Rio +20, Business and the Developing World

Judging by the dialogue on the #Rioplus20 feed on Twitter, much of the public and many environmentalists were disappointed by the lack of bold decisions coming out of the conference. Some memorable tweets:

#Greenpeace, frustrated with #Rioplus20, declares war to make sanctuary in the Arctic”

“Rio+20 outcome document weakened by human rights opponents” [Amnesty International]


Governments and international organizations on the other hand tended to put a positive spin on the same event. Statements from the UN Secretary General’s website declare “It has been a successful conference.” “It will guide us…to a sustainable path.”


Having given the Rio Plus 20’s final document a quick read I find that it contains a lot of boilerplate platitudes and references to every prior global development and environmental conference of the last 30 years. The document also included sections on the role of finance and commerce as engines of development and sustainable economic growth.


A significant block of private sector entities, and business support organizations appear ready and willing to play a positive role in adopting pro-environment business practices. The US Overseas Private Investment Corp announced its US-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative designed to help finance green business ventures in Africa.


Among the commitments and actions agreed upon by private sector corporations, small and medium-scale enterprises,

  • Microsoft has committed to going carbon neutral and will be rolling out an internal carbon fee that will apply to business operations in over 100 countries.
  • Italian energy company Eni has earmarked approximately $5 billion to achieve its gas flaring and carbon intensity reduction goals
  • The Renault-Nissan Alliance has committed approximately $5 billion to commercialize affordable zero-emission vehicles.
  • Among the commitments and actions agreed upon by financial institutions, donors and development banks, the Bank of America has set a ten year $50 billion environmental business goal, while the World Bank Group has committed to doubling the leverage of its energy portfolio by mobilizing private, donor and public contributions to World Bank-supported projects, as well as supportive policies to expand energy access, renewable energy and energy efficiency. provided several examples of the business perspective on Rio Plus 20. Norine Kennedy of the United States Council for International Business noted that the record number of businesspeople at the conference were looking for the UN to devise better metrics and indicators of progress on sustainability. She also points ot that the conference fell short in including economic approaches to environmental policy and did not take advantage of connections with the G20 conversation in Mexico occurring at about the same time.


Meanwhile, the private sector took the following positions at the conference:

  • 45 CEOs called on governments to increase the price of water and committed to improve water-management practices.
  • More than 25 companies from the insurance industry, worth over $5 trillion in total assets and representing over 10 percent of world premium volume, joined to promote a set of Principles for Sustainable Insurance that aim to provide insurance tools for risk management in support of environmental, social and economic sustainability. 




What will be the impact on business in emerging economies in the developing world? The answer depends on countries’ economic priorities, their politics, and their ability and willingness to influence how business is done in their countries. Several countries have initiated programs to make their economies more environmentally sustainable. Among the commitments and actions agreed upon by Governments, Ghana, one of the first countries to partner with the initiative, has developed a national energy action plan to support capacity-development and innovative financing mechanisms. Countries initiating or completing similar assessments include Bangladesh, Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal, Tajikistan, Uruguay and Vietnam. Meanwhile, Brazil, the host country for Rio+20, has committed to investing a further $4.3 billion to achieve universal energy access at a national level by 2014.


While one suspects the implementation of these commitments will vary considerably, They indicate a that issues of climate change carbon reduction, and energy efficiency have the attention of governments in the emerging markets and will influence the way business is done for the foreseeable future.

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