Posts Tagged ‘Sustainability’

Post Davos 2014: Financial risks of climate change

10 February 2014

Since its first report in 2011, Carbon Tracker Initiative has being delivering findings about one of the most lucid and transformational concepts since the start of the 2007 crisis: The Carbon Bubble. The idea that  coal, oil and gas companies reserves are increasingly becoming stranded assets, because using all fossil fuels will breach the global carbon dioxide Budget, thus implying a huge amount of the reserves are unburnable, posing a major risk for investors.

We met Mark Campanale, Founder & Executive Director of The Carbon Tracker Initiative; he told us what was in Davos for the Initiative:

“The Carbon Tracker Initiative was in Davos to demonstrate how financial experts can use financial analysis to make carbon investment risk visible in the capital markets not tomorrow but today.

In Davos we had a unique opportunity to deliver this message to the world’s business & financial leadership. With WEF organizing a roundtable for business and senior figures from the central banks, pension funds and rating agencies on this topic, we’ve definitely made great progress in putting the financial risks of climate change onto the agenda of key bankers and regulators.  With the IPCC showing us that we’ve already emitted more than half of the one trillion tonnes of our total carbon budget, this means that a significant percentage of fossil fuel reserves will need to be kept in the ground to keep us within a maximum two degree warming. The WEF kicked off a discussion that concluded stranded carbon assets present a potential material risk to the global economy and compared this to the risk of inflated real estate assets that precipitated the 2008 financial crisis.  As Achim Steiner, Exec Director of UNEP wrote “If the world decides in 10 or 20 years to restrict the use of coal or oil due to absolute pollution limits, what happens to our pension funds and savings that are invested in these companies? Do our financial regulators need to start thinking about protecting them and us from the ‘too big to fail syndrome’? Unravelling this is now a major challenge. With the Carbon Tracker Initiative engaging some of the smartest people to work on it, we are optimistic that we can make great strides in the year ahead in addressing it”.

DAVOS 2014

7 February 2014

We have actively participated in the 43th edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which took place last week in Davos, Switzerland. This was considered the “first normal Davos” since the start of the crisis.  This forum, created in 1971, boasts achievements such as having catalyzed the creation of the UN Global Compact in 1999.

We had try to get some of the Davos 2014 protagonists views on what has Davos made for a low carbon economy. Many, point to the need to change the way the economy grows, increase the role of women and introduce a new version of the “cradle to cradle” concept, now labeled the circular economy. Sustainability and climate change initiatives have also reached a tipping point in the corporate world, although a lot needs to happen for it to influence day-to-day business at the right scale. Perhaps, as noted by Jo Confino from the Guardian Sustainable Business, “we desperately need much more dynamic coalitions.” Not surprisingly, one of the most common criticisms leveled at Davos is that, despite its undeniable ability to bring together world leaders in sustainability, it ends with almost nothing specific to show for it.

From a different vantage point, Kyle Balkissoon, Director of Quantitative Strategy at Corporate Knights Capital, considers that “unfortunately, the world has not made the necessary progress to a low carbon economy and will not until we can get policies in place in emerging markets such as China and India to drive this initiative.”

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in turn underscored for The Guardian that “what the WEF has realized is that climate change needs to go back to the top of the political agenda for two main reasons: (a) because the threats of climate [change] are a serious threat to the global stability and (b) because of the opportunities afforded by addressing climate change, that actually has so many more co-benefits for growing the economy.”

In remarks to ACCIONA, Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action stated, “In Davos, I was encouraged that so many international leaders, such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President Jim Kim of the World Bank, OECD chief Angel Gurría, and so many company CEOs get it that climate ambition is also the best long-term economic strategy. There are many opportunities out there, among others, greater energy independence and the ability to avoid much higher costs of inaction.”

For Peter Bakker, President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) (Acciona Chairman is a member of the Executive Committee), the result is more encouraging. He told us: “for the first time ever the WEF has dedicated a full day to Climate Change. Prepared between the UN, WEF and WBCSD. This trip will continue until Paris 2015, making the low carbon economy a reality within our reach.”

Sandrine Dixson, Director of The Prince of Wales’s EU Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change (EUCLG) agreed “including important climate challenges on the Davos agenda was key in demonstrating that climate change is part of today’s economic discourse.  However, the message that seemed to resonate in the halls of Davos is that while there has been some progress, we are still nowhere near meeting the urgency and scale of the climate challenge. At an EU level, The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group and the Green Growth Platform both recognise the pressing need to unlock key barriers to low carbon economic development by clearly showing that the reduction of GHG emissions can be de-coupled from growth and that jobs and competitiveness will be enhanced not hampered. I very much hope that all of the noble declarations made in Davos will help further this narrative to be translated into low carbon action”.

Acciona Chairman & CEO, José Manuel Entrecanales, in turn noted that “the general feeling is clearly favorable to the adoption of measures necessary to tackle climate change. Regardless of the opposition from conventional industrial and energy sectors, the trending topics at Davos included the need for using more sustainable energy sources, advancing towards a low carbon economy, reducing the ecological footprint and seizing the opportunity for social and economic progress which these objectives afford. Again, it has been very rewarding and important for a global company such as Acciona to participate in the intense debate over what strategies to follow to achieve those goals.”

2013 Sustainability Highlights at ACCIONA

2 January 2014

We’ve finish a tough year, one that’s called for a sustained effort that hasn’t always achieved the desired results.  Even so, we’ve stuck to our vision of sustainability that holds enormous promise for the future of the business model that we foster, and our sustainability practices have played a major role in line with our Sustainability Master Plan:

January: We started the year by jumping from 37th to 29th in the Corporate Knights “Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World 2013″ ranking.

February: We joined the SMI-Wizness, one of the world’s leading Social Media in Sustainability indexes as one of the indicator’s top 25 companies.

March:  Microenergía Perú and the  Inter-American Development Bank signed an agreement to extend the “Luz en casa” (Light in the Home) program to 1,700 new households in the Cajamarca region in Peru.

April: ACCIONA’s chairman was invited by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, to join the Advisory Committee of the “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative.

May: ACCIONA’s Sustainability Committee, which reports directly to the Board of Directors, gave the go ahead to the Corporate Policies Book, which reflects the guiding principles applicable to the Company’s activities in the economic, social and environmental spheres. We also launched an information microsite on sustainability challenges:   

May: ACCIONA, through the ACCIONA Microenergy Foundation, launched the “Luz en Casa Oaxaca” (Light in the Home Oaxaca) initiative aimed at installing domestic PV solar units and providing basic electricity services to 25,000 inhabitants in rural areas of Oaxaca (Mexico).

June:  The Annual General Shareholders’ Meeting  approved for the second year running the ACCIONA Sustainability Report. We also published our first Integrated Report  using the IIRC framework. ACCIONA also held its second annual Corporate Volunteering Day simultaneously in seven different countries.  A total 350 ACCIONA employees led sustainability workshops attended by 7,000 schoolchildren aged 7 to 11. And finally, on 18 June, in Brussels (Belgium), we took part in the EUCLG High Level Event and contributed recommendations for the document: The Business Case for a 2030 Energy & Climate Framework

July: In early summer we joined CSR Innolabs, a business network set up under the auspices of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to drive Corporate Social Responsibility in Latin America.       

September: For the seventh year in a row, ACCIONA confirmed its presence in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI World), but with a difference: this year ACCIONA was assessed in the Electric Utilities sector.  We also confirmed our presence in the FTSE4Good sustainability index and, following the annual review held in September, we were invited to join the STOXX Global ESG Environmental Leaders, Governance Leaders and Social Leaders indices. On  19 and 20 September, we went to the UN HQ in New York to attend the UN Global Compact Leaders’ Summit 2013, chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as well as participating in the UN’s Private Sector Forum which focused this year on Africa.

October: We climbed six places, up to second place, in the Informe Reporta 2013 Good Practices in Corporate Reporting report which assessed 111 Spanish companies in all.

October: On 28 October, ACCIONA represented the private sector in Going for Green Growth, an EU ministerial summit in favor of concrete European  objectives for renewable generation, GHG reduction and energy efficiency by the year 2030. The Summit was attended by fourteen EU environment and energy ministers, from the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, among others.

November:  We took an active part in the meeting of the Council and the Executive Committee of the  World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) held in Istanbul (Turkey), as well as  participating in the EU’s Industry Communication for the 2030 Regulatory Framework on Energy and Climate Change in the European Union.

November: On 18 and 19 November, as part of the  COP19 in Warsaw (Poland), ACCIONA took part in the 4th World Climate Summit Plenary Sessions on Climate Solutions addressing issues such as energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables. As well as ACCIONA, participants included the Secretary-General of the World Energy Council,  the Director of the UN’s Environment and Energy Development Agency, Finland’s Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates. ACCIONA also attended the 2013 Forum on Sustainable Innovation organized by Climate Action and the UNEP, along with the EUCLG.

ACCIONA’s leading role in the fight on climate change and the quality of its climate change disclosure were acknowledged by the CDP who honored the Company with an award for its excellent score in the Iberia 125 Climate Performance Leadership Index. ACCIONA also ranked second in the World’s Most Sustainable Utilities ranking compiled by the Corporate Knights publishing group.

26 and 27 November.  ACCIONA’s chairman took part in the second meeting of the Sustainable Energy for All’s Steering Group, at the UN HQ in New York (USA).

December: ACCIONA attended the gala dinner held by the Green Growth Platform, in Brussels (Belgium), a ministerial gathering which addressed energy prices and competitiveness to the year 2030.  Energy and Environment ministers and secretaries of state from eight EU member nations attended.  ACCIONA was the only Spanish company at the event.


Good reasons for supporting backloading

1 July 2013

Next Wednesday, 3 July, the European Parliament will vote on another draft amendment to the EU Emissions Trading Directive drafted by the Commission; this amendment will serve to postpone the auction of a certain amount of Phase III rights with regard to the date set initially. This is known as “backloading”. 

Following a first, failed attempt on 16 April, the Parliament is now set to evaluate the proposal—less ambitious and more limited in scope—that was drafted and green-lighted last week by the Parliament’s Environment Committee, and which would be the most direct route towards maintaining the price and market, reducing the supply for the time being until such time as the awaited structural reforms (more far-reaching) are finally sorted out. The Commission has already compiled a report  on the state of the European carbon market; the document presents a range of possible structural reforms and opens the door to a public consultation process to evaluate them.

Although the ceiling for emissions for the period 2008-2012 (ETS II) was an ambitious one, the current crisis ravaging Europe has led to an over-supply of emissions rights in the market, leading, in turn, to falling prices. At the end of 2012 the accumulated over-supply of rights that was passed on to Phase III amounted to more than 1800 metric tons. The fall in price of the European Union Allowance (EUA)—from the €20-€30 it stood at for most of 2008, to the current price of €4/mt—leads to doubts on the efficiency of a system that should be leading Europe towards a low-carbon economy, an industry that makes more efficient use of energy, and cleaner electricity. Carbon prices must inspire credibility, they need to send out a signal to investors; otherwise, the objective for which the ETS was originally designed will not be met: emissions reductions must be permanent, Europe has no time or use for occasional price falls that come in response to specific, one-off circumstances. The fall in price also affects the income expected by governments and which they intend to plough back into the auctions as part of their efforts to combat climate change.

So it is important for Spain to support backloading: abstention en masse by Euro-MPs would amount to, technically, a vote against, and one that would tip the scales negatively. Europe needs backloading and, once the latter has been approved, Europe needs to start reforming the design of the system and ensure that this situation never arises again, putting Europe well and truly on the road towards the ambitious goals laid down in the Roadmap to 2050, and which we must commit to if we are to get our economy back on the path towards development.


Among the World’s Top 25 of the Social Media Sustainability Index

4 March 2013

ACCIONA ranks among the ” SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index” Top 25 companies. The index is compiled by the firm of consultants SMI-Wizness and comprises the companies with best practices in social media communication.

With a score of 77/100 points, 23rd-placed ACCIONA has improved its position considerably on the first SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index, when it came in at 59th place. ACCIONA is the third-ranked company and one of the leaders in the “New Emerging Channels” category.

According to this report, the social media sites that are used most for conveying sustainability values are Twitter (@acciona_EN) and Facebook (official page). Among the Top 100 companies:

  • 70 have a sustainability blog (similar to this one)
  • 15 have a Pinterest account (go to the ACCIONA Sustainability pin board)

The report takes a close look at the companies that appear in global indices such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, FTSE4Good and Newsweek’s Green Brands Survey, and how their positioning and commitment to sustainability are conveyed across social media.

One of the Company’s most noteworthy recent communication actions is the video of the Sustainability Master Plan which drew considerable attention following its dissemination across the corporate channels and their subsequent virality.

Sustainability Master Plan (Video)

8 February 2013

This video reflects through global data, what are the resources of this world to the demands of the population and the Sustainable practices oriented to meet this challenges, as proposed by ACCIONA through its Sustainability Master Plan.

Sustainable investment & divestment I

5 February 2013

2012 can be described as a good year if we bear in mind the growing appetite by investors to take into account Environmental, Social and Governance factors, when it comes to making investment decisions, despite (or maybe due to) the ongoing economic and market turmoil. Last year also saw the publication of a considerable number of reports on this kind if investment and, along with signs that the processes used to analyze these criteria are becoming standardized and that standards are converging, they point to a sector that is maturing.

According to the latest GSIA (Global Sustainable Investment Alliance) report on sustainable investment in seven regions of the world, asset managers everywhere are talking social, environmental and governance factors into consideration in their choice and management of investments, affecting more than 10 trillion euro’s worth of assets (US$ 13.6 trillion). This figure covers more than 21% of the total assets managed in the regions that fall within the reports’ scope, and comes as conclusive proof that sustainable investment has reached a worldwide scale. The lion’s share of the investment and management of sustainable assets (65%) are located in Europe, and 96% of these types of assets are concentrated in Europe, USA and Canada (Latin America is not included in this study).

To understand the nature of this investment trend we need to look beyond the overall figures. The report shows that the three most usual sustainable investment strategies are as follows: the “Exclusion” method (accounting for US$ 8.3 trillion in assets), involves excluding from investment portfolios specific investments or categories, such as companies, sectors or countries; the “Integration” strategy, which accounts for US$6.2 trillion worth of assets, and includes, explicitly, environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities in the traditional financial analysis; and finally, “Engagement and voting on Sustainability matters”, which accounts for US$4.7 trillion worth of assets.

These three strategies are followed by “Norms-based screening” (US$3.0 trillion); this involves selecting assets according to their adherence to and compliance with internationals standards and norms, e.g. the UN Global Compact, and is the most common approach in Europe. Selection of the “Best-in-class”, accounting for US$1.0 trillion worth of assets, assesses the best companies in a given sector, their performance and their efforts and improvements based on ESG criteria.  This list ends with “Sustainability Themed” investments or assets linked to the development of sustainability, and “Impact investments”, made by companies, funds or organizations with the intention of generating a social or environmental impact as well as financial returns. These latter strategies account for US$83bn y US$89bn respectively.

Allia, a UK social investment organization, has just launched the first Social Impact Bond.  The Future for Children Bond is the first retail bond of this class, and is aimed at improving living conditions for teenagers at risk of social exclusion in the United Kingdom.

These figures are corroborated by other study published at the end of 2012, and in which

Eurosif underscores the fact that two thirds of these investment funds have grown by 35% since 2009.

According to the latest study on Sustainable Investment, “Sustainable Investing: Establishing Long-Term Value and Performance”, published by Deutsche Bank, companies that score highly in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability have cheaper access to capital and represent less risk for investors.

ACCIONA’s efforts where sustainability is concerned are being recognized by socially responsible investors. The company is a component of a number of sustainability indexes, such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, FTSE4Good, MSCI ESG Indices, STOXX Sustainability and the CPLI (Carbon Performance Leadership Index) Europe 300.

So we can safely say that the practices in and commitments to sustainability affect value, and that outstanding sustainability credentials are an ever-increasing important competitive advantage. Similarly, poor, controversial or negative sustainability credentials can lead to divestment by institutional or other investors and harm the companies affected. In a later post, we’ll be taking a look at a trend known as “Sustainable Divestment”.

6th Major Truth on Climate Change: Global warming, a dramatic reality

27 August 2012

In previous articles we stated that forecasts point to an increase in median temperatures of up to 5ºC more before the end of this century. The increase in climate change brought about by global warming does not, strictly speaking, lend itself to forecasts; the bad thing is that, up until now, all the forecasts have been rendered inaccurate by the sheer speed and intensity of events and their impact—in short, by reality.

James Hansen’s latest paper on Perception of Climate Change, published last month by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) and mentioned in The Economist, states that the “climate dice” (a term used to describe the chance of unusually warm or cool seasons) has shifted towards unusually warm spells over the past thirty years. Thanks to global warming, another new category has emerged: “extremely high summertime temperatures”. This “extreme heat”, which during the base period (1951-1980) covered much less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, now covers about 10% of the land area. The seasonal temperature deviations have shifted unmistakably towards high temperatures and the range of anomalies has increased.

What does “global warming” really mean? As well as temperature increases, it means alterations in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather  phenomena, with 2011 beating all existing records in the USA: annual losses caused by these phenomena have gone from a few billion US dollars in 1980 to more than 200 billion dollars today, according to the IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events. Other phenomena related to global warming such as the rise in sea levels, changes in the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation and wind events, the increase of cyclones, the fall in farm productivity, the increasing scarcity of potable water or the loss of biodiversity, are just a few of the global phenomena that will cause significant regional impacts.

Let’s focus further on a particularly sensitive issue: water. One of the immediate impacts expected is the growing scarcity of drinking water: in the Mediterraneanregion and Africa and Southern Africa, increased drought levels and the subsequent drop in surface runoff (by more than 30%), and in large areas of China, India (the Himalayas alone are home to more than 50,000 glaciers that feed into 10 major rivers that are vital to the water supply in Asia—the Amu Darya, the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Irrawaddy, the Salween, the Mekong, the Yangtze, the Hu nag He and the Tarim—on which 1.3 billion people depend for their water supply, and the Andes, as a result of glacier ice melting in the mountains which provide seasonal water for a number of rivers.

“Water is going to run out longer before oil does” warned Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, in the last OECD forum held last May.

Regarding water-related phenomena, drought and flooding and their effects on food are major issues. Two forecasts based on cutting-edge predictive models paint a somber picture unless changes are made urgently:

Researcher Aiguo Dai uses a predictive model that analyzes changes in the worldwide aridity over the period 1923-2010 and concludes that these changes point towards severe and prolonged periods of drought for the next 30-90 years as a result of lower rainfall precipitations and increasing evaporation.

Between 100 and 200 million people a year fell prey to flooding, drought and other water-related disasters; nearly two-thirds of these disasters are caused by flooding. The OECD’s Environmental Outlook 2050 calculates that the number or people at risk of suffering the consequences of flooding will rise from today’s figure of 1.2 billion to approximately 1.6 billion in 2050—that’s nearly 20% of the planet’s population! The economic value of the assets at risk will come to 45 trillion dollars in 2050, a figure 340% higher than in 2010.

Speaking on food prices crisis and volatility, in a recent Financial Times article, the Head of Investments at GMO, Jeremy Grantham, warned that the impact of current climate change effects on drought and flooding are being seriously underestimated.

We are already faced with one of the consequences: the food price volatility. The US corn crisis, brought on by the worst drought seen in the USA since the 1950’s, is directly related to global warming. Moreover, as Stanford’s Noah Diffenbaugh states in a recent study published in Nature Climate Change, it shows that US corn price volatility is far more sensitive to the immediate effects of climate change than to energy policies (such as production quotas for bio-fuels).

The evidence on the dramatic effects of global warming are more and numerous and serious by the day, and their consequences represent a futile waste of human life, and lead to the deterioration of vast eco-systems which, in turn speeds up global warming. We are witnessing the destruction of a part of our historic and cultural essence,  greater volatility of basic food prices (wheat, corn, rice) and the ever-diminishing security of their supply due to protectionist measures in the countries where they are produced (Russia in2010, India in 2011).

Science has made it clear that the causes of global warming are, by and large, human-made, the term: Anthropocene, is already in use to name the era we are now entering. Global overpopulation and the Western world excessive consumption lifestyle are to blame, as its increasing demand for energy is satisfied by producing fossil fuels whose large-scale combustion is highly polluting, as is  the case of coal, oil and, to a lesser extent, gas; main CO2 producers and responsible for heating the planet.

In coming articles we’ll take a close look at the technologies currently available and the most pressing changes needed for managing the global warming challenge

5th Truth about Climate Change: Global Warming is accelerating more than it looks like

25 July 2012

In our last post about the 4th Climate Change truth we defined the anthropocentric causes of Global Warming; in this one we will offer you some facts that will aloud you to understand how climate change is accelerating and why, if nothing is done, temperature could reach an incremental 5ºC by the end of this century and how, this increase in global warming will produce relevant impacts on our planet.

The measurements of increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere show that, if we keep our production and consumption as usual, we will trespass the 450ppm CO2 concentration by 2040. Hawaii’s Mauna Loa observatory, one of the world references in CO2 measurement, registered a concentration as high as 396,78ppm in May2012. The highest ever known in 800.000 years.

The global warming observed between 1960 and 2009 shows that average land surface temperature is already between 1ºC and 2ºC above average in big zones of Canada and Russia. But more worrisome is the Artic area, where land surface temperature has being increase between 4ºC and 4.1ºC. Nobody seems surprised by the fact that the Arctic Ocean is now navigable in summer.

Human activity is accelerating its pressure over Earth system , as reflected by the GEO5, UNEP report; we are reaching thresholds that once surpassed could “generate abrupt and may be irreversible changes in the functions that support life in this planet”; the first cause is increase in population, by 2030 we will be more than 8000 millions, a 20% increase.  The second cause is consumption; purchasing power of middle classes will increase by 172% in the next 18 years. The third cause is our inefficient use and irresponsible waste of our Planet resources, human ecological footprint will increase in 33% and we will have lost 55% more of the Amazon forests. This phenomenon will rocket the net generation of electricity by 84%. 65% of the actual energy mix is based in coal and oil; thus, CO2 emissions from energy production will increase in 20% in the next 20 years.

What we will see, if urgent measures are not put in place, will be an acceleration of the already fast changes in Climate that has taken place in the last 30 years. Media is starting to register each day more frequently this symptoms:

Unabated Global Warming to Accelerate Melting of Greenland Ice Sheet:   Scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid warned in their report that the vast Greenland ice sheet could have been thinning at an alarming faster rate and reversing that trend may prove difficult.

The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Annual Statement on the Status of the Global Climate confirms 2011 as 11th warmest on record. Climate change accelerated in 2001-2010, according to preliminary assessment. WMO said that 2011 was the 11th warmest since records began in 1850.

U.S. Sees Hottest 12 Months And Hottest Half Year On Record: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Calls It A One In 1.6 Million Event. During the second half of June led to at least 170 all-time high temperature records broken or tied. The result is one of the worst droughts ever seen in the US.

Pace of Global Warming Accelerating Dramatically in US  A new report published by Climate CentralThe Heat is On, shows that the pace of global warming in the US has accelerated dramatically in the past 40 years.

Just a few days ago, the  Financial Times, non-suspicious for environmental alarmism, published a brief article on: Freak weather linked to global warming. The issue is that it is really uncommon to see articles that link extreme weather events to global warming in the media. Let’s hope for a regain of trust in scientific evidence.

Our next post, coming soon: Sixth truth about Climate Change. It will give you a brief overview about the dramatic effects of global warming.

Riominus20 – Chapter 3: The Legacy

9 July 2012

Two days after the Río+20 summit came to a close, on 24 June, news of the event barely took up four paragraphs in the Santiago de Chile daily “El Mercurio” and failed to make the pages of the International Herald Tribune. Ten days later, media interest in Rio+20 has all but disappeared, apart from an incident involving some crafty Rio de Janeiro villains who made off with money and documents belonging to Niger’s Education delegate. She was prevented from boarding her flight home and she’s still at a loose end in Rio enjoying the hospitality of a local translator. For its part, Rio’s foremost daily and Brazil’s number two in circulation terms, “O Globo”, held on 3 July a seminar on “Rio+20: The Legacy”, with Brazil’s Environment Minister, Ms. Isabella Teixeira, as guest speaker.

But what kind of legacy has Rio+20 left behind? The following five issues might point us in the right direction:
The first part of this Legacy that we need to look at is our own perception of the phenomenon: Rio+20 has come to represent the consecration of a certain type of narrative on sustainability:

Media are neither innocuous nor neutral where climate change is concerned and, possibly influenced by the parallel forum, the so-called “People’s Summit”, held on the other side of Rio and which called into question the role of business as a provider of sustainable development solutions, the media mirrored discontent and ire in statements such as “Rio summit closes among criticism for the weak accord without clear and measurable targets”; “failure for want of ambition”; leaders “did not take on the responsibility to impose actions, targets and schedules”; the result is “an abstract document far-removed from reality”, and so on.

The role of the media is not being taken into account in the perception and the speed required for change. In response to O Globo, Rajendra Pachauri pointed out that “a change in perception, priorities and direction is called for”. This process of change requires a huge communication effort in which media cannot be content to stand in the wings. Basically, some media appear to be more concerned with dishing up controversy than presenting the cold facts, and this favors the climate change negationist fraternity, as pointed out in the recently published “The Inquisition of Climate Science” which deals with the role of the media in the face of climate change.
Legacy number two comes in the shape of the progress made thus far. We can safely say that Rio+20 was definitely not a place for people who like jumping to conclusions, but, nonetheless, conclusions there were, namely:

In the first place, Rio+20 gives us an overall document which, in the words of the WBCSD’s new Chairman, Peter Bakker “confirms that the world still has a platform for seeking out shared solutions”. He goes on to say that “had it not been so, it would have been extremely hard to convey a message underscoring the urgent need for sustainability and the changes required”. We’re making progress but, to paraphrase Bakker, “surmounting a global emergency by means of a multilateral process, which involves getting 193 countries to agree on a text, is something from which we cannot expect miracles”. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said only a few days ago “this agreement is a triumph of multilateralism”.

Thirdly, Rio+20 acknowledges and calls on companies to play a relevant role in achieving Sustainable Development, and highlights three aspects of the contribution that can be made by the business community: innovation, collaboration agreements and advising governments with recommendations on policy decisions, as explained in the Global Compact document “Overview & Outcomes” on the conclusions of the Corporate Sustainability Forum, an event held just days after the official Rio summit. This second legacy, however, turns out to be a double-edged sword: although it recognizes the private sector’s capacities and resources for innovation, collaboration and policy recommendations and puts the onus of responsibility for them on companies, there is no sign of companies’ official capability to influence those policies and regulatory frameworks, without which any recommendation is just a waste of breath.

In the fourth place, the clear overlap of the Rio summit’s three relevant final documents: The Future we Want, the official document signed by heads of state; Overview & Outcomes, the document that emerged from the Global Compact Corporate Sustainability Forum and, undoubtedly representative despite coming out prior to the summit, the WBCSD’s Changing Pace. All three of them, using more or less decorative prose, call for and acknowledge the need for urgent action on climate change and the private sector’s relevant role, and stress the importance of listening to all the parties involved in arriving at policies aimed at implementing measures. This overlap takes the focus off private sector participation and directs it at Sustainable Development. It would be a good thing if these organizations were to work together and coordinate their efforts (they are, after all, the first ones to call for such efforts) and thus gain in efficiency.

Fifth, Rio+20 leaves us with the feeling that the call for collaboration between governments, companies and civil society and the trend among the more forward-thinking companies* to adopt initiatives and not expect too much in the way of major accords, is swelling its ranks and more quickly than appearances would have us believe, with more and more companies and organizations getting directly involved in sustainable development. In recent years, the number of companies with Sustainability strategies in place has grown four-fold. And so we come away from Rio+20 with the feeling that we could be on the verge of a sea-change and that there is hope for a real shift.

*In this case “progressive companies” are those which have committed to and defend a certain way of doing business and are convinced of the need to take into account social and environmental factors when it comes to exercising their responsibility, and which actively and publicly participate in favor of policy changes aimed at fighting climate change, ensuring a carbon-free economy and striving for a planet fit for future generations.

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