Nearly 1000 people came to the Fair Ideas conference to debate topics in four broad themes: business models for sustainability, urbanisation that improves lives, transforming economic systems for people and planet, and shaping sustainable development goals (see list of speakers and other information).
An IIED team of researchers, writers, editors and designers has worked over the past three days to compile the outcomes of the conference’s 40+ sessions into a single summary report.
The main messages that emerged from the event are as follows:
- A transformative green economy does not act as an anti-competitive brake on development. Rather, it lifts people out of poverty through better use of the natural resources and associated local knowledge that are the main assets of the poor.
- The urban poor face a daunting struggle for development that is played out in a complex political battlefield. Locally controlled funds can help shift the balance — not only in enabling people to organise their way to better homes and livelihoods, but also to get them taken seriously by other local actors.
- There are many ways in which the private sector can promote sustainability: across all of them, enabling communities to be involved in decisions is critical, as is ensuring adequate levels of benefit sharing, transparency and accountability.
- Sustainable Development Goals offer one way of focusing global efforts on reducing inequality and unsustainability. They could chart a course to a fairer and more sustainable world, but only if they are taken seriously at all levels and promote innovation and action.
The recommendations that flowed from the conference sessions included the following:
- If the future is to be sustainable, it must be planned collaboratively. That means the world leaders must move away from the current competitive and outdated negotiations to construct a new form of global debate.
- Asking whether the public or private sector should take the lead in implementing sustainable development is a false dichotomy. We need both to move us forward.
- Knowledge equals power. Ensuring transparency — in governments and corporations alike — is the first step to strengthening accountability.
- Evidence can show what is possible. Demonstrating approaches that work for people and planet is essential to show what is needed and help decision makers at all levels narrow in on the right options.
"IIED drew on its extensive network of partners and allies — built over our 40 years of research into sustainable development — to gather a world-class set of speakers and thinkers at our event in Rio," says IIED’s director Camilla Toulmin. "Over two days of intense and enlightening debate, the participants at our Fair Ideas conference were able to show that sustainable development is not out of reach, but that solutions exist. The energy and ambition to take this agenda forward exists too, among those governments and businesses that understand that maintaining the status quo is not an option. Where they lead, others will follow or be left behind."
Selected quotations from the conference speakers
Ida Auken, Environment Minister, Denmark: “Brown economy has hit the wall and failed… Inclusive green economy is not only a way to go, it is the only way to go. Green economy is not about limiting growth - it is about enabling growth.”
Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP): “If you look at the official negotiations now you get an image of a world that is at a loss for what to do. The summit is like the vortex at the eye of a storm. To come here 20 years after the first Rio summit and see the depressing picture of what’s happened since should shake us out of our complacency. It’s an indictment of those of us who work on these issues: we elect politicians, shape markets, and choose leaders who get away with the kinds of policies we then lament. The summit should be a moment of introspection for the sustainable development community.”
René Castro, Minister of Environment and Energy in Costa Rica: “Initially we protected national parks and wildlife regions, with a ‘don’t take, don’t touch’ approach, but this was unsustainable. And so we shifted from full protection to promoting multiple uses — protection of forest cover is now combined with agroforestry to provide farmers with an extra income to incentivise having more trees.”
Paula Caballero, Director of Economic, Social and Environmental Affairs, Government of Colombia: “We now have to make very difficult decisions that transcend business-as-usual scenarios. These will be hard. These will be expensive.”
Estebancio Castro Diaz, head of the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests: “Change needs to come from the grassroots, not UN tables.”
Shrashtant Patara, Vice President, Development Alternatives, India: “Social enterprises combine the strengths of business with the objectives of government to address social problems.”
Falguni Guaray, Coordinator, Servicio de Información Mesoamericano Sobre Agricultura Sostenible (SIMAS), Nicaragua: “Informality is not a lack of formality. It’s a strategy on its own.”
Bihunirwa Medius, Head of the Farmer Enterprise Development Unit, Kabarole Research and Resource Centre, Uganda: “The most successful partnerships are made through local leaders who understand the social values of farmers. This process is based on informality. There are no contracts, but there is understanding of local values.”
Pavan Sukhdev, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Green Initiatives for a Smart Tomorrow (GIST) Advisory: “The economy won’t change unless corporations behave differently. And if the economy doesn’t change then we can’t have sustainable development.”
Steve Bass, Group Head, Sustainable Markets Group, IIED: “Markets are a social construct and not a law of physics so we need mechanisms that shape the market to deliver what society wants”
Steven Stone, Chief of Economics and Trade Branch, UNEP: “Markets are what we make them — let us concentrate on fixing them.”
Sekai Catherine Chiremba of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation’s Leadership Council: “A dollar a month saved for a family means nothing; but a dollar a month per family in a whole community suddenly becomes more meaningful.”
Maria Sonia Vicenta Fadrigo, Western Visayas Regional Coordinator, Homeless Peoples Federation, The Philippines: “We should not under estimate the power of communities — communities in informal settlements will not make the economy green if they are excluded.”
Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development, University of Surrey, UK: “Can we really grow forever on a finite planet? This is an appeal, at the end of the day, to human ingenuity: are we clever enough to figure it out?”
Julia Marton-LeFèvre, head of IUCN: “Knowledge is the greatest tool for human progress but it won’t suffice — we also need leadership and determination to work together,” said.
Lidia Brito, Director of Science Policy and Capacity Building, Natural Sciences, UNESCO, Mozambique: “If you have knowledge, you are empowered to choose your options; the wiser we are, the better we can cope with difficult decisions.”
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Saleemul Huq, senior fellow in IIED’s climate change group – Saleemul.firstname.lastname@example.org
Emma Wilson, head of IIED’s energy team – email@example.com
In the UK
Steve Bass, head of IIED’s sustainable markets group – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Duncan Macqueen, head of IIED’s forest team Duncan.firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Shanahan, press officer at IIED – email@example.com
Notes to editors
The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see: www.iied.org).