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June 23, 2012
Rio+20 Ends without Binding Agreements
    by Robert Kropp

Sustainable investors who consider regulatory action to be essential are likely to be disappointed by the absence of agreements addressing climate change and corporate reporting.

The Rio+20 conference on sustainable development concluded yesterday, and the postmortem is underway; what, if anything, of meaningful import was accomplished?

Reports issued by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) warned in advance of the conference that global consumption patterns remain unsustainable, even before accounting for future population growth. And greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to set the planet on a course for the worst effects of climate change.

Sustainable investors have consistently argued that government regulation is an essential cornerstone for meaningful climate change mitigation as well as a pathway to sustainable development that they and businesses can anticipate. But the document at the cornerstone of the conference—entitled The future we want—bears the mark of relentless quibbling among negotiators to the point where little of substance remains.

No enforceable emissions reduction targets were established at the conference, and no mention was made of ending subsidies for fossil fuel industries. Calls for mandating sustainability reporting by corporations went unheeded, although the UK did announce that companies listed on the London Stock Exchange will be required to report on GHG emissions. And efforts to monetize a $30 billion green fund for developing nations were ignored by the industrialized north.

Even measures to establish international protection of oceans, which had appeared to attract widespread support beforehand, were left out of the conference document.

While noting that the document contained some good recommendations, Susan Lieberman of the Pew Environment Group stated afterward, "The lack of progress on managing and conserving the high seas, which can and will only be addressed through international action, is discouraging and should have been dealt with here and now. It is frankly astonishing that world leaders all agreed that this is a major problem needing an international, coordinated solution and then deferred any decision on action for another two and a half years."

A European NGO called the Northern Alliance for Sustainability circulated a petition entitled The Future We Don't Want, which states, "Governments are unable and unwilling to reaffirm the commitments on fundamental principles they made in Rio in 1992."

"We urge the Government of Brazil, the UNCSD Secretary General and all Member States to stop negotiating their short-term national agendas and to urgently agree now on transitional actions for global sustainable progress," the petition continues.

Even those putting a positive spin on the outcome seemed hard-pressed to describe what has been accomplished. Oliver Greenfield of the Green Economy Coalition stated, "The sustainable development community now has a mandate, albeit weak, for many of the things we wanted…At first reading The Future We Want is probably graded a C- but it is definitely not an F."

"So Rio+20 has been a stepping stone, not a turning point," Greenfield continued.


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