You are here

Climate, Energy & Transport

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:

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.

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.

Rio+20 has not quite concluded, but we’re rapidly approaching the end line. Somewhat unexpectedly, the Rio+20 outcome document was largely finalized yesterday afternoon. NGOs have weighed in on what this means, and most are rightfully frustrated. Almost across the board, the document is much too soft and vague to solve today’s sustainability challenges. Much of the text is merely a reaffirmation of previous agreements or worse, a regression from those agreements.

That said, we’ve believed all along that the more groundbreaking action at Rio+20 would be outside of the formal process. Certainly, after attending many side events and informal meetings this week, I’ve come across numerous examples of civil society organizations, entrepreneurs, companies, and others who are moving forward with innovative approaches to address sustainability. Perhaps more importantly, outside of Rio, many national and local governments are genuinely pushing ahead on sustainability in exciting ways.

The picture at Rio is much like the world today: complex, incremental and not rising to the challenges in front of us.

More than 50,000 international experts and leaders from government, NGOs, business, and other sectors are flocking to the United Nations' Rio+20 Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Taking place 20 years after the first Earth Summit, Rio+20 aims to address two major, globally important themes: building a green economy and establishing a framework for sustainable development that will decrease poverty, boost social equity, and protect the environment.

Rio+20's informal sessions kicked off last week and will continue right up until the official conference on June 20th-22nd. WRI's experts in business, climate, energy, forests, governance, transportation, and more are on the ground for all the action. (Check out a full list of official WRI events at Rio+20).

Before WRI's staff headed to Rio, I asked our experts the following question: What is significant about the Rio+20 conference, and what do you hope will come out of it?

How can policymakers deliver low-carbon development, particularly clean energy, at affordable costs? What strategies have countries used to attain the economic benefits of building a clean energy industry while keeping the burden to consumers low —and who is succeeding, and why? These are just a few of the questions that policymakers grapple with when tackling the challenges associated with transitioning to a green economy, one of the key themes of the Rio+20 conference. They’re also questions that WRI seeks to answer through our upcoming, cross-country analysis of clean energy industry development.

Ten years ago, world leaders convened in Johannesburg to establish the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), global strategies designed to end poverty, hunger, and disease by 2015. While the pledges were ambitious, they neglected to recognize a critical component of sustainable development: transportation. Development banks, governments, and other decision-makers spent the next decade focusing their attention on MDG priorities. Meanwhile, cities around the world faced worsening traffic congestion, increased air pollution, and dangerous roads.

We’re now face-to-face with the next major global development summit, the U.N.’s Rio+20 Conference. One of the biggest tasks at hand will be shaping new “Sustainable Development Goals,” plans that will pick up where the MDGs left off. This time, we can’t leave transportation out of the agenda.

The Rio+20 informal sessions kicked off this week, and WRI’s experts are on the ground for all the action. Each day, we’ll bring you highlights of upcoming WRI events. Check out the details below on what we’ve got going on tomorrow. And be sure to visit the full list of all WRI events at Rio+20.

Coming Tomorrow: June 15, 2012

Sustainable Transport in the Cities of the Future

WHO: Holger Dalkmann, Director EMBARQ

WHEN: Friday, June 15 2012, 1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. BRT

WHERE: Rio+20, United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Riocentro Complex, Room T-5

Can creating business value and promoting sustainable development go hand in hand? We think so, and so do many leading companies. That’s why we’re excited to present a panel at the Rio+20 conference featuring speakers from Siemens, PepsiCo, and Mars. On June 17, 2012, these companies will reveal successful strategies that benefit the environment, their customers, and their bottom line.

Companies that Combine Profit and Planet

Each company has a compelling story to tell about how environmental initiatives can spur business opportunities and growth:

  • Siemens: Almost half (41 percent) of the company’s 2011 revenue came from products in its environmental portfolio, such as solar technologies and building automation systems.

  • PepsiCo: The company partnered with the Inter-American Development Bank to create a market for sunflower oil in Mexico, supporting its transition away from palm oil, which threatens forests, while providing healthy foods and beverages. The initiative will provide a stable income source for roughly 850 farmers and their families. This fits with the company’s “Performance with Purpose” approach which seeks to tie superior financial performance with its commitment to human and environmental sustainability, while “fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace.”

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.

Pages

Stay Connected