Hope from the sidelines at Rio+20

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (or Rio+20), held last week in Rio de Janeiro, marked 20 years since the original Earth Summit. The Conference, which was attended by over 40,000 heads of state, government and representatives from NGOs and the private sector, aimed to secure renewed commitment to sustainable development.

It has been a long time coming. Negotiations have been taking place at country level for over a year, and although the official outcome document ‘The Future We Want’ was agreed by all 140 Country-Parties by the close of the summit last Friday, it’s been widely criticised for lacking detail and ambition.

Despite the bad press, the three members of FFI’s Environmental Markets Programme who attended the summit remain optimistic. Over 600 side events took place around the periphery of the main event, offering opportunities to address key issues with the detail they require.

“Incredible things were happening on the sidelines,” Jane Dunlop, FFI’s Environmental Markets Community Specialist, explained, “and it has been great to see all of the amazing work that is taking place around the world by governments, NGOs and the private sector.”

Environmental Markets Programme Director Paul Herbertson, expressed his excitement with the involvement of business at side events. “With the theme of ‘green economy’ at the heart of the conference, it was particularly reassuring to see active business involvement; it honestly felt as though business is starting to engage with these issues from a more integrated perspective that includes accounting and financing as well as operational impacts from a CSR perspective.”

For the FFI attendees, two key issues emerged from the side events:

  1. Innovative partnerships between NGOs, businesses and governments are forming and will continue to grow
  2. The need for mechanisms to value impacts and dependencies on ecosystems

The silver lining of Rio+20 for FFI is that we are already actively involved in a number of projects that address these issues, and are well placed through our partnerships and experience to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.

Jane Dunlop, Environmental Markets Community Specialist for FFI has a distinctly  Rio moment. Credit: Jane Dunlop/FFI

Three side events are highlighted below:

TEEB Business Breakfast

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative works to make a compelling economic case for the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity. The event, primarily attended by senior business representatives (including DOW, PWC, Unilever and Disney), looked at mechanisms of valuing natural capital.

FFI has a number of long-standing partnerships with business, and the event provided a broad business perspective. Participants acknowledged the need to internalise the costs of environmental impacts and dependencies but also recognised that Chief Financial Officers are suspicious about putting a value on natural capital. Businesses come on board when there is a clear business case and do not like to feel pushed by regulation.

The event focused on the need for more tools that businesses can use and stressed the important role NGOs and public policy play to support companies to use them. FFI is active in this role through our work on the Natural Value Initiative.

Avoided Deforestation Partners Event

This event specifically addressed the issue of deforestation and the use of market-based mechanisms. Again, the need to incorporate nature into our economic systems was the key issue here, along with the need to work in partnership.

“The private sector needs to put people and the planet at the centre of all we do,” said Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group. “Together we need to face critical challenges, including finding ways to harness and protect our natural assets – including the last remaining tropical forests. The planet won’t wait.”

Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group, actor Edward Norton and primatologist Jane Goodall were among the distinguished guests at the Avoided Deforestation Partners event. Credit: Avoided Deforestation Partners

The major outcome from this event was an announcement by the United States Government that, ‘it would partner with companies of the Consumer Goods Forum, representing more than 400 companies and brands operating with combined annual revenues of over US$3.1 trillion, to support the Forum’s pledge to achieve zero net deforestation in their supply chains by 2020.’

Our attendance at this event helped to confirm that we are on the right track through our work on BioCarbon and corporate partnerships.

Launch of the Natural Capital Declaration

A final side event of note was the Natural Capital Dialogue which was led by the UK government and opened by Nick Clegg. This followed the launch of the Natural Capital Declaration (NCD) earlier in the week – a finance-led initiative to integrate natural capital considerations into investment, banking and lending decisions.

A total of 39 banks, investors and insurers now endorse the NCD and it is now backed by 50 countries as well as corporations such as Puma, Dow Chemical, Unilever and Mars Incorporated. FFI supports this declaration and what it stands for.

FFI’s Environmental Markets Ecosystem Services Specialist Connie Espinosa summed up the events of Rio+20 best, commenting, “On my last day at Rio, I had the opportunity to talk to representatives of Brazilian NGOs and they told me something that resonated with me, ‘we the civil society are the engine for change’.”