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Leadership: Creating the space to act

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By Sandrine Dixson-Decleve

· 3 min read

Beyond growth?

To put in place the right policy frameworks enabling greener growth and resource use, Commissioner Potočnik has invited business and civil society leaders to join a new HighLevel Resource Efficiency Platform. Unfortunately society has not yet moved away from the need for quantification, and therefore any green growth narrative will need to be substantiated by the clear measurement of impacts, scientific results, and economic analysis.

Yet Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency (EEA), which is in charge of quantifying and qualifying Europe’s environmental trends and impacts, stresses that only focusing on economic measurement is not the right approach. McGlade is becoming a leader in her own right through her efforts to broaden the debate complemented by new leadership on resource efficiency and consumption from other quite unpredictable sources such as the International Energy Agency.

What next?

Even though Europe’s more progressive policy and business leaders were represented at Rio+20, and not only voiced their commitment to sustainable development, but also demonstrated real implementation on the ground, the final text was a disappointment.

Why did progressive business allow this to happen? Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo goes as far as accusing business interests and ‘business as usual’ as the main reason for failure in leadership. “We didn’t get The Future We Want in Rio, because we do not have the leaders we need. The leaders of the most powerful countries supported ‘business as usual’, shamefully putting private profit before people and the planet.”

Yet ‘business as un-usual’ was present at the conference. Most members of the business community attending demonstrated their commitment to sustainable growth and consumption at a series of side events, and through a variety of agreements including the CPSL-led Natural Capital Leadership Compact. This urged international governments to commit to a global policy framework on the responsible and sustainable use of natural resources. Some would claim that the BRICS countries, led by the Brazilians as chief negotiators, simply refused to listen to the progressive proof and viability of green growth.

Post-Rio+20, the burden therefore falls on progressive businesses to create the political space for policymakers to make tough decisions, in order to deliver a new, robust, resource-efficient and climate-resilient economic vision – EU-wide and worldwide. The business community is one of the strongest factors influencing political decision-making, and so must visibly be part of this call for change. Once business has made the first steps by demonstrating its belief in green growth, and governments are willing to listen and take this cue to regulate for sustainable development, this will catalyse change.

In Europe that means the story must be sold by business to governments in Central and Eastern Europe. Globally, the same must happen in the US and BRICS countries. Business must shoulder this burden jointly with governments, and show true leadership.

This article is also published on the Cambridge University Programme for Sustainable Leadership website. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Sandrine Dixson-Decleve is the current Co-president of the Club of Rome. She is a Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership Senior Associate and faculty member and has been named by GreenBiz among the TOP30 women shaping global green business.

Sandrine is a confirmed keynote speaker at Terra Tuscany, the sustainability leaders offsite powered by illuminem.

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