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June 14, 2002
Rio + 10 Series: A Brief History of the Earth Summits--From Rio to Johannesburg
    by William Baue

SocialFunds.com presents a historical snapshot of the Rio Summit and surveys some significant developments leading up to the Johannesburg Summit. (the second in a series of articles leading up to the Johannesburg Summit)


A decade ago today, the second Earth Summit drew to a close in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Officially known as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the Rio Summit was at the time the largest international gathering ever, with 108 heads of state represented. The attendants generated several significant documents, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Agenda 21, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Although these documents have not all achieved universal ratification, they have served as blueprints for the implementation of important sustainable development initiatives.

The Rio Declaration set forth 27 universally applicable principles of sustainable development. For example, Principle 16 states that the polluter should bear the cost of pollution, a notion with far-reaching economic and environmental implications. Agenda 21 synthesized many of the ideas promoted at the summit into the recognition that environmental change is driven by population growth, overconsumption, and technology. The Framework Convention on Climate Change (which gave birth to the Kyoto Protocol) and the Convention on Biological Diversity were legally binding documents that required nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and to protect plant and animal species, respectively.

The socially responsible investing (SRI) community contributed to the Rio Summit by drafting the Rio Resolution on Social Investment. The resolution comprised a set of recommendations to individuals, companies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), financial institutions, and governments to support sustainable development. The Rio Resolution was written by a consortium of social investors from social investment trade organizations in the UK, the U.S., Canada, and Australia, and the Europe-based International Association of Investors in the Social Economy (INAISE). The Resolution represented the consortium's response to the mainstream business community's statement of principle encapsulated in Changing Course, a book published by the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD).

"On behalf of the global SRI communities, we decided to come up with something a bit more radical than Changing Course, focusing on what social investors should be doing around poverty alleviation and sustainability," said Mark Campanale, associate director of SRI business development at Henderson Global Investors, a London-based investment firm. "It symbolized the first time the global social investment community recognized itself as a movement with a purpose and a set of tools to critique traditional stock market capitalism and mainstream financial institutions."

The values of the social investment community mirror very closely the values promoted by the Earth Summits, which consider economic development, social justice, and environmental protection to be inextricably linked. One measure of the success of the last Earth Summit could therefore be whether the mainstream has adopted SRI principles or if the SRI community has migrated toward the mainstream.

"The answer is that the mainstream has moved closer to the SRI community," said Mr. Campanale. "For example, the Rio Resolution is basically pasted into the London Principles of Sustainable Finance, a new initiative on behalf of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair." The UK government will present the London Principles at the Rio + 10 Summit in Johannesburg as a prototype for corporate sustainable development practices.

One key question addressed by initiatives such as the London Principles and others to be presented at Johannesburg, according to Mr. Campanale, is how the global financial system can be altered to continually produce sustainable outcomes. Other key questions include whether the global business community can address environmental degradation quickly enough to prevent irreversible damage, and how corporate changes will affect shareowner value. The negotiators at the Johannesburg Summit will try to answer these questions.

 

 
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