REFLECTIONS BY...

Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel, former Director of UNEP-DTIE

In 1972, I was in the French Ministry of Environment, which had just been created. I was not involved with international affairs at that time, but I remember the internal meetings to discuss the French participation in the Stockholm conference and the support France would bring to the creation of UNEP! It was a wonderful period: everything had to be done to develop environmental policies and there was a great enthusiasm to engage into action!

In 1992, I had moved to UNEP as Director of the then called “Industry and Environment 0ffice“. I was in Rio. I addressed the business community at the conference organized under the patronage of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) just before the summit. Industry didn’t take an active part in the Rio summit, while environmental NGOs were bustling. At that time only a few proactive industry leaders understood the necessity of better dealing with environmental issues but the overall business community was quite defensive and was looking at the new environmental regulations as constraints and additional costs.

The first speaker at this Rio event was the King of Norway and I was the second one. I think I have copy of my speech somewhere in my files in France, but I now live in Italy! However I clearly remember highlighting the need for corporate responsibility, the need to understand that dealing with environmental issues should not be dealt with as a constraint, but as a business opportunity and that it was a source of innovation. It was the beginning of UNEP’s Cleaner Production programme, so I underlined that it was better to prevent than to cure and also said that signing voluntary codes of conducts was good, but that their implementation should be monitored! In conclusion, I called for industry to become a partner and be involved in a dialogue with other stakeholders. I think the conference, even if it was not an official part of the summit, was really important because, for the first time the role of business and industry was recognized as fundamental, and because industry itself recognized its responsibility to promote sustainable development. It is just after Rio that the more forward looking industry leaders decided to create the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), established in Geneva; WBCSD became one of the main industry bodies with which UNEP could dialogue and promote industry's awareness on environmental issues. We also launched a number of branch initiatives with various industry sectors (telecommunications, automotive industry, advertizing industry, banks and insurance industry, tourism…) in order to raise awareness on specific issues in each sector, and identify actions to be taken.

In 2002, in Johannesburg, what a change! Partnerships, dialogue between stakeholders were key words while business and industries were very involved. A lot had been accomplished since Rio, even if much more could have been done, as demonstrated in the series of reports launched in Johannesburg on progresses achieved by the various industry sectors to advance their environmental policies and activities Those reports were the result of a series of workshops that we held with various industry sectors. The role of management tools was underlined and the need for dealing with Sustainable Consumption and Production patterns emerged under UNEP’s momentum. More and more people understood that it is better to prevent that to cure, that the role of consumers is fundamental to change the course of action and that dealing with environment could offer a lot of business opportunities. Because I had been dealing with a number of voluntary initiatives with the private sector, I felt that it was necessary to monitor the achievements with respect to the respective commitments. This is why I have also been very active in the development of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an initiative involving all stakeholders, who defined a number of indicators and recognized worldwide that industry, but also other bodies, would report about their "sustainability performance" in a transparent fashion.

The second version of the GRI guidelines was launched in Johannesburg. Energy issues were also high on the radar screen, and it is in Jo’burg that the International Conference on Renewable Energy was launched. Together with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Commission on Human Rights, UNEP was an active partner of the “Global Compact “ (GC), a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption, launched by the UN Secretary General: heads of state, CEOs of major multinationals, took part in the Johannesburg GC event.

What do I expect for 2012? Let's look at the evolution since 1972: there has been a shift from environment to sustainable development, from pollution control to cleaner production and further to sustainable consumption. But thinking is still often too much oriented towards "end of the pipe” solutions once the environmental impacts have occurred. All the UNEP conventions, as well as the Climate Change Conventions are looking in specific issues or "sectors": ozone, air, water, biodiversity… I think it is now time to really apply Life Cycle thinking and Systems approaches: you cannot look at the impact of the automobile without looking at the whole chain of production of the car, its distribution, its use, and the re-use and recycling after the car has been discarded. Even more importantly, one has to look at (and re-design) the entire transportation system. Also, with our limited natural resources, we have to think "inputs " and not anymore "outputs", we have to decouple economic growth from the use of our natural resources. It means a lot of opportunities for innovation! This, however, requires new policies in many sectors (economic, finance, energy, urban planning) and not only environment. A new visionary thinking and courage from both business and political leaders is needed. Environment and resource issues are medium and long term, while decision makers are most of the time thinking short term. How to share our "planet Earth” and provide each inhabitant an equitable access to its resources? How to develop “a Green Economy” that will alleviate poverty and will provide well being for all? I hope that Rio + 20 will pave the road towards designing implementable efficient solutions which will be effectively put into practice in all countries once the event is over!