Rio+20: The sunny side
Richard Lemmer | 25.06.12
It’s easy to feel deflated after last week’s Rio+20 summit. For an event all about sustainable development, Rio+20 showed that the current process is neither sustainable nor developing. The next generation of the Green movement, the people who will hopefully sustain the idea of sustainable development, literally ripped up the most recent agreement on the issue. And that agreement, we have been told, showed few signs of development. Of course, this is only part of the story.
Having had time to reflect on the list of media stories as long and disheartening as The Future We Want document, hopefully the media will begin change its tune.
Already the Guardian has posted a list of reasons to be cheerful when thinking about the summit. Most of these reasons involved businesses taking the lead in dealing with our environmental challenges, showing that businesses are willing to go beyond the bottom line. According to activists, the Future We Want may have become a corporate case of the Future We Bought, but does that destroy the good work of M&S's Plan A? Or PUMA's natural capital reporting? Certainly not.
Meanwhile, Business Green has questioned whether the summit was wholly bad. As James Murray has pointed out, a “savvy business leader will take the Rio +20 as further evidence that clean technologies and the green economy have considerable political support and will continue to prosper.”
The summit’s agreement to create a list of Sustainable Development Goals may seem like delaying an already weak promise, but the potential is encouraging. When they are set in 2015, the SDGs are likely to focus on water, food and energy usage - each one an element of everyday life we can affect. Businesses, the general public and NGOs, will have a set of targets they can aspire to achieve, and the government has declared it will support them.
Another worthwhile initiative will be the UK’s GDP+ metric. The UK will be the first country to record the value of its natural environment and ensures businesses account for ecological damage they cause. “We need to develop indicators to complement GDP," Nick Clegg said before the summit, “not as an international standard, or benchmark - but to allow individual countries to measure what is important to them.” GDP+ idea will need refinement, but it shows that politicians are beginning to listen to calls that a country is more than its economic GDP. Tied to this idea will be mandatory carbon emissions reporting by companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. This will see 1,800 companies open to further scrutiny from their investors, shareholders and customers.
But as for the largest tangible result of the Rio+20 summit, it has to be the upcoming investment in sustainable transport. Eight of the largest multilateral development banks (MDBs) announced that they will invest $175 billion in sustainable transportation systems over the coming decade. This will decrease the world’s transportation carbon emissions and give developing countries much needed infrastructure improvements.
We don't have the time to complain about what has not been achieved. Despite the lack of a uniform response from world leaders, it is encouraging to see NGOs, businesses and citizens, leading the way and calling for change. In twenty years' time, if there is another Rio summit, let's have something ready to celebrate.
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