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Rio+20: Can a piece of paper become sustainable business?

Rio+20 – The UN Conference on Sustainable Development – will result in a piece of paper. We want that paper to help make the world a little better. In order for that to happen, industry has to be encouraged. That will require a change in political priorities and specific action to be taken. 

 The UN’s Secretary-General has decided that 2012 is to be the year when access to sustainable energy for everyone is put on the agenda. This is the 20th anniversary of the conference at which “sustainability” was launched as a concept – also held in Rio. Now, ministers from all over the world are gathering to talk once again. We hope the politicians will agree on how to strengthen industry’s role and contribution – and this has to be followed up by specific actions.

Since the beginning of the year, 14 Nordic companies that are members of the UN Global Compact have looked at how companies can contribute to sustainable development based on the UN’s focus on access to sustainable energy. This process has resulted in three main items which must be in place if we are to see a change from small individual initiatives to global sustainable development in which the private sector is a key player:

 1.  Common sustainability goals

The UN’s Millennium Development Goals will soon be out of date. The work on these goals has shown that access to energy is key to improved welfare – and affects people’s opportunities to get a job, be healthy, have an education, be treated equally and, not least, have access to clean water. A common goal of working to ensure that everyone has access to energy must motivate innovation in the energy sector, and ambitious goals to develop low-carbon solutions and energy-efficiency measures must be set.

2.  Energy maturity ranking 

In order for investors to notice countries that arrange for energy-efficient solutions and manage scant energy resources in a sustainable manner, a neutral ranking in these areas will be important. Companies and investors do not go into projects with a high level of risk, uncertain yield and unstable production unless incentive schemes are in place to make it attractive to invest in innovative energy-related business concepts.

In the same way as the UN currently ranks countries according to human development, we support the development of an index showing the extent to which countries make conditions suitable for investments in renewable energy and energy-efficient solutions.  This will give countries incentives to shape a policy that paves the way for companies that generate green energy, have environmentally friendly production methods and sell energy-efficient products. Countries and sectors that achieve a high score in such a ranking will thus be able to attract investors and private renewable-energy initiatives.

3. Preparations for public-private partnerships

Public-private partnerships are essential for increasing the rate of investment in renewable energy. Better preparation for co-financing and cooperation between various private and public players can reduce the uncertainties related to investments and business development in developing countries.

Through its Global Compact, the UN has established corporate social responsibility networks.  In many places, local networks have created a constructive dialogue between member companies, civil society and public agencies. We believe these local networks can play an important role in preparing for public-private partnerships and function as a sound platform if they are given a mandate.

From paper to action

The above three proposals may sound simple. We believe they are realistic and will help us to turn words into action. This will require the proposals to be raised at an international level – and companies to be included when the discussions at Rio+20 end and we are left with a piece of paper that has to be put into practice.

Have a good trip to Rio – we are ready to contribute to good global sustainability initiatives!

Sven Mollekleiv, DNV
and Eli Bleie Munkelien, KLP


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