regions of the world.

Another partnership aims to develop tools and guidelines for integrating biodiversity into oil and gas development. The main partners include BP, ChevronTexaco, Fauna & Flora International, Smithsonian Institution Moody-Stuart argues that it makes good business sense to tackle serious global issues as increasingly customers favour companies that in some way are engaged in sustainable development. But he adds that business can only deliver through sound governance and setting reasonable targets.

The former Chairman who heads Business Action for Sustainable Development, a group that represents multinational corporations that have sent their own delegations to Johannesburg, said that businesses believe that setting realistic targets are critical to success.

"It does not make sense for the U.N. to set new targets like the Millennium Development Goals before it has achieved the older ones like the goals set in the first Earth Summit at Rio," said Moody-Stuart. "If you are a company and tell your shareholders we haven't met our previous targets, but let's set new ones, our stock would go south fast."

"Whatever targets are agreed at this meeting, we will need sound governance to deliver them," added the former Chairman. "We welcome the paragraph on sound governance and elimination of corruption. Responsible business can only succeed where there is sound local, state and national governance."

For Moody-Stuart, the biggest challenge is to get governments and other pressure groups to give industry its due, not only as a creator of wealth but as a responsible partner for improving the environment and livelihoods.

"What we need is this acknowledgement that without the involvement of business to deliver the economic benefits, you will not have sustainable development," said Moody-Stuart. "Yes, corporations are part of the problem, but they are an integral part of the solution as well."