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Tale of Two Rios


Rachel Kyte

Vice President of Sustainable Development, the World Bank

When we look back — in 20 years’ time — on the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, will we see it as when we started to account for natural wealth, marking the shift towards inclusive green growth?

The World Bank Group went to Rio with firm evidence that this is the pathway to sustainable development — affordable in lower income countries and feasible for all. With the conference agreeing text on a green economy it would seem the international community agrees.

What drove us was considering what ministers of finance, development, planning agriculture, water, fisheries — as well as the environment — should do differently the Monday morning after Rio. What, similarly, should CEOs and COOs, not just the VPs for sustainability, do differently? What about mayors and municipal leaders? And us? Each has a role and we have our plan.

Despite the almost universally hostile press, I left Rio with a sense of determination. This was not based on the words in the outcome text, or the process around it, but on the practical, no nonsense, hard choices and opportunities abounding in countless events at the Rio Convention Centre and across the city. There was leadership from every walk of life, sector of society and continent — and it wasn’t waiting for permission or blessing from the multilateral process.

There were then, two Rios: The first was the formal process with 193 countries struggling to find the necessary consensus to move forward on enormously important issues, many already “legislated”. Most dispiriting was the way in which, once again, the sound economic, social and rights issues surrounding women’s reproductive and sexual health were ducked in an age where access to modern contraception and the ability of women to control their own bodies will be fundamental to population dynamics and to the well-being of growing numbers of people. We proved once again that we can cut off our nose to spite our face and that we struggle to find direction and urgency in global consensus.

Then there was the second Rio — informal processes that brought together tens of thousands of people at hundreds of official side and unofficial events. Three hundred parliamentarians from 70 countries gathered for the first-ever World Legislators Summit, to agree a new mechanism for scrutinizing and monitoring governments on delivering their Rio agreements.

Similarly, CEOs from major companies invested time and ideas at the Corporate Sustainability Forum and other business events: real financial commitment showed how far the world has come in 20 years with the business case for sustainability now hard baked into the DNA of competitiveness across all sectors of the economy.

And mayors showed they are moving ahead, including on green building, mass transit, removing methane from landfills, and designing future livability. All across Rio, people gravitated to ideas and approaches that promised action. The private sector and city coalitions stressed that this is not about managing the downside, but about opportunities for future markets, future products, future employees, future investors, and all forms of competitiveness linked to sustainability as shared values.

The analysis behind the World Bank’s report Inclusive Green Growth: The Pathway to Sustainable Development framed many of the conference debates and helped facilitate a new focus on natural capital accounting — a fundamental component of inclusive green growth. Sixty-two countries, over 90 companies, and 17 civil society organizations supported the Bank Group’s-facilitated 50:50 campaign, testifying — like many others — that it is an idea whose time has come. Events on the issue filled the Rio Convention Centre, as government, parliamentary and civil society groups alike highlighted the importance of moving beyond GDP. Indeed the new energy and emphasis around this issue may be Rio +20’s most important outcome.

Now that we have a UN agreed framework in place for natural capital, informed by 20 years of intellectual analysis, the pressure for practical action is palpable. There is an extraordinary opportunity for the World Bank Group to help countries take practical steps towards improved decision making based on understanding the true value of natural capital and to help dovetail national private sector initiatives.

It and its growing number of partners will provide support to help build capacity in countries that want natural capital accounting to help them chart their next phase of growth. We have many further requests from countries to support capacity building for evidencebased decision making. Our Monday morning natural capital plan is well advanced.

Rio+20 also revealed strong support for other initiatives and approaches that can be game changers for sustainable development. There were so many debates about protecting the oceans and managing them sustainably that some called it the “Summit of the Seas”. The Banksupported Global Partnership for Oceans attracted new energy and new members — now totalling 105 — and created a sense of urgency around action to restore them to health and productivity, and on the need for sustainable aquaculture.

Expanding energy access — while increasing support for renewable energy and energy efficiency in developing countries — also fueled debates. Over 100 commitments were made by countries, private sector and civil society in support of the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. The World Bank Group announced plans to double leveraging of its energy lending, emphasizing low-carbon energy, from $8 billion to $16 billion.

The overwhelming feeling was that we cannot wait for international agreements to do what must be done. The tale of two Rios shows how countries, companies, civil society organizations, the scientific community and cities will act together where they see interests aligned.

International agreements help us move at the needed speed and scale. But, with or without them we must get on with what we know will benefit the poor and the environment. Sustainable development is everyone’s business. Our job at the World Bank Group is to show, with our clients, how change can happen.

Our plan for Monday morning includes action on capacity building for natural capital accounting, action on supporting healthy oceans, action on sustainable cities, action on the efficiency of economic plans and removing bad subsidies, action on sustainable energy and action on short-lived climate pollutants.

What’s yours?

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