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Blog Posts: Rio+20

  • Farewell, 2012. You Taught Us Much.

    This year has been one of those worst-of-years and best-of-years. In its failures, there are signs of hope.

    An unprecedented stream of extreme weather events worldwide tragically reminded us that we’re losing the fight against climate change. For the first time since 1988, climate change was totally ignored in the U.S. presidential campaign, even though election month, November, was the 333rd consecutive month with a global temperature higher than the long-term average. A WRI report identified 1,200 coal-fired power plants currently proposed for construction worldwide. The Arctic sea ice reached its lowest-ever area in September, down nearly 20 percent from its previous low in 2007. And disappointing international negotiations in June and December warned us not to rely too much on multilateral government-to-government solutions to global problems.

    But 2012 was also a year of potential turning points. A number of new “plurilateral” approaches to problem-solving came to the fore, offering genuine hope. A wave of emerging countries, led by China, embraced market-based green growth strategies. Costs for renewable energy continued their downward path, and are now competitive in a growing number of contexts. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that global investment in renewable energy was probably around $250 billion in 2012, down by perhaps 10 percent over the previous year, but not bad given the eliminations of many subsidy programs, economic austerity in the West, and the sharp shale-induced declines in natural gas prices. And the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, coupled with the ongoing drought covering more than half of the United States (which will turn out to be among the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history) may have opened the door to a change of psychology, in turn potentially enabling the Obama Administration to exhibit the international leadership the world so urgently needs, as many of us have advocated.

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  • Rio+20 in the Rear View: Why We Need to Connect the Grassroots to the Grasstops

    Sarah Martin and Gayatri Gadag also contributed to this blog post.

    Rio+20 may have ended more than three weeks ago, but the environmental and development communities are still feeling the disappointment. One of the biggest shortcomings was the lack of collaboration between citizen groups (the “grassroots”) and the policy research organizations that influence policymakers (the “grasstops”).

    As WRI’s Manish Bapna points out, “A gap and lack of coordination between grassroots and grasstops institutions was evident during the Rio+20 summit. Advancing sustainable development in a meaningful way hinges on bridging this gap.” In other words, creating political will and building the constituency necessary to support the policy changes being advocated for requires collaboration between different segments of civil society.

    Expanding Clean Energy Access

    Bridging the grassroots-grasstops divide is especially necessary when it comes to clean energy access, an issue that received much attention at Rio+20 as a result of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4A) initiative. SE4A is a global initiative that aims to mobilize action from all sectors of society to support universal access to modern energy services, improve energy efficiency, and increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. However, actually expanding clean energy access will require cooperation between think tanks, institutions, governments, and the citizens who are most in need of sustainable energy access.

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  • Wanted: A Steve Jobs for Sustainability

    This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

    Where is the Steve Jobs of sustainability? The business leader with the big, disruptive ideas—and the force of will—to achieve for sustainable production and consumption what Apple’s visionary chief did for global technology and information?

    This question springs strongly to mind after attending the Rio+20 conference.

    Unlike the original Earth Summit 20 years earlier, business leaders were everywhere at Rio 2012. And with governments failing to make headway at the UN-led forum, there was much talk of businesses taking a greater lead in fixing the world’s environmental and development challenges.

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  • Rio+20 in the Rear View: Countries Commit to Improve Environmental Governance

    More than a year ago, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon likened Rio+20 to a “free-market revolution for global sustainability,” calling for the event to inspire innovations that move the world toward more sustainable pathways to economic growth and development. Later in the year, U.N. Commission for Sustainable Development Chair, Sha Zukang, explained that the main difference of Rio+20 from earlier conferences “will be the sharp focus on renewing political commitments and on implementation…” Said Sha, “My message is: come to Rio ready to commit.”

    The Rio+20 conference wrapped up on June 22nd, so the big question is: Did governments come through with these serious commitments?

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  • Rio+20: More Progress from Business Needed

    This piece originally appeared in The Guardian.

    Big business seemed to be everywhere at Rio+20, arguably more visible than the 100 or so heads of state and government, who arrived for the final few days.

    Hundreds of business initiatives were announced through groups including Business Action for Sustainable Development and the UN Global Compact's Corporate Sustainability Forum. And the corporate leaders who flocked to Brazil made all the right noises. "We have to bring this world back to sanity and put the greater good ahead of self-interest," Unilever CEO Paul Polman told the Guardian.

    But how much substance lies below the surface of these declarations?

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  • Rio+20 in the Rear View: Getting Business on Board with the Green Economy

    WRI's experts will continue to provide commentary and analysis of the results of the Rio+20 conference through our series, "Rio+20 in the Rear View." For more posts in this series, see here, here, and here.

    Many stories came out of the Rio+20 proceedings; Jo Confino’s blog in The Guardian is an excellent place to review what happened. But now that Rio+20 is behind us and the 50,000 government officials, business representatives, and activists have gone home, one expectation is clear: Leadership from the private sector is critical to advancing sustainable solutions in the coming years.

    The question is: Are business leaders on board with this strategy? Is transformative action possible or desirable from a business perspective? We can’t speak for all businesses, but on June 17th in Rio, WRI partnered with Forum for the Future, a UK-based NGO that works with companies on sustainable business practices, to present a panel featuring corporate leaders that are currently taking steps toward "next practices."

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  • Rio+20 in the Rear View: A Missed Opportunity for Climate Change Action

    WRI's experts will continue to provide commentary and analysis of the results of the Rio+20 conference through our series, "Rio+20 in the Rear View." For more posts in this series, see here, here, and here.

    Going into Rio+20, we knew that climate change wasn’t going to be a major focus on the formal agenda – yet its presence was amply felt. Simply put, you cannot create a more sustainable future without addressing the climate challenge.

    From forests to energy, oceans to the green economy, our changing climate is already having an undeniable impact—and the recent signs are not good. Just taking the United States as an example, so far this year we’ve seen record-breaking spring temperatures, with another major heat wave sweeping through. In Colorado, dry, hot conditions are leading to massive wildfires. In the Northeast, the U.S. Geological Survey is reporting that sea levels are rising even faster than previously expected. These conditions come as global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise – and yet for the most part, governments are not putting policies in place at the scale needed to address this problem.

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  • VIDEO: Leading Companies Use New Standards to Uncover Greatest Sources of Carbon Emissions

    Last week’s Rio+20 conference failed to yield strong sustainability commitments from corporations. As Manish Bapna, interim president of the World Resources Institute (WRI) stated earlier this week, companies in Rio didn’t “grasp the fundamental recognition that the planet is on an unsustainable course and the window for action is closing.” The gap between where we need to get to avoid climate change’s worst effects and the actions companies are willing to take to get us there have never been further apart. While governments have an important role to play in setting policies to reduce emissions, legislation on its own will never be enough to put us on a development trajectory that is sustainable. Leadership from business is urgently needed.

    [youtube oiwcDVwIxAI]

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  • Rio+20 in the Rear View: Companies Call for Better Water Governance

    WRI's experts will continue to provide commentary and analysis of the results of the Rio+20 conference through our series, "Rio+20 in the Rear View." For more posts in this series, see here and here.

    Since the close of the Rio +20 conference last week, participants, experts, and observers the world over have tried to determine what, if any, real outcomes were achieved. Amidst all of the controversy and frustration over commitments and lack of progress, something significant did happen at Rio: Forty-five major companies representing hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenue called for “much greater action by Governments” to achieve global water security.

    These major companies endorse the U.N.’s Global Compact CEO Water Mandate, an initiative designed to assist companies in the development, implementation, and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices. Their recent call at Rio+20 for better water governance is an important step forward for water protection—after all, it’s not every day that such a wide array of leading corporations asks governments to assert more control. It’s an indicator that water scarcity is creating widespread risks that are too complex for even the most powerful of companies to manage alone.

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  • Rio+20 in the Rear View: A Look at Rio de Janeiro’s New Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program

    WRI's experts will continue to provide commentary and analysis of the results of the Rio+20 conference through our series, "Rio+20 in the Rear View." For more posts in this series, see here and here.

    During the informal sessions of the U.N.’s Rio+20 conference on sustainable development last week, Rio de Janeiro city officials and the World Bank jointly launched a very timely project: the Rio Low-Carbon City Program. Under this initiative, the city will introduce low-carbon strategies like bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors, upgraded urban rail systems, bikeways, and an integrated solid waste management system in order to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

    The program came about due to the city’s landmark 2011 municipal climate change law, which requires Rio to avoid 20 percent of 2005 GHGs emissions by 2020. This cut will amount to a reduction of 2.27 million tons of carbon dioxide from the business-as-usual scenario.

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