The Rio+20 has wrapped with few solid achievements to show in terms of major international agreements, but with the idea that smaller arrangements between countries might lead to some change. Here’s one reflection on who the most inspiring leaders were at the conference—leaders who we will need as we try to move forward and forge more lasting treaties to end climate change.
1: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. The de facto host of the conference, she opened the session recognizing that: "this can be called the largest UN conference of active participants in civil society." She championed the need for greater gender parity at these types of events. She championed the "Green Growth" priority—largely due to Brazil’s dominant share of renewables in its energy portfolio; its exceptional hydroelectricity capacity; its leading responsibility in terms of deforestation; and its active commitment to link social and economic development to the energy agenda (including the official 100% access to energy goal in 2015.)
2: Brian Daimes, CEO of the leading South African (and African) utility Eskom. A very visible regular participant to the debate at least since Durban, Daimes presented a proposal in Rio for the electrification roadmap for Africa, co-developed with Duke, the first U.S. utility that aims to provide access to electricity for all Africans. They are aiming to connect 500 million people to electricity by 2025, leveraging the experience of Brazil (99% coverage today) and of South Africa (whose coverage increased from 83 to 95% in the last 10 years). This is a very concrete example of how energy and utilities companies are addressing the contradictory objectives of sustainability and access.
3: Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever. A recipient of many sustainability awards on behalf of Unilever for its "Sustainable Living Plan," Polman is undoubtedly the most vocal and charismatic business leader—from the B20 in Los Cabos to the UN summit in Rio and its many side events, he was a fervent advocate of the reinvention of a moral framework for business to respond to the "ethical crisis" of 2008.
4: Ban Ki-moon: Secretary General of the UN. Ban Ki-moon, also the host of the Rio Earth Summit; was celebrated as the visionary father of the Sustainable Energy For All (SE4All) program, which aims to double the share of renewables and energy efficiency investments, while providing access to sustainable energy for all by 2030. This remarkable program, which brings together the key topics of economic development and energy access, and folding the climate challenge into the growth debate created a big buzz in Rio. The Secretary General was supported by his two brilliant and charismatic co-chairs, Chad Holliday, Chairman of the Bank of America and Kanday Yumkella, managing director of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), who were able to gather a remarkable public-private partnership platform celebrated at the conference in Rio Centro, the neurologic center of the event, and already in position to announce approximately $50 billion of commitments to the program.
5: The outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon. The President of the 2012 B20, sponsor of its Green Growth initiative, and chairman of the Green Growth Action Alliance initiative launched in Los Cabos. He has demonstrated charisma and leadership at "his" B20 meeting in Mexico and further in Rio as a key voice of the emerging markets, once again making the connection between the G20 agenda and the UN’s global one and supporting actively progressive business initiatives like the progressive elimination of fossil fuels subsidies. As was the case with the former president of Costa Rica, Jose Maria Figueres, one can expect Felipe Calderon to stay actively involved in the sustainability space going forward.
6: Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. The legendary Norwegian diplomat and pioneer, labeled "the mother of Sustainable Development," who narrowly escaped the Utoya massacre in Oslo last year, was present and honored in Rio for the anniversary of the summit and of her definition of sustainable development: "Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” She was de facto an attraction in and of herself as a rare actor of the entire 20-year period from 1992 to 2012.
7: Francois Hollande: The only G8 president present in Rio and an ardent supporter of the Green Growth ambition and of the necessary energy transition for the developed markets. Taking part at Rio Centro and also visiting a fully packed French Pavilion as an acclaimed guest star a few weeks after his successful election campaigns, Hollande was a key figure on the ground.
8. Pascal Lamy, managing director of the World Trade Organization. Lamy is a regular participant to the G20, but for me he is a new figure in climate change circles. Strangely, the parallel between the trade and climate negotiations processes and difficulties became more and more obvious throughout the week in Rio, both for their failures to deliver quantitative progress and effective multilateral negotiations, but also for the positive convergence he highlighted around essential themes like fossil fuel subsidies and free trade of green goods and services.
9: Jochen Zeitz, CEO of Puma: A relative newcomer in the sustainability business circle, the iconoclastic Zeitz made a spectacular entry. Puma’s new environmental profit and loss accounting is paving the way for the whole of the Luxury and Fashion PPR Group to follow suit. It’s seen as a very innovative and ambitious integrated reporting initiative, addressing directly the impact and flows from and to the environment, already leading to very concrete initiatives, like the introduction of the Puma bag, to reduce the overall carbon and environmental footprint of the brand. His laid-back but straight-talking style at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development Business Day was surprising and refreshing.
10. The city of Rio. Last but not least: the site, the city, the former capital of this gigantic country Brazil and its proud inhabitants, the cariocas! Located in one of the seven wonders of nature, the city is the perfect symbol of a fast-growing and already emerged market, whose diplomatic stance—effectively driving the negotiation process to a timely close—was well recognized and respected this year as it whad been at Durban. Returning to Rio revived the memory of the original Earth Summit where everything started in 1992. If that also contributed to some criticism about the pace of change, was in my view a clearly pertinent choice.