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May 22, 2012
Concerns Grow over Slow Pace of Sustainable Development
    by Robert Kropp

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development publishes a report in advance of next month's Rio+20 Conference, warning that a radical adaptation in the use of natural capital is required.

The Rio+20 Conference on sustainable development, scheduled for next month, arrives at a time when reports such as one recently published by WWF warn that global consumption patterns continue to outpace the Earth's capacity for renewal of resources.

A report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), released today at the B4E Conference in Berlin, expresses the growing sense of urgency leading up to Rio+20.

"Scientists find alarming signals that the relentless pressure of our economy is exceeding the resilience of the biosphere," the report warns. "Unless we radically adapt the way we use our natural capital, the very basis of our well-being will break down."

"Realizing inclusive sustainable prosperity is a complex challenge," the report continues. "It needs the willful adoption of policy measures that enhance each other in a cycle of continuous progress."

The transition to a truly sustainable global economy cannot occur without meaningful policy frameworks. A group of corporations that have embedded sustainability into their business operations, and investors willing to support sustainable development without the assurance of government support, are not enough to reverse an unsustainable course.

An example of government inaction on sustainable development was the recent refusal by the US Congress to end subsidies to fossil fuel industries. Afterward, Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Keith Ellison introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act, which "would comprehensively abolish fossil fuel subsidies."

WBCSD states in its report, "All forms of fossil fuel subsidies should be rapidly eliminated…It is high energy efficiency, renewable sources, and low-carbon technologies that now need financial support and risk insurance guarantees for early action and private investments."

The Group of Eight leaders announced this week, "We strongly support efforts to rationalize and phase-out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, and to continue voluntary reporting on progress." But the leaders also announced their support for environmentally damaging practices such as deep-water drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

WBCSD's report proposes the following developments:

• Set goals with a clear purpose and specific goals that define the world in which we want to live;
• Communicate and educate the public to foster understanding and commitment to pursue sustainability objectives;
• Standardize by enforcing and introducing performance standards, emission or usage limits and codes of conduct;
• Budget through fiscal reforms to price scarce natural resources and negative externalities;
• Invest for efficient infrastructures, technology developments, and green public procurements that mobilize private capital for green growth;
• Monitor progress through adequate indicators that compensate for the limitations of GDP; and,
• Coordinate governance that is predictable, coherent and persistent.

Last month, WBCSD and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) wrote to Rio+20 negotiators, calling for a sense of urgency in speeding up the transition to a sustainable economy.

"The current voluntary transition to sustainability is too slow to meet future challenges and must be accelerated," said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the director general of IUCN. "Governments must now go further and make sure that all businesses play their part."

The letter recommended "predictable, stable policies to help business scale up sustainable solutions." It also called for an "explicit requirement for companies to adopt standardized, rules-based sustainability reporting."


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