Building Sustainable Legacies

Rio dialogues: Focus on water

Rio Dialogues offers a public debate on the critical topic “water” on at RioCentro. Dialogues is a public direct democratic initiative by the Brazilian government as their contribution to RIO+20. In the main auditorium there is a highly diverse and young crowd of approx. 1000 delegates and representatives of all walks of life from around the world. A rowdy crowd that is alive and present! The former president of Brazil who presided over Rio 1992 was booed out when honored. Right thereafter, the top Chief Sustainability Officer of Coca-Cola was speaking – and the electricity in the room is palpable, yet nobody booed, maybe because his speech is very correct? Yet, what about the need to walk the talk?

The session offers an important outcome and is important as we will select 3 recommendations from the 10 most voted items through a democratic process in the past 10 days. Much energy focusses on the pre-sentiment that government is trying to get away from the 2010 declaration on the right of water for everybody. The choice ranges from securing access to water, to implementing the right to water to improving water sanitation to ensure that education of children. In contrast to yesterday’s people summit at the Flamenco Park, here the urgency and the importance is palpable. It is my generation who is here: many many young faces and at least half of them women! Maybe I have finally found a place where people want to meet to change the world!?

It is difficult to find the list of the panel in the maze of the RIO+20 and I am lacking references here. A high-level African quotes an important saying:

“if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” to express his hopes for RIO+20.

He suddenly stops mid-phrase when the King of Sweden steps in with his guards and joins the audience. Shortly thereafter, Mohamed Munif turns things serious when he talks about water contamination in Bangladesh.

The representative of the World Water Council wants engagement not just words. They demand that all countries in the world inscribes the right to water in their constitutions. Today, only 1 nations has done so. They also demand that as of tomorrow no single school rests without a water tab and toilets. Today, 60% of African schools are without access to water. In the other hand, they want action to ensure that more only food but also water is provided to disaster zones. We must restore the safety of water to the level we have inherited it from our ancestors. Water security founds the very basis of human survival. It is estimated that by 2020, the world needs 45% more water than today. According to the rule of 3, only oxygen is more important to human survival than water. Already today, 890 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water.

The UNCG Corporate Sustainable Forum is also under attack: the trade union representative accuses corporations to have failed on all 3 pillars of sustainability: economy, social and environment. He turns to his fellow panellist from Coca-Cola and says:

“I cannot believe that Coca-Cola will ever agree not to want to sell more Coke!”

The lady from India raises the challenge by stating that India is facing a 79% increase in water needs while at the same time facing a reduction of over 40% in the next decade. She says that we are not horrified enough that 2 billion have no access to sanitation and this impacts mostly women in the global South. She clarifies that the solutions of the North do not work for the South. While in India, the daily water consumption is around 18 litre per capita (lpc), in China the water needs are raising to 80-100 lpc in the next decade. In contrast, the USA uses 570 lpc today, which may go down to 440 lpc at best, but is way out of any sustainable future. She insists on home grown solutions based on ancient wisdom from the global South.

“There is enough for everybody’s need but more enough for anybody’s greed” (Gandhi).

After introductions, Jeff Seabright of Coca-Cola is put in the hot seat: “can we reconcile economic growth with the needs of water, and if so how?” He does not expand beyond politically correct but otherwise irrelevant answer. Munif suggests that beyond forcing governments, we need wide-spread citizen engagement to ensure the right to water and sanitation also locally. He also connects the importance of the water issue with global warming and raising sea levels which endanger many regions, and in particular Bangladesh. Two indigenous women from Mexico turn the atmosphere chilly when they point out the lack of consideration and consultation in the decision- making process around water. A 13 year old indigenous girl asks for clear strategies on how to ensure that this will be assured.

The audience present selects as their urgent recommendation to implement the right to water as their first priority. The bigger question of course is what government will do with this. The current update is that there will be no consensus reached, with only 40% of the draft even discussed and no agreement achieved to date. Tomorrow, the top government negotiations with the heads of states start…

Advertisements

Author: Dr. Katrin Muff

Dr. Katrin Muff is a thought leader in the transformative space of sustainability and responsibility at Business School Lausanne, where she acted as Dean from 2008-2015 until self-organization made such a title redundant. Under her leadership, the school focused its vision on entrepreneurship, responsibility and sustainability in education and research. Her business experience includes 10 years at ALCOA (GM in Russia, Industry Analyst for Global M&A in the U.S. and Business Analyst Europe), 3 years as Director, Strategic Planning EMEA at IAMS Europe (Procter&Gamble), and 3 years as a co-founder of Yupango, a coaching consultancy dedicated to start-ups and training management teams.

Comments are closed.