Sustainability Blog - The Grid
Why is it that we share a common future, but so little common ground?
The result from Rio+20 is so lackluster, leaders and their delegates declined to bequeath it one of the grandiloquent titles normally attached to such things. It is not a Rio+20 Declaration, nor even a "roadmap." It is simply, awkwardly, uninspiringly, a "Rio+20 Outcomes Document."
As prime minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark championed sustainability in its many forms -- climate change, women and leadership, the nation's relations with indigenous people. As administrator of the United Nations Development Program since 2009, Clark oversees the organization's work in 177 nations advocating for democracy and environmental health, and fighting poverty and HIV/AIDS. I spoke with her in New York before the start of the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.
Q: Paralyzed by money, political deadlock or fear of further economic shock, many national governments say they can't tackle sustainability issues right now. They need to ensure their citizens get their next meal. What do you tell them?
A: We have been pushing very hard on triple-win policies -- where countries agree to design a set of policies that all lead up to sustainable development. Take Ethiopia: they pay unemployed people to work, and the work is prioritized around irrigation, reforestation, etc. It's in the dry region of the country, but with some income, you can put food on the table. That's now helping some 8 million people.
The Rio+20 Summit is the biggest-ever conference organized by the United Nations, said Pragati Pascale, the lead spokeswoman for the meeting in Rio de Janeiro. The UN issued 45,381 passes for the Riocentro conference center. That includes 10,822 passes for national delegations; 9,856 passes for NGOs and the Major Groups (What's a Major Group?); and 4,075 for media. Security personnel took up another 4,000. Thousands more observers attended conference and the "Dialog Days" held in the run up to the arrival of the world leaders.
By comparison, the 1992 Rio Earth Summit had about 17,000 participants.
Richard Branson has lent his name and directed his profits to the search for carbon-light business models. Virgin Airlines is developing biofuels. The Carbon War Room works with industry to identify market opportunities that can make money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the UN Rio+20 Sustainability Summit, he signed on his support to a Greenpeace call banning Arctic oil drilling. I caught up with him at the world green summit, one of dozens of side events that have sprouted up around the UN's Rio+20 Summit.
Q: No one seems happy with the negotiated document
coming out of Rio. What's the role of companies going
A: The role of companies is all the more important for the world because so little has come out of governments. Governments could have made some big announcements this week that wouldn’t have cost their countries any money -- that could have made their companies money. They could have got rid of the subsidy on fossil fuels, which would have helped start a complete clean industry and given it the massive boost it needed and save their countries money. They chose not to do that. They could have agreed to protect the open seas and police the open seas instead of letting them carry on getting decimated by fishing and so on. So companies have really got to step in and do the best they can without the proper ground rules set by governments.
It’s impossible to come to Rio de Janeiro without seeing the city’s slums, known as favelas.
They’re collections of ramshackle buildings clinging precariously to the steep hillsides in the city. They overlook shiny new skyscrapers, luxury hotels and Rio's pristine beaches, where beautiful people with chiseled bodies bob in the waves.
Twenty years ago, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the world’s governments negotiated a treaty — it’s known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — in which they promised to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Some 192 countries, including the U.S. and China, signed on.
Since then, the UN, politicians and climate campaigners all have labored to get the world’s major economies to curb the use of fossil fuels. They haven’t had much success. President Obama failed in his first year of office to move national climate legislation through Congress. Australia did recently enact a national greenhouse gas law, and several U.S. states, including California and parts of the Northeast, have cap-and-trade programs. China, Vietnam, Costa Rica, and at least a dozen other emerging nations are implementing emissions trading.
Here’s an overlooked metric among the hundreds available for evaluating how sustainable a company is: The ability to scale change far beyond its own organization.
The model sustainable company generally looks like this. It has a phenomenal track record of stock growth and a full bucket of cash. It militantly roots out inefficiency from its operations and supply chain and invents new products that take into account social change and resource availability. It increases the transparency of its operations and invites outside scrutiny to make sure it’s in compliance with the highest legal and social standards.
By Ari Natter
The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to continue using foam cups and other polystyrene products, the latest salvo in a congressional food fight over the sustainability of the Capitol’s restaurants, eateries, and cafeterias.
Kiva Microfunds, which raises about $1.5 million a week to fund small projects in poor countries, wants to help farmers turn piles of manure into fuel and fertilizer.
The main technology is called a biodigester, which is a treatment system that uses bacteria to break down livestock waste. "It's like a bouncy castle of excrement," said Michelle Kreger, Kiva's senior director of strategic initiatives, in a phone interview. "You have to mix up the sludge. Kids running around on it usually takes care of it."
Bloomberg's Erik Schatzker reports on a once in a lifetime sight, the transit of Venus, as the planet moves between the earth and the sun. The rare event is next scheduled for 2117 and has happened only 8 times since the invention of the telescope. He speaks on Bloomberg Television's "Inside Track." (Source: Bloomberg)
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