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Understanding Rio+20

Date
18 June 2012
Understanding Rio+20

 Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Manager, The Climate Group, untangles the events from Rio de Janeiro.

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, otherwise known as Rio+20, or, the Rio Earth Summit, is a bewildering array of meetings for the uninitiated (including yours truly). In the simplest terms, there are three main parts to the conference which runs over ten days: 

  • A three day government preparatory committee meeting (or ‘PrepCom’)
  • Four days of civil society and business events
  • And a three day high-level event for ministers and heads of government

The objective of the PrepCom meeting was/is to finalize a draft political declaration for ministers and heads of government to adopt at their high-level event. Discussions on this text have been underway for over a year. As expected, negotiations last week proved difficult and have continued into this week. Hosts Brazil has been given the task of pulling together an acceptable compromise for ministers and leaders to discuss and agree at the end of the week.

The four days of civil society and business events have run in parallel to the PrepCom. In many ways, these are the most exciting part of whole Rio Summit, showcasing practical action and ideas on a vast array of sustainability issues and concerns, including climate change. 

The Climate Group’s own events have fallen under the banner of the UN Global Compact’s Corporate Sustainability Forum (CSF). The CSF is the larger of the two main business gatherings in Rio. Held over four days, the forum has over 130 different sessions highlighting the actions that businesses around the world are taking to tackle issues from water and resource scarcity, to how to value natural capital. Tomorrow (Tuesday) the Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD) business day, organised by the ICC and WBSCD will round off Rio business discussions.

The idea behind the civil society and business events is to provide a means of gathering and then feeding into the high-level event the best sustainability ideas from business and community groups. Ministers and leaders are (in theory) supposed to take account of these ideas and  incorporate relevant points into the final Rio declaration. The logistics and practicality of doing this are perhaps a little suspect – after all, how do you realistically account for the views of 50,000 registered participants? But in some ways this misses the point. The details really aren’t important here. What matters is the direction of travel, that is to say the overall narrative behind the messages and ideas that are being communicated. If the discussions that have occurred at the CSF over the last four days are any indication, there are reasons to be optimistic.

Indeed, the take home message based on what this correspondent has seen over the past three days is that the appetite for transforming business and decoupling growth from resource use is immense. Numerous speakers have highlighted not only the opportunities they see in the market for new products and services, but also the enthusiasm and excitement that is driving them and their companies. If this enthusiasm for change is the one thing that political leaders leave Rio with, then a conference labelled by many as a talkfest will have achieved much.

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