GLOBE-Net, June 27, 2012 - The Rio+20 Summit
has come and gone, leaving many of the over 45,000 people that made
the costly journey to Brazil wondering if it was worth the effort.
Their concerns are justified. Rio+20 could have delivered so much
more. While it should not be dismissed as a complete failure it
does raise the question of the utility of these massive and costly
Given the unsettling economic realities globally and
geopolitical upsets of great moment in many parts of the world,
expectations for Rio+20 were modest at best, which was to be
expected; but even these low expectations were not met.
But then this is 2012, after all, not 1992. Then the Soviet
empire was in tatters, the world was emerging from a prolonged
period of economic malaise, and a growing sense of optimism was
spreading throughout the developing world that a re-balancing of
the fulcrum of economic power was not only possible, but
inevitable. Then, many believed agreements on climate change and
biodiversity could be realized.
Recognizing that a post Kyoto agreement was unlikely at Rio
given the failure of the Copenhagen talks the UN organizers looked
to participating governments to endorse a tepid 49-page statement
of what a more sustainable low carbon future might entail ("The Future We Want").
Even this process was flawed. The Brazilian hosts of Rio+20
insisted that the final text be approved by all before world
leaders arrived. Any text that could have generated debate was
deleted or replaced with non offensive language, which one observer
has noted, was lame even by the standards of international
This tedious reaffirmation of principles already agreed to at
past conferences is intended to serve as the basis for further
negotiations in the months and years ahead, according to the United
Green economics figured largely in the more active discussions
at Rio+20, and while The Future We Want may be the starting point
for further discussions, the real action is likely to involve those
players who were noticeably absent at the first Rio Summit, but who
were present in large numbers this time around - the leaders of the
world's leading business corporations. And perhaps this is the one
saving feature of Rio+20.
More than 1,500 senior business leaders took part in several
allied events that took place during the Summit week in Rio and the
commitments made by the business community have been singled out by
many commentators as the one bright light emerging from Rio. (A
complete compendium of these commitments is available here).
Rio+20 was an opportunity for corporations such as Unilever,
Puma, Dow Chemical, DuPont, General Electric and many, many others
to table new action plans, to share ideas, and to showcase new best
practices leading to more sustainable and environmentally-friendly
The financial and investment community also played an important
part in making Rio+20 less of a failure. Thirty-nine banks,
investors and insurers signed the Natural Capital Declaration, a commitment to
work towards integrating natural capital considerations into their
financial products and services.
As one observer has noted, the commitments by businesses and
financial institutions to factor a more sustainable use of air,
water and natural resources into their accounting and operational
practices, would not have happened without the platform and
attention delivered by the UN conference.
Most of that innovation and the power to bring it to the people
most in need lies in the hands of forward-looking businesses
that realize their survival depends upon their more efficient use
of energy and natural resources, and the need to adapt not only to
climate change, but also to the growing power and complexities of
new markets in the developing world.
As noted by the Regeneration project, as multi-national
companies become more powerful, with value chains that extend
across hemispheres and time zones, their capacity to play a key
role in driving action on sustainable development will become much
more important. This fact was very evident at Rio+20.
Summing up, The Future We Want document is imperfect.
But can serve as a starting point for a new set of expectations
that will lead to real action and the progress toward a lower
Where governments have failed to lead, through the medium of
public-private partnerships, businesses can show a practical way
Yes, I believe that Rio+20 could have achieved a great deal
more. But I don't believe it was a total failure. Let's start from
where we are, not from where we wished we might be.
John D. Wiebe
President and CEO