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August 02, 2002
Rio + 10 Series: The Sustainability of the World Summit on Sustainable Development
    by William Baue

Organizers are working to reduce the environmental impacts of the Johannesburg Summit.

One key to the success of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) will be its ability to “walk its talk.” If the summit itself does not visibly practice sustainability, its message will seem vacuous and hypocritical.

Conference organizers are working on two major initiatives that are intended to illustrate sustainability concepts. The Johannesburg Climate Legacy (JCL), initiated by South African businesses in conjunction with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), seeks to “neutralize” carbon emissions associated with the summit. Carbon emissions, such as that from the combustion of fuel to transport delegates to the summit, are considered a primary contributor to climate change. Such emissions can be offset by planting the number of trees necessary to absorb the amount of carbon emitted. The JCL’s goal is to raise $5 million by September to fund the mitigation of the estimated 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) that will be emitted from the holding of the conference.

The JCL website contains a “Summit Carbon Calculator” to compute the amount of carbon generated through air travel, accommodations, and land transport.

“For instance, my trip to the World Summit from Geneva, Switzerland will generate 6.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide,” said Achim Steiner, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), cosponsor of the JCL. “A person traveling from Ecuador will create 8.4 tonnes of emissions, while a delegate coming from Bangkok will emit 6.6 tonnes.”

The JCL invites corporations to purchase Climate Legacy Certificates for between $1,000 and $100,000. The certificates can be considered as donations or as offsets for employee carbon emissions associated with the summit. Individuals can offset their own carbon emissions with donations of $10 per tonne of emissions. Oregon-based Climate Neutral Network will certify and assess carbon dioxide emissions, while London-based Future Forests will manage the international carbon neutralization campaign. The JCL has received 27 proposals for carbon offset projects that will benefit the regional environment and economy. One example is the installation of solar water heaters and compact fluorescent lights for low-income residents in the Ethembalethu Eco-Village.

“Through the Johannesburg Climate Legacy, delegates and corporations are offered a straightforward way to ‘balance’ their carbon emissions, whilst supporting local capacity building and transfer of skills through projects that will leave a legacy long after the Summit,” said IUCN National Coordinator Saliem Fakir.

Mr. Fakir manages the “Greening the WSSD” initiative, the umbrella program under which the JCL operates. The initiative operates in conjunction with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), and the government of the host region, Gauteng. “Greening the WSSD” promotes environmental best practice, such as efficient water and energy use and comprehensive recycling, in all of the summit’s activities.

For example, summit delegates will use paper sourced from sustainably managed forests. Also, the summit will be powered as much as possible by wind power, solar energy, and other forms of “green energy.” To increase public awareness of consumption, the project will install “Sustainable Development Barometers” at strategic locations throughout Gauteng, the host region, to display the amount of food, water, energy, and paper consumed by the summit. The goal is to encourage the 60,000 attending delegates to waste less.

"There is an increasing recognition around the world on the need to reduce the impact of big conventions, no matter where they are held,” said UNDP Resident Representative John Ohiorhenuan. “This is the first time an effort is being made to ensure that a major UN conference is organised in a way that protects the environment and natural resources of a host city, province and country.”


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