Building a Sustainable Future
While world leaders were speaking in the Plenary and NGO’s were protesting in the streets, an open forum for the presentation and discussion of the green economy took place across the road from the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. The World Green Summit (WGS) attracted so much attention that the Rio de Janeiro Government Pavilion in the Olympic Athlete’s Park filled up quickly and there was a buzz of excitement in the air.
The World Green Summit was a side-event that brought together government representatives, businesses and NGOs seeking to promote the green economy. Participants varied and included, mayors of cities like Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Freiburg (Germany) and Changwon (South Korea); private companies such as Phillips, the BMW group and PepsiCo; as well as the NGO Carbon Disclosure Project. In the words of Michael Mathres, Director of the WGS, the Summit’s aim was to “progress this green economic transformation, build new public-private partnerships, and showcase new green projects, funds, products, technologies and ideals”. The result may be the missing piece to the creation of a sustainable economy.
The WGS consisted of high-level plenary panels with speakers eager to present their past successes, present ideas and visions for the future. Under the watchful eye of media correspondents from the Financial Times, the Greenbiz Group and Thomson Reuters, discussions centered around the path towards sustainable development with finance and green technology, the role of sustainable cities, and the provision of sustainable energy for everyone. These three pieces – finance, sustainable urban environments, and energy – are deemed to be the greatest challenges for the green economy faced in a time of economic crisis, globalization and growing energy demand.
One of the most inspiring successes to date was presented by Robert ter Kuile, Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability in the Global Public Policy group for PepsiCo, who described projects where his company has successfully formed public-private partnerships with the help of the UN to support sustainable agricultural production by local farmers. For example, the introduction of drip irrigation technology in water-scarce parts of India has increased productivity and given farmers the support they needed to improve water sustainability.
Encouraging ideas were also advanced by Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Group: governments should “get rid of subsidies for fossil fuels” because “there is no need for those subsidies”. In his presentation, the removal of government backing for fossil fuels would create a “level-playing field where clean energy companies can get ahead” and would pave the way for the green economy. In fact, the Caribbean island of Aruba has just pledged to become a 100% clean energy island by 2020 and to remove all government support for fossil fuels. In Branson’s view, “if they can do it, then all islands in the world can do it”. Upon a challenge from the debate moderator that the USA is being “held hostage by the oil companies”, Sir Branson answered that “the rest of the world cannot wait for America and America is not the only country in the world”. With this strong and clear message, businesses around the world are challenging governments to change the way they think and to take much needed action to support their vision of the green economy.
Ted Turner, Chairman of the United Nations Foundation, simply said: “What we have to do is stop doing the dumb things and start doing the smart things; and we know what they are too, so let us get on with it!” With so many presentations of sustainable projects and investments in the provision of clean energy, Turner’s message was loud and clear and as the World Green Summit wrapped up, all attendants had one note in mind – to create the future we want, we should not wait for political discussions, but take action as citizens and seek out the support of businesses.
The World Green Summit achieved more than the high-level segment of Rio+20. The objective is to build a sustainable future and while world leaders are deadlocked in discussions of how to do this, the participants of the WGS are already implementing projects on the ground and establishing new partnerships in order to increase their effectiveness worldwide. The creation of a forum where an open discussion can be held in support of such action has shown that the only hurdle to sustainable development and the green economy is the lack of political will in some parts of the globe.
Lubomir Mitev is Climate and Energy analyst at Revolve Magazine.