The minus of Rio+20

The Minus of Rio+20

The final days of the Rio+20 Conference were the culmination of years of pre-negotiations and expectations among tens of thousands of diverse leaders representing billions of people and enterprises all over the world. Included was representation of the future generations of humankind, and hundreds of millions of other species, many of which have yet to be discovered.

The Conference goals were to reduce poverty, advance social equity, and ensure environmental protection, including renewable energy use, on an increasingly crowded planet.

Though expected, it was discouraging that there was more talk than action about the rather weak pre-negotiated document. Everyone put in their final two cents as government leaders gave it the rubber stamp with some omissions and edits. There were high hopes that there would be more input to strengthen the outcome.

See the final 53-page final “Future We Want” outcome document here.

The meetings that led up to the meetings
The three days of meetings of the third Preparatory Committee began on June 13 when government representatives negotiated documents to be adopted during the final high-level meetings of June 20-22. During this time, an additional 500 side events were held by governments, UN Major Groups, organizations within the UN system, and other international organizations. In between were the Dialogue Days from June 16 –19, with another hundred meetings. Parallel to all of the above were dozens of conferences, award shows, protests and demonstrations, dinners, and private receptions by business groups, governments, corporations, public-private partnerships, womens groups, environmental groups, ngos and activists.

All in all, a unified and aggressive outcome to save the world was a tall order. The thick fog that hung over the dramatic landscape and seascape of Rio de Janeiro, coupled with the gridlock of busses and cars, came to symbolize the event.

Lost at sea
Pushing for protection of our oceans was the High Seas Alliance. The group worked around the clock seeking agreements in the final outcome document that would determine the fate of vast areas of the ocean beyond jurisdiction, now a no-mans-land that is free for the taking, and ravaged by destructive fishing techniques, dumping and mining.

Hopes were dashed upon discovery early on June 19 that a 3 a.m. coup by a coalition of the US and Venezuela, helped by Canada, Russia and Japan, vetoed text in the final document for a UN treaty to protect the high seas and create an international network of marine protected areas, including the Arctic Ocean. On Tuesday the Secretary-General of Rio+20, Sha Zukang, confirmed that there would be no further negotiations on that particular text which signaled the continuation of mining and oil extraction to those countries staking their claim.

The loss was both a disappointment and a shock after being named among top priorities through public pre-voting and by experts at the Sustainable Development Dialogue on Oceans. The Dialogues, moderated by Phillipe Cousteau, included his uncle Dr. Jean-Michel Cousteau, President of Ocean Futures Society, and Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue, whose speech can be viewed here.

In a final statement issued by the High Seas Alliance, Sue Lieberman of the Pew Environment Group said, “We came to Rio with high expectations for action to address the ocean crisis. It would be a mistake to call Rio a failure, but for a once-in-a-decade meeting with so much at stake, it was a far cry from a success.”

Alex Rogers, scientific director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean said, “What I have seen at this summit has utterly appalled me. I have recently been observing seamounts in the southern Indian Ocean devastated by trawlers. These ecosystems take thousands of years to develop. I wish the negotiators here could witness what I have seen.”

Hope that the tide will turn
Though there was a net loss to oceans, the final Rio+20 outcome document does include a commitment to reduce marine pollution from land-based sources, especially plastics, as well as persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, and nitrogen-based compounds. It also includes a commitment to take action on ocean acidification, fishing subsidies and overfishing.

Some advocates looked at the bright side and felt positive that for the first time attention had focused on this 71 percent of our planet’s surface long considered a grab bag and universal sewer. “Oceans are on the record in a way that they weren’t 20 years ago – and we will hold governments to this record,” said Charlotte Smith of Oceans Inc. Also cited was World Bank’s commitment to the Global Partnership for Oceans.

Matthew Gianni of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition said, “Rio+20 has shown less backbone than your average cnidarian [jelly fish] but if we use this to take the action clearly indicated then progress will have been made.”

Leila Monroe, an ocean conservation attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, spoke also of a silver lining, saying that Rio+20 was “a hugely valuable gathering of the smartest minds in business, law, and policy.”

Public protest
Though all participants at Rio+20 were encouraged in the media and at the side events to register voluntary commitments for sustainable development, this did not come close to satiating the public for input.

A protest at the Rio Centro led by activists including founder and CSRwire contributing writer, Bill McKibben, called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. On the beach at Copacabana, a two-hour traffic jam away, a giant trillion-dollar bill had been unfurled to represent the trillion dollars in fossil fuel subsidies to “polluters” that could otherwise be used for clean energy and sustainable development. In the weeks leading up to Rio+20, it seemed unlikely that fossil fuel subsidies would enter into the negotiations, but massive public outcry including a viral petition to world leaders signed by over a million people, and a star-studded, record-breaking twitterstorm pushed the issue.

Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon took a meeting on the last day with representatives of the Peoples Summit who delivered a rejection letter and harsh criticism against the Rio+20 final document. Demonstrations are planned to continue throughout the weekend.

Later, hundreds of civil society members, led by members of the movement and youth organizations, decided that their message was “Walk Out, Not Sell Out!” and they officially walked out of the Rio+20 negotiations. The protesters rallied through the stale Rio Centro halls shouting, “The Future We Want is not here!” Handing in their badges, many of them decided that the People’s Summit is where they want to shape the plans for the future.

Attention span waned on final day
During the final three days at Rio Centro Media Center, in between press conferences, the media sat at rows of tables under large screens that streamed the high-level meetings live. One after another, heads of state read prepared statements without much discussion. Many of the side events were in a similar format, with panelists reading statements, including one where a speaker read in monotone directly from his iPhone for nearly half an hour. Celebrity deliveries were a welcome reprieve, including one about high seas by Richard Branson. Power plugs in the media center were claimed early, denying many reporters a computer connection, leaving little distraction as the hours wore on and nothing much happened in regard to the final outcome.

Conversations often led to expressions of frustration about how trying to save the world was not only remarkably discouraging, but incredibly boring.

The plus of Rio +20
On the plus side, relationships were formed, public private partnerships forged and many important issues were spotlighted for the world to see.

Voluntary commitments from countries and companies resulted in a pledge of $513 billion toward efforts to curb the use of fossil fuels, conserve water and encourage wider use of renewable energy. Businesses and investors committed more than $50 billion to Sustainable Energy for All.

Also promising were advances among local authorities. Four dozen of the world’s largest cities have taken steps to cut 248 million tons of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020, showcasing goodwill and cooperation from business where the innovations come from.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff kept a positive spin on Rio+20. “I am convinced that this Conference will have the effect of bringing about sweeping change,” she said in her concluding remarks.

In the closing ceremony, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “The speeches are over. Now the work begins.”

In her concluding remarks Henrietta Elizabeth Thompson, Co-Executive Coordinator of Rio+20, reminded everyone that Martin Luther King spoke not of the nightmare, but of the dream.

Corporate Sustainability Leaders Convene at Rio+20

In this first of a series of dispatches from Rio+20, CSRwire’s Martha Shaw reports on the Corporate Sustainability Forum.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (June 19, 2012/CSRwire) – Hundreds of side events around the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) are taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this week with an estimated 60,000 guests, including delegates, heads of state, government leaders, CEOs, sustainability directors, students, researchers, political decision-makers, non-profit organizations, media, event support teams and spirited activists. Their hope: eradicating poverty, curtailing environmental destruction and ending social injustice.

The UN Global Compact, which establishes an alliance between the UN and the private sector, now has 10,000 corporate members, with 7,000 of them active.The United Nations Global Compact’s Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum: Innovation and Collaboration for the Future We Want was one of them. It wrapped up on Monday, just days before the official Rio+20, known as the Earth Summit, convenes.

Progress, Problems Noted, Role For Private Sector
Queen Silvia of Sweden addressed the UNGC closing gathering, reflecting on the progress since the first Earth Summit in1992. She pointed out that in many countries, the air quality in cities has improved, as has the water quality of rivers and lakes. She also reminded the group that there are still many problems, including biodiversity and the stability of our climate, and that we must turn into opportunities. “This is something business is good at,” she said. “Because the private sector is focused on innovation and change, there is great potential for business to lead the way.”

Other speakers agreed that we can’t wait for governments to get it right and that corporations focusing on the long-term fate of our planet should be commended.

UN Global Compact

The UNGC’s Corporate Sustainability Forum was held in cooperation with the Rio+20 Secretariat, the UN System and the Global Compact Local Network Brazil in the days leading up to Rio+20 to bring greater scale and quality to corporate sustainability practices.

As a showcase for innovation and collaboration, the Forum was designed to be a launching ground for widespread action, representing business as well as investors, governments, local authorities, civil society and UN entities. “We are of course delighted that over 3000 people have come here for three days of hard work in 120 sessions on six tracks,” said Georg Kell. “Many of the solutions we need already exist, and we have demonstrated that on a massive scale… two hundred concrete commitments have been gathered.”

Speakers on stage reminded the gathering that although businesses may be ready to take action and mobilize capital, there remains a need for government support and that businesses working with the United Nations will help to unlock that potential.

One strong recurring theme in Rio this week at every level is ending subsidies for fossil fuel. And, while we are at it, ending subsidies that lead to over-fishing. Check back here for more news from Rio+20.

What do you think about what’s happening at Rio +20? Share your thoughts below—especially if you are attending.

The long road to Rio: Why the UN kept the lights on last weekend by Martha Shaw

Rarely is a more diverse collection of people found under one roof than the 500 or so working around the clock last weekend at the United Nations to hash out “the document” — a.k.a. the Zero draft of the outcome document — being submitted to the Rio+20 Earth Summit later this month. Working in the spirit of international, multilateral agreement were diplomats, delegates, youths, farmers, community leaders, indigenous people, local authorities, NGOs, scientists, technologists, women groups, activists, workers and trade unions, multinational business and industry representatives, and nonprofit organizations of all kinds. They were scrutinizing every word in every paragraph seeking common ground. One thing that everybody clearly had in common was stamina.

Though there were plenty of newbies to the process, this was not new for the many veterans who have been dedicated to the pressing global issues addressed in the document since the first Earth Summit in 1992, also held in Rio de Janeiro. This year marks the 20-year anniversary of the first document in which so many sections were agreed upon, but few implemented.

Filling in the brackets

Among those people who have been party to the process nearly since its inception, is Remi Parmentier, who has more than 35 years in the environmental movement working with many of the key players in the UN and other intergovernmental organizations. (See his blog: As the weekend at the UN wore on, I asked Parmentier if he was disappointed in the lack of agreement in key areas of the document. He shed a new light on the term “agreement” for me, pointing out that if we resorted to the lowest common denominator, it would be a document of little substance. In the document, the bracketed areas of text — the unresolved issues — represent areas where the envelope was being pushed. Remi Parmentier writes:

It is true there is at this late stage far too much square bracketed text reflecting disagreements in the overall negotiating document, hence it is going to be a real challenge to negotiate on so many issues in Rio and to get an outcome that makes sense. But at another level, it is important to recognize it is a good thing that countries that have a progressive agenda haven’t caved in completely. UN processes are too often a race towards the lowest common denominator, but the large amount of square bracketed text shows that we’re not there yet, even though what is considered “progressive” in the text could and should be stronger. If there was no key square bracketed text, there would be no tension, no drama, hence no story, hence little to report from Rio.

The New York-based diplomats are very good at maintaining and defending the positions of their respective countries, but by definition they do not have enough of a mandate or the necessary flexibility to negotiate in earnest; only the politicians can do that. So now that the negotiation is moving to Rio and the politicians are going to become involved we must maintain hope that real progress can be achieved by them. In a way it is a blessing that the diplomats haven’t dived into the lowest common denominator as they often do too fast, before handing it over to the politicians. It is not too late, almost everything is possible now, within the constraints of the negotiating text, if the governments come to Rio with a strong political will.

A triathlete in the race

Chantal Line Carpentier, the Sustainable Development Officer & Major Groups Program Coordinator of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Division for Sustainable Development, has the task of coordinating the “Major Groups” throughout the Rio+20 process, including on the ground in Rio. What is evident in Carpentier is an in-depth understanding of the issues, the endurance of a triathlete, which she is, and a knack for “herding cats,” as the expression goes. She remained composed and incredibly organized throughout the process.

In an interview with Civicus, the world alliance for citizen participation, Carpentier said, “My hopes are high because the stakes are high. While countries have made some progress on changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production over the last 20 years, in the context of escalating economic and environmental pressures, and increasing populations, overall things have worsened. We are using resources at an increasing rate and the gaps between rich and poor are widening. Most of the world’s ecosystems are in decline. Meanwhile, more than one billion people lack access to food, electricity or safe drinking water. When you consider all that, it’s not really surprising that social unrest is on the rise.”

Nearing the end of the road
The last of pre-negotiations to Rio+20, now just two weeks away, concluded Saturday night with the book launch of Only One Earth, by Felix Dodds, Executive Director of the Stakeholder Forum, and Michael Strauss, with a foreword by Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the Earth Summit in 1992.

Strong writes: “In the same way that banks succeeded at privatizing the profits and socializing the losses as they led the global economy to the brink of collapse, we are in danger of doing the same with the environment. Humanity has taken a huge leap in the last decades and become a planetary-scale force – we need to behave as a global civilization if we are not to face catastrophic consequences.”
The book looks back over what has been achieved in the past 40 years since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm and the first Earth Summit in 1992, and ahead to what critically needs to happen at Rio+20 and beyond.

This excerpt from Only One Earth is especially pertinent to Rio+20:

Rio+20 is a unique opportunity to make the “change-of-course” called for by business leaders at the Earth Summit in 1992. It requires fundamental changes in the way in which we manage the activities through which we impact on the Earth’s sustainability. This will require a degree of cooperation beyond anything we have yet experienced at a time when competition and conflict over scarce resources is escalating.
Underscoring this were the closing remarks of Sha Zukang, Secretary-General of Rio+20, that commended everyone for their tireless efforts but also referred to the document as a far cry from the focused political document mandated by the General Assembly. “We have had an intense week of negotiations, and I sense real progress. Still, as everyone in this room is well aware, we have much hard work ahead of us in Rio. I have listened to both the plenary discussions and many of the informal splinter group discussions. I sense a real dialogue; a real willingness to find common ground. This spirit is encouraging, and we must carry it to Rio. Yet, we must drastically accelerate the pace of our negotiations,” said Sha. “We need action. We need government commitment to action, in the outcome document. And we also need voluntary commitments from all stakeholders.”

The next and final Preparatory Committee meeting will be held in Rio June 13-15, just ahead of the Rio+20 Conference itself, held from June 20-22. The Rio+20 Secretariat has also opened a registry of commitments on the Rio+20 website that is designed to complement the government-ratified outcome document. To join the global conversation, visit Rio+20: The Future We Want.

Women on the road to Rio+20 convene at United Nations CSD-19.

After three days at the 19th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-19), I began thinking about how important women’s leadership is to the tiered mission of Rio+20 also known as Earth Summit 2012 to help create a global green economy, and alleviate poverty.

Over the course of the prep meetings earlier this year, and during CSD-19 this week, it became more clear to me why women need to have more control over the Earth’s resources and the new technologies that can help to provide clean water, clean energy, clean air, and clean agriculture. With more power and training in the hands of women, particularly in developing countries, there will be more jobs for women, healthier communities, more education for girls, and population stabilization. With so much data that proves that women have a better track record for paying back micro-loans (even at higher rates), for protecting resources, and for investing money in their families and communities, it makes sense that empowering women is critical to the Rio+20 mission.

On May 4th, the Democracy and Gender Equality Roundtable was held by UN Women, simultaneous to CSD-19. I was struck by the statistics that show how unrepresented women are in managerial roles in all walks of life, from board rooms to government positions. Worse than I thought actually. Without a seat at the table, women can have no voice. Some of the developing countries where families rule, presented another glitch. In these countries, when women are put in positions of power, it is often as a surrogate of their husbands and fathers. Questions were asked. Is this better or worse?

I was reminded of the t-shirt worn by my friend, Jody Weiss, CEO of Peacemaker “Cause-metics” that reads, “I want my million bucks.” The slogan refers to a factoid she offered that over the course of one’s lifetime, women in the same job make about $1 million dollars less than a comparable man. And Trish Karter, of Dancing Deer Bakery, standing on her head to show how upside down the proportion of women to men on boards is, and why turning this around can make a big difference in the world. One look at the speaker list at energy and oil conferences tells us where the power lies. As an affirmative action baby myself, I know I wouldn’t have gotten my first job as a research diver for the State of California if there wasn’t a quota to fill. But, as an ice diver, I was just as qualified as the male applicants. They just had never considered a woman before. I wondered about where I’d be? In the back office typing memos for my boss?

On Thursday, May 5, I was invited by Osprey Orielle Lake to a Forum hosted by her Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus, a gem of a side event beyond the walls of the United Nations, out there past the row of flags where women are collaborating to gain traction around climate change and other environmental issues. Which, incidentally, adversely affect women and children more than men. The Forum focused on global topics around water and food security, with presenters from NGOs and businesses, including my friend Ann Goodman, Executive Director of Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF), Joji Carino of Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre, Donna Goodman, Director of Earth Child Institute, Anita Wenden of International Peace Research Association, and Bridget Burns, Program Director of WEDO – Women’s Environment and Development Organization. This group of impressive women shared stories and strategies for adapting to and mitigating climate change.

From there, I was cordially invited to a WEDO reception on Lexington Avenue, and some of us walked there together on what I would call an empowerment high. For me, WEDO was like discovering a treasure trove of international mentors and luminaries. Among other things, these highly educated and talented women have been working for twenty years to ensure that the environmental activities at the UN, benefit by a woman’s touch, or stronghold. Throughout the 1990’s WEDO played a key leadership role to ensure that gender was included in the outcomes of major UN conferences. In 2006, it was recognized with the Champions of the Earth award by UNEP and in 2010, WEDO received the Advocacy Award from the National Council for Research on Women. Their 20th anniversary conference will coincide with Rio+20.

As the event wound down, Elizabeth “Liz” Thompson arrived, the Co-Coordinator of Rio+20. I can say I slept a little easier that night, knowing the Earth was in better hands than I thought.

Where are the green businesses? – a report from United Nations CSD-19

Much of the action at the CSD-19 takes place in informal discussions in the United Nations Lawn Building’s Vienna Café, its lounge areas and during the various side events.

Because the CSD-19 is concentrating on a global green economy, sustainable consumption and production, and related issues, there is more focus on business than ever before.

I was able to catch up with Felix Dodds, Executive Director of the Stakeholder Forum. It was a good opportunity to get to the bottom of one topic that has been on my mind lately. That is, how the pioneers, leaders, local enterprises and entrepreneurs of triple bottom line businesses could be included in the process, as the Member States struggle to facilitate a new global green economy. I asked Felix how how green business leaders might help lead the world closer to a global green economy, the goal of Rio+20 in June 2012.

“I think we need to make it more attractive for companies to become involved as we look at the issues through the different lenses of energy, water, agriculture and food security, and cities,” said Felix Dodds. “There are lots of good positive examples where companies are bringing new ideas to the challenges we face.”

“It’s very difficult to represent global businesses in their many different forms. Note that many global organizations that do exist tend to represent multinational corporations. Entrepreneurs and small and medium sized businesses are less represented without an obvious place to have a voice. But, the approach of the UN is not to exclude the others.”

As background, The Working Group at the CSD-19 which represents business, is called Business and Industry. It is comprised presently of three organizations: International Chamber of Commerce International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), International Counceil of Chemical Associations (ICCA) and the United State Council for International Business.

For Rio+20, the UN has cast a wider net. Originally under the direction of Chad Holliday, Chairman of the Board of Bank of America, a group called BASD 2012 was created as a coordinating partner for business, a temporary coalition of business organizations to ensure that the voice of business is heard in Rio. BASD 2012 is a joint initiative of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSD) and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC).

So, how can other organizations, like the business supporters and partners of the American Sustainable Business Council, for instance have a voice in the negotiations?

The importance of capturing the triple bottom line vision and perspectives, experiences, ideas, innovations, and policy recommendations of pioneering green business leaders would be an essential contribution to the Earth Summit 2012. The Summit serves as an important opportunity and rallying point for the world community to accelerate and scale-up the transition to a low-carbon, more resource efficient and ecosystem-conserving global green economy. This Guardian article captures both the potential opportunity and possible pitfalls that the Summit represents.

At this juncture, the usual global multinationals, through the various industry associations mentioned, are poised to provide the dominant business perspective and input to the Summit on their vision and recommendations for a transition to the global green economy. What is sorely missing are the lessons and the perspectives of pioneering green business leaders and entrepreneurs who have shown early vision, leadership and commitment to transforming the sustainability of industrial processes:

These companies need to voice and demonstrate that their sustainable ‘green’ business models can drive both the bottom line through consumer demand and the ‘top’ line
through innovation, new markets and new business opportunities.

Felix Dodds suggested that new groups should be welcome to join the dialogue, and noted that The Stakeholder Forum was founded to help stakeholders stay informed and become involved in processes such as Rio+20 do ( ).

As the Commission on Sustainable Development works laboriously for two weeks on a framework and set of principles for a green economy, they are blazing new trails through unknown territory, and are bound to face some resistance from some well-funded entities that might be resistant, because of legitimate restraints in our present system, to letting go of business as usual. It’s going to take all hands on deck, and perhaps a major consciousness shift among both consumers and business. An eco-system in which 20% of the people consume 80% of the resources will collapse quickly. This may be the biggest challenge man has faced in evolution.

In wrapping up our conversation, I asked Felix Dodds, who just published his new book Biodiversity-and Ecosystem Insecurity: A Planet in Peril, what a green economy would look like. “I think that no one understands the green economy yet,” said Mr. Dodds. “There are many components and we must put our heads together.” So, there we have it. A call to action, a call to “create a vision” of what a fair and just economy could look like, and what it will take to build it.

United Nations opening day of CSD-19 by Martha Shaw

New York, NY May 2, 2011 – The 19th annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD -19) opened today with hopes that countries will agree on policy decisions that will significantly improve the safe use of chemicals, the management of waste, safety in mining, efficiency of transport, and reduction of the world’s consumption of Earth’s materials. Annual CSD meetings seek to promote more sustainable use of Earth’s resources. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, warned of the consequences of unsustainable consumption and production on the world’s ecosystems. Member States are being urged to agree on a plan to promote more efficient and safer use of chemicals and waste.

“We need to change our consumption and production patterns so that our economies proceed on sustainable paths, and so that we are able to address key global challenges like climate change, water and other resource scarcities, and environmental degradation,” said Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, at the opening of CSD-19.

“Globally, unsustainable consumption and production threatens to exceed the carrying capacity of life support systems,” Mr. Sha told the 53-member body. “This imbalance is obvious – whether measured by greenhouse gas concentrations, by the number of endangered species, by rates of deforestation, or by decreases in fish stocks.”

Mr. Sha expressed his hope that the CSD will launch an ambitious framework to support countries’ and other actors’ move towards sustainable consumption and production, adding that such an initiative would send the right message and generate positive momentum towards a successful outcome at next year’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012.

He noted that a 10-year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP on SCP) would promote development that is within the carrying capacity of ecosystems and contribute to progress on the three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental.

“Much more can and must be done across the globe to pursue inclusive and environmentally sound economic growth. We must accelerate our efforts to advance sustainable development and to meet our commitments to future generations,” said Mr. Sha, who also serves as the Secretary-General of the conference set to take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, known as Rio+20.

Dan Shepard, a United Nations information officer for UN Department for Public Information (UNDPI) commented, “If this commission can agree on a 10-year program, this will guide countries and individuals to help create an eco-system that will reduce waste. I think that countries know what needs to be done. At CSD-19, they will be discussing how they can do it on a collective basis. I think the decisions that come from this meeting will form the vital building blocks for the Rio+20 conference.”

Joan Kirby, a representative from a non-governmental organization to CSD-19, commented. “The best thing would be agreements between the developed and developing world. The divide persists.”

Close to 1,000 representatives from governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other parts of civil society are attending the Commission’s two-week meeting, which is the lead-in to Rio+20.

Rio +20 will mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development that was agreed to at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

Rio or Bust? by Martha Shaw

Rio+20 or Bust?


By CSRwire Contributing Writer Martha Shaw

The first intersessional meeting to plan for the Rio+20 Earth Summit 2012 kicks off United Nations International Year of Forests with high stakes.

The United Nations has flipped the calendar from the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity to 2011 International Year of Forests. The new year was marked by the first intersessional meeting of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development called UNCSD (Rio+20). The two days of meetings, January 10-11, were well attended and highly motivating to the hundreds of participants who gathered to prepare for Rio+20, also referred to as Earth Summit 2012. The Rio+20 will take place in Rio de Janeiro on May 14-16, 2012, 20 years after the first Earth Summit 1992 in Rio and 10 years after the second Earth Summit 2002 in Johannesburg. Though the name “summit” in the UN land of acronyms typically refers only to meetings of heads of State, the term has become acceptable, and the conferences embrace a diverse cast of characters.

It was noted that there has been insufficient progress made in 20 years to stave off the consequences of an increasing population with decreasing resources. Cited was rampant unregulated behavior of individual consumption of goods, lack of environmental and social regulations imposed on business, and failure of governments to govern theft from the commons. Global leaders are looking to areas where there is progress, however, which can help chart a course for the future.

One point that appears to be unanimous is that Rio+20 needs to be the summit that saves the world. The planet itself may persist in some form despite man’s brutal attack on natural systems, but the health and survival of our own species remains in limbo. So what will it take for the UN to save the world?

It isn’t going to be business as usual. What is unique to the upcoming Rio+20 is that together we are reinventing a whole new field, namely a Green Economy, which is yet to be defined. A new green economy must address the interdisciplinary nature of society, environment and economy far more extensively than has ever been done before. Our economies need to shift to achieve human well-being without ultimately destroying the environment upon which well-being depends.

One of the interesting things about UN processes, especially those that involve environmental issues, is that these days they involve not just countries negotiating with each other, but civil societies, labor unions, local governments, scientists, NGOs, and now a significantly increasing number of businesses. This adds to the complexity of negotiations and puts pressure on pre-summit intersessional meetings, preparatory meetings and conferences to come to conclusions prior to the summits – in the interest of time.

Traditionally businesses have entered the dialogue through NGOs. At the UN on Monday, the new Business Action for a Sustainable Economy (BASD2012) was announced as a collaboration between three existing business NGOs, the International Chamber of Commerce, World Business Council for Sustainable Development and United Nations Global Compact.

The UN Member States discussed the crucial role business must play in the Rio+20 Earth Summit. BASD 2012 held its first formal event focused on the business role in advancing sustainable development. This event, “Introducing BASD 2012,” was intended to build momentum toward Rio+20 by demonstrating the achievements of the private sector in contributing to economic, social and environmental (ESG) goals.

Though there was agreement that neither governments, societies nor NGOs can function economically without business, issues were raised about the dangers of greening greed and losing control of resources to ubiquitous multinational corporations – some of which are larger in scale than nations. Another thread of discussion took place about what constitutes the national boundaries of a business. Though we can celebrate achievements of the private sector in contributing to ESG goals, the marginalization of resources and destruction by unregulated business was of concern.

Yet businesses have been looking to governments to make decisions about regulatory guidelines that have not been forthcoming. Without these guidelines businesses have no choice but to self-regulate, which in some circles is a conflict of interest. It was also pointed out that trillions of dollars a year are lost to corruption within governments.

Earth Advertising presented the concept of a widespread business survey regarding goals for Rio+20 that includes, but extends beyond, the membership of the BASD2012 to businesses of all sizes, including those eco-preneurs and pioneers who founded the robust global networks that began the sustainable business movement.

Turning to nature for answers in both organizational behavior and clean tech innovation is a field known as biomimicry. One scientist showed examples of how many of the problems we seek to solve have already been solved by nature. Not only does science need a seat at the negotiation table, but so does science education or we will be dealing with a society that cannot understand the concepts being negotiated on its behalf.

In 2012, 20 years after the first Earth Summit, global leaders will return to Rio de Janeiro to assess progress made and chart a course for the future. At the first intersessional meeting this week, the attendees questioned whether their thought processes were innovative enough to solve the complex problems facing our global society in a time of financial crisis. If their level of commitment is any sign of the future, then Rio+20 could be a turning point for the better in the evolution of man’s relationship with our environment. As the meetings came to a close, many of the attendees flew off into a blinding snowstorm to catch another meeting in Panama City on sustainable consumption and production (SCP). These are some of the hardest working people on the planet and they deserve a preliminary round of applause.

About Martha Shaw

Martha Shaw is a contributing writer for CSRwire covering clean technology and other topics. Martha has been named an Adweek Creative All Star and is the winner of international awards in communications. She is a member of the Climate Literacy Network, Fellow of the Explorers Club, board member of NYSES and CEO of Earth Advertising.

This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers’ community and expresses this author’s views alone.

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Hoping for the best, or planning for the worst?

Business agreements are reached at World Climate Summit in Cancun during COP16.

by Martha Shaw

Over 800 business leaders and luminaries from five continents gathered at the inaugural World Climate Summit at the Ritz Carlton in Cancun’s hotel zone to discuss how business can create low carbon markets, despite lack of regulatory support from governments. Meanwhile, several miles down the beach, UNFCCC COP16 delegates from 190 countries were sequestered at the Moon Palace working to agree on a framework to help stave off climate collapse.

Though the hopes for COP16 agreements weren’t high, those of the World Climate Summit business gathering were ‘through the roof.’ And that roof is paved in photovoltaics, lined by rain collectors, sitting atop an energy efficient, non-toxic building not far from a wind turbine, and tied into a local energy grid.

The mood was one of camaraderie and team spirit. Consensus among the CEOs was evident in a unanimous commitment to take drastic measures to reduce their carbon footprints, among other environmental efforts. Attendees also agreed that without a regulatory framework and carbon pricing from the delegates down the beach, it was risky business to finance innovation in a world where petrol and coal is heavily subsidized, and hot new clean energy technologies struggle to see the light of day.

If clean energy could produce just 15-20% of the watts in the electric grid, it would reach the critical mass necessary to create markets that can compete with a dirty energy economy. Yet, getting investment into that group is a bottleneck without conducive policies.

So, where will the leadership come from to lead us out of a crisis wrought with inequalities, in which some countries feel owed something from other countries that got the planet into this mess? As nations face obstacles, consensus is happening at a local level where mayors understand that the private sector has the resources and the entrepreneurial spirit to move the needle. According to talks at the World Climate Summit, the leadership will come from local governments. Working with businesses, cities can show how it’s done. “Cities can do it,” was the rallying cry from this powerful sector, which is more than willing to learn from each other and work together. “Screw it, let’s do it,” was another.

It is predicted that 90% of the world population will be concentrated in cities by the end of the century. Already cities around the world have created models for sustainability out of necessity. Water is being captured and reused, landfill off gasses are being converted to power, and food producers are cropping up in local community gardens in unexpected urban sites.

Attention turned to the shipping industry responsible for transporting goods and supplies around the globe and, oftentimes, leaving oil slicks in their wake and spewing diesel fumes from their tailpipes. Clean tech shipping operations vowed to clean up their act and institute new computerized rating systems for displaying their environmental footprint. Meanwhile, manufacturers made commitments to source more locally.

Participants acknowledged that it is ‘society’ that is bearing the brunt of the world’s dirty fuel economy. Asthma rates in some cities have gone up 500% since 1985. Weather has become extreme. Saltwater is invading coastal buffer zones. Soil is depleted. Already millions of indigenous people have become climate refugees, displaced from their land.

The conversation at the World Climate Summit also turned to women, who hold less than 2-5% of high-level decision-making positions in both government and business, though they are the first to suffer the effect of climate change, along with children. Though underrepresented in the world at large, women at the summit were given the microphone a little more in proportion to their numbers than most events.

Studies presented showed that without women at the table, the world is cooked. At the top of the economic pecking order, companies with women on boards and in executive positions are more prosperous and civil-minded. In the middle of the spectrum, purchasing decisions are overwhelmingly in the hands of women worldwide though earning power for the same jobs still waiver around 60%. At the ground level, lack of education for women and girls is directly correlated to the population explosion of the poor.

Traditional media channels, and new communication technologies that are experiencing exponential growth around the world, were sited at the business summit as an area of opportunity that has yet to be fully tapped in regard to messaging. In a market of sponsored news, the topic turned to how media can foster more public engagement about climate issues. Which media organizations were granted observer and reporting rights at the COP16 itself was of interest to news services, as armed guards screened reporters for credentials at the UNFCCC gateway, called Cancun Messe.

It was agreed at the summit that within the coming months, communication task forces, inside the UN and out, would work together to boost climate literacy, engage business, and help the next generation navigate the inevitable challenges ahead.

At the conclusion of a successful World Climate Summit, businesses who had made the greatest strides toward carbon reduction, waste prevention and other climate-related achievements were honored. Handshakes on new collaborations and partnerships abounded. Attendees agreed unanimously to race ahead toward a clean economy without the framework hoped for from the governments convening down the beach.

It was announced that the 2nd World Climate Summit was already in the works to take place, same time next year, in Durban, South Africa at COP17. For more details about the 2010 World Climate Summit, including the program, speakers, conclusions, announcements, and the coinciding Gigaton Awards, visit

The author, Martha Shaw, is a contributing journalist in the area of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. She founded Earth Advertising and eFlicks Media in 1998 to support the growth of a clean economy. Visit