Twenty years ago, the turnout for the UN Conference on Environment and Development, now known as the Rio Earth Summit, seemed enormous, a record breaking 20,000 people.
Of those, a relatively small handful from business were on hand, perhaps 50 or so, cautious and out of their element, in what was a visionary and pioneering discussion of new possibilities for synergy across economic and environmental policies globally.
This morning, as Rio+20 gets under way we anticipate over 60,000 participants from government and NGOs, with the largest groups being those which represent business, such as the International Chamber of Commerce which registered 2,000-plus to participate.
Having been among the small group of business people in Rio then, and anticipating the crowds of business people who will be on hand here, I ask myself: what has changed?
Why are business people here in such numbers, particularly when faced with naysaying predictions in the press and the political challenges that have dogged this process? Where can the outcomes of this meeting in Rio, which over 100 heads of state have committed to attend, add value for business?
The starting point in responding to those questions lies in the organizing principle of this huge event: “green economy”.
Quite aside from the definitional debate over what exactly a “green” economy consists of, business believes that economies cannot be “greened” absent of economic growth.
Business groups like the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) are here in Rio to call for policies that will drive economic growth while improving environmental quality and creating social benefits, not least of which are jobs, whether green or any other color.
For business this is vital, for if done right, the Rio+20 outcomes can provide enabling frameworks to smooth the way for technological innovation, and new markets for energy options and other products, services and improved, more efficient processes that are at the heart of greener growth.
In anticipation of Rio+20, the United States Council Foundation has hosted the International Business Green Economies Dialogue (GED) project.
Through a series of meetings all over the world, the GED has brought policymakers, NGOs, business and researchers together to brainstorm and discuss practical ways that green growth can be integrated into globalized economies and markets.
Through a set of academic papers to be published in a forthcoming special issue of Energy Economics, the GED will highlight where the opportunities are and where problem-solving resources are best allocated both by governments and businesses.
Business people are the optimists and the “doers” this time around in Rio. As governments meet to discuss ways to improve international bodies’ support of green growth approaches, we hope they will seriously consider bringing business into the conversation. Business has come to Rio to engage and to act, and we look forward to contributing to an actionable outcome as the legacy of this historic event.
The USCIB promotes an open system of world trade, finance, and investment from the perspective of business. Norine Kennedy is Vice President, Energy and Environment, USCIB.