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Rio+20 calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies
Super Contributor

It’s been another day at the Rio+20 conference for Karin Ireton, Executive Head of Sustainability at Standard Bank Group. She gives us an account of the latest developments.

“Three thousand senior business representatives gathered in a plenary session in Rio on Monday night, and called on governments to eliminate subsidies on fossil fuels to enable the scaling up of renewable and cleaner energy.''

“Importantly, they also made commitments to move forward in goal-driven ways to bring corporate skill, innovation, increased transparency and private sector finance to the table in a bid to bring significant change to the economic model. Those commitments were voiced by the likes of the chairmen of ENEL, Deutsche Bank and the CEO of Eskom, representing the thousands of business organisations at the corporate sustainability forum.''

“Their calls marked the end of three days of discussion around innovation, financing and achieving scale in addressing the big questions of the 21st century: decoupling economic growth from polluting energy sources, water, food security, poverty and inclusion, as well as increasing transparency and accountability.''

“The phrasing was diplomatic but the mood was clear. What we have isn't working. Twenty years on from the Rio Earth Summit, 10 years on from the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and 40 years after the first human development conference in Stockholm, we still are not able to firmly say we have achieved great success. There has been progress in innovative pockets but now we need scale, commitment and accountability.''

“The fast-growing emerging markets are making real progress in building stock markets that push for greater transparency and a demonstration that boards have applied their minds in an integrated fashion to economic, environmental and social risks and opportunities. Leaving these imperatives to business-as-usual could cripple economic growth and exacerbate social exclusion and poverty.''

“The stock exchanges in Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and China are now all pushing for boards to articulate their thinking on these issues. It's not about template-driven answers, Dr Steve Waygood of Aviva Investors said, it's about wanting to know what boards have on their radar screens and how they articulate it.''

“Investors representing $30-trillion worth of assets under management have called on governments to strongly encourage, or mandate, integrated reporting to enable investors to future-proof assets they manage on behalf of pension funds and millions of investors around the globe.''

“The buzz words of this gathering have certainly been achieving scale, financing green growth, the energy, water and food security nexus, and working with supply chains (especially SMEs) to build more inclusive, greener growth. There has been frequent reference by European business leaders and others to the crisis in Europe. But not, as one might expect given past records, to do less or move slowly. Instead they have been talking in urgent terms of seizing this moment to build new hope for the future and by using this particular set of crises to rebuild economies on better foundations.''

“Climate change is an underlying and cross-cutting thread throughout the discussions, but with the conversation solutions-focused it is not the manifestation of climate change which has been the focus.''

“Rather, attention has been on what to do about innovating for the future, mitigating the effects of climate change and trying to ensure that even though holding average global warming to only two degrees Celsius no longer seems possible, that at least we don't allow further run-away rises.''

“It was one of the first times that business voices have been so unified in accepting the need to change and in accepting that we hold the keys to innovation. While regulation and policy frameworks would further promote this change, waiting for governments to stop dithering is no longer an option for businesses that intend being around in the future.”