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Climate Change and Rio+20

Despite 1992 Rio Earth Summit being the birthplace of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, climate change doesn’t have a major place on this year’s official Rio+20 agenda. But we shouldn’t assume that it’s a forgotten issue. In fact, climate change cuts across nearly all of the other sustainable development topics.

However, news on the climate front is not good. Global emissions levels have reached record highs, according to the latest data from the International Energy Agency. We continue to see unusally warm temperatures, like the extraordinarily hot spring we just experienced in the United States. Extreme weather events, such as heat waves and droughts, continue to wreak havoc around the globe, reminding us of what the world will look like if emissions continue to rise. In addition, while there were signs of hope coming out of Durban last December, the most recent climate talks in Bonn, Germany, showed fractures in the international climate negotiations, which continue to be marked by bickering and discord.

So What Should We Hope for in Rio This Year?

Climate runs through many topics on the Rio agenda, most notably in green economy and Energy Access for All. Progress in these two areas could help spark action and expedite the shift to cleaner, lower-carbon energy.

Furthermore, there are many opportunities for countries and businesses to showcase the fact that the best pro-growth economic strategy is one based on sustainability. Doing so can help move sustainability—including tackling climate change—to the center of the political and economic agenda.

Finally, Rio could help jumpstart a much-needed, new narrative around climate change. We need to create a refreshed vision about curbing emissions – one that isn’t marred by partisan politics and infighting, but rather addresses climate change as a smart policy to respond to risks and produce economic gains. In short, with the right policies, incentives, and investment, addressing climate should be viewed as a sound, long-term development strategy.

If you want evidence that this sort of vision can work, just look at Germany: The country is shifting to renewables while generating 380,000 jobs in 2011 and creating new markets. The world is starting to take notice—in fact, last year saw more than $263 billion in clean energy investment globally, a record high. Around the world, many countries already have put in place or are considering carbon pricing policies. Clearly, not everyone is standing idle as the climate threat worsens.

WRI Rio+20 Event: "The Green Economy: Driving Business Value and Competitiveness"

To further advance these goals, WRI will be working in a number of venues at Rio, especially in the informal sessions. This includes a joint event on June 17th that will feature three panels discussing the following issues in depth:

  • Next Practices: Businesses are finding that responding to climate and sustainability challenges head-on is a source of growth and competitive advantage. Moving beyond the incremental pace of environmental performance in recent years, leading businesses are instead going on a sustainability offensive. In a session convened by WRI’s Next Practice Collaborative, we will hear from leaders at Siemens, PepsiCo, and Mars about how they’re taking the long view to re-imagine business with sustainability at the core, from operations to supply chain to products and services.

  • Clean Technology Policy: Even as clean energy investment soars, concerns linger about the cost of supporting large-scale renewable deployment. But some countries have managed to create jobs, attract investment, strengthen manufacturing, and deliver relatively low-cost clean energy to their domestic consumers. Who are they, and how have they done it? The Open Climate Network (OCN) will explore these questions in an upcoming report and web tool. At this session, OCN will preview cross-country findings from this analysis and convene a panel to discuss private-sector and country experiences in developing competitive renewable energy sectors.

  • Measuring and Managing GHG Emissions: Being able to accurately measure greenhouse gas emissions is key for allowing companies to integrate climate and sustainability into business decisions and for governments to develop policies that foster globally competitive clean technology industries. WRI’s third climate panel will provide an update on the new standards and tools that the Greenhouse Gas Protocol is developing to help both businesses and policymakers measure emissions in order to manage them effectively. We’ll also hear about how WRI is partnering with C40 and ICLEI to develop a global City Accounting Protocol for measuring GHG emissions from cities and communities.

Seizing the Moment at Rio+20

Out of the original Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago came the understanding that climate is a major problem, and we need a global response. Rio+20 will hopefully foster a deeper understanding that an effective response to climate can be an engine for economic growth. It is time for government and business leaders alike to embrace this new vision for tackling climate change.

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