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CHEM IDEAS

Rio +20 Comes into View: A Challenge and Opportunity for Industry

8:15 AM MDT | March 25, 2011 | By ALEX SCOTT

Resource scarcity, renewable energy and energy efficiency, water, oceans, agriculture, and materials will be among the most important policy topics to be negotiated at next year’s Rio +20 United Nations sustainability summit, says Timo Makela, director/ environment for the European Commission. All of the issues outlined by Makela have a direct connection to the well-being of the chemical industry, arguably making Rio 20+ the most important international meeting yet for the sector.
 
Makela made his comments at a discussion with 33 other sustainability experts held earlier this week at the Solvay Library in Brussels hosted by Dow Chemical and The Nature Conservancy (Arlington, VA). The event featured trade and government representatives of countries including the U.S., Brazil, as well as industry, environmental groups, and CW.
 
Dow's Neil Hawkins and The Nature Conservancy's Glenn Prickett provide 
new details about their collaboration earlier this week in Brussels. 


The Rio protocol today is the only international policy for restricting greenhouse gas emissions. Rio +20, which will take place June 4, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, may also be the event where the next international protocol on GHG emissions is agreed. The 2012 event is likely to become the stage for international protocols on how to foster the green economy, experts say. Additional discussions on governance, including changes to enhance the United Nations Environment Program, are also likely, according to some of the experts at the Brussels meeting.
 
Rio +20 “must look at tools” to deal with the management of the five key resources fields as outlined above, Makela says. Ecotaxes to protect natural resources “need to be high on the Rio +20 agenda,” he says. Global financing and architecture of financing also “need to be looked at,” he says. Green skills and education of youth in sustainability skills – an initiative being promoted by Cefic – is another area requiring further attention, as the world seeks to develop the green economy, he says.
 
Discussions at the meeting in Brussels also centred on whether a financial value should be placed on natural resources in order to recognize its value to society as well as to the wider environment. Dow Chemical’s recently announced collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, anticipates exactly this discussion and will seek to determine methodologies associated with staking a value to certain environmental services such as the natural filtration of water by woodland, says Neil Hawkins, group v.p./sustainability and environment, health and safety, for Dow Chemical who spoke at the Brussels meeting.
 
The Nature Conservancy initially will address the value of ‘ecoservices’ such as water for Dow Chemical sites that is filtered naturally by trees, but over time will extend this potentially to include an evaluation of how Dow can best develop cradle-to-cradle manufacturing and recycling systems. “We are open to looking at a whole range of services,” says Glenn Pricket, chief external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy.
 
Some parts of the environmental community are sceptical that attaching a value to natural resources will be of benefit. “There is always someone who will want to buy the last elephant or the last drop of oil. We need strong regulations; more targets and timetables. We need more than eco-efficiency,” said a representative of an environmental group at the Brussels discussion.
 
Hawkins says that Dow’s collaboration with The Nature Conservancy goes beyond the identification of ecoservice assessment and methodology and takes into account the complexity of sustainable production. “You need to have a strong partner so that you can make the right decisions. Having a partner to work with to work through the challenges across a lot of dimensions makes sense. We’re in a partnership [with The Nature Conservancy] on a generic basis rather than on specifics,” Hawkins adds.
 
The issue of resource scarcity also was raised at the meeting. There is a need to look at the impact of the scarcity of resources on the poor as scarcity arises, said dirk Hudig, head of the European Risk Forum (Brussels).

Ultimately, “the green economy is all about turning constraints into opportunities,” Makela says. Problems that have to be overcome include moving from a silo mentality. “Buy-in from the whole of the globe to this agenda is critical,” he adds. 












 
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