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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?

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.

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.

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.

Rio+20 in the Rear View: What’s the Road Ahead for Sustainable Transportation?

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." Check Insights this week and next for more post-Rio+20 coverage.

As we look to make sense of the Rio+20 conference that concluded last week, we can confidently say that transportation drove its way to the top of the sustainable development agenda. It’s a far departure from the last global development conference 10 years ago in Johannesburg, when transportation was conspicuously absent from the agenda and the resulting Millennium Development Goals. After the Rio+20 conference last week, transportation is now poised to become a significant part of the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals, which are beginning to take shape as one of the conference’s major outcomes.

With transportation intricately tied to so many of the global mega-trends today—climate change, traffic fatalities, city growth and congestion, poverty, and air pollution—it was exciting to see sustainable transport finally included in development discussions. Here are a few of Rio+20’s major transportation outcomes:

Rio+20 Text Offers Hope for Improving Governance

The main focus of the formal negotiations at Rio+20 is the outcome document, “The Future We Want.” The text, which was approved earlier this week and will likely be agreed upon by heads of state and U.N. officials, outlines a global framework for sustainable development and building a green economy. The text will have an impact on areas ranging from climate change to business to transportation, but the document’s biggest implications for governance is its references to Principle 10. By including this Principle and modest action, the outcome document offers glimmers of hope that citizens—including poor and marginalized communities across the globe—will no longer fall victim to environmentally degrading, exploitative development projects.

Cities Take the Lead on Tackling Climate Change

Climate change may not have been on the official Rio+20 agenda, but that didn’t stop mayors from megacities around the world from making major headway on the issue. At the Rio+20 conference on Tuesday, the network of C40 city leaders announced new data showcasing the fact that these cities' initiatives could cut 1.3 billion metric tons of carbon emissions by 2030.

At the decidedly urban event—perched in a colorful, high-tech auditorium miles from Rio+20’s official negotiations in the suburbs—Mayors Bloomberg (NYC), Paes (Rio de Janeiro), Park (Seoul), and Tau (Johannesburg)—as well as President Clinton (via video) and other leaders—made a compelling case for global action through cities. The mayors asserted that cities are proving to be the most effective government entities in addressing global climate change. In addition to announcing goals to reduce 1.3 billion metric tons of carbon emissions by 2030, leaders cited already-taken actions that will cut 248 million tons of greenhouse gases by 2020. The cities’ achievements contrast with international negotiations (and some national governments), which have been unable to agree to binding CO2 reduction targets.

Dispatches from Rio+20: Visiting with Mayor Bloomberg, Riding the Bus, and More

One lesson from Rio+20 is you shouldn’t confuse what’s happening in the hallways and negotiating rooms with what’s taking place on the ground. A great example of this is the new bus-rapid-transit line that has just started running in Rio de Janeiro. The BRT has gotten a lot of attention this week– not least because New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s visit to Rio de Janeiro brought focus to the city’s transportation system.

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to join Mayor Bloomberg and Rio’s Mayor Paes, along with my EMBARQ colleagues to visit Rio’s operations center. Mayor Bloomberg was primarily here to promote the C40 Climate Leadership Group’s announcement of C40 cities' actions to reduce 1.3 billion metric tons of carbon emissions by 2030. The Mayor also cited city-level actions already taken that will cut 248 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

What's Happening at Rio+20: June 22nd

It’s the final week of Rio+20, and WRI’s experts are on the ground for all the action. Each day, I’ll bring you highlights of what’s on the horizon. Check out the details below on the exciting things happening tomorrow. And be sure to visit the full list of WRI’s Rio+20 events.

We are heading into the last day of the conference. I'd say we are coasting in, because it seems that there won't be much drama around the resolution. I don’t think many people are really satisfied with the formal outcome, which isn't nearly ambitious enough. But it was certainly a busy, stimulating week with lots of opportunities to meet people, have interesting conversations, and wrestle with the big issues. I would also say, once again, that's it has been enjoyable to be in Rio - though the sun has turned into rain. A metaphor? Perhaps.

For the First Time, GHG Protocol to help Brazil Measure Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agriculture

This past Sunday, WRI’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol team conducted a session at the Rio+20 event, “The Green Economy: Driving Business Value and Competitiveness.” The session included great dialogue between business leaders, policy makers, and WRI experts, and featured one very significant declaration: The British Ambassador to Brazil, Alan Charlton, announced GHG Protocol’s groundbreaking new work with Brazil’s agriculture sector. For the first time, GHG Protocol will develop a guidance that allows Brazilian companies and individual farms to measure, report, and manage greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

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