(Post by Kit Dobyns, a rising senior at Cornell University. He is reporting from Rio+20 as a member of the SustainUS Delegation.)
Eight hundred million people do not have access to clean water. Considering global trends, public and private sector leaders at this week’s Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development must take bold steps to support these populations. With this in mind, the progress, or lack thereof, on the conference’s negotiating text has proven discouraging. Most recently, Brazil presented a document absent of long-term commitments to achieving a more sustainable world.
Nevertheless, 45 business CEOs from some of the world’s largest companies, including Coca-Cola, Merck, and Levi’s, have prioritized one aspect to a more sustainable world – access to clean water. In the recently released CEO Water Mandate, the leaders collectively “…pledg(ed) to deepen and expand (their) efforts” pertaining to water availability, quantity, and sanitation. In a communique to Rio delegations, the businessmen and women discussed the interlinkages of water and other sustainability issues. Most notably, access to water has a particular impact on women and children—who spend up to 40 billion hours collecting water each year (WHO) and are exposed to disease at unsafe sources. Providing access to clean water, which the UN considers a human right, enables women to use their time more effectively and improves their standard of living.
By collaborating with stakeholders (business leaders included), governments have the potential to scale best practices. To Brazil’s credit, their document leaves open the possibility of strengthening UNEP and framing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Both initiatives would potentially address our world’s water challenges, impart.
Public-private partnerships are essential in ameliorating a problem of this nature. As Rio+20 negotiations teeter on, lives are at stake. Business leaders have spoken up and called upon the “leadership, vision, and courage” of the delegates in improving our world’s water problems. In the coming week, the world will see if Rio Delegates rise to the occasion and “…work together to create a world where water sustainability and security are no longer lofty ambitions—they are reality.”