Speech by PM Jean Chrétien to BASD Forum

Speech by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to Business Action for Sustainable Development Forum September 1 , 2002 Johannesburg, South Africa Building creative and innovative partnerships to promote sustainable development is a defining theme of our global agenda here in Johannesburg. So I am pleased that my first formal event at the Summit is to address Business Action on Sustainable Development, an organization whose very essence is partnership. BASD was, itself, created as a recognition of common cause between the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The creation of BASD, and the excellent work it has done in preparation for the Summit, speaks to the fact that we must move beyond the stale cliché that business does not care about the environment. The reality is that companies, in Canada and around the world, are rising with vigour to meet the challenge of sustainability. Ten years after Rio, no one would claim that the world has realized the vision laid out there. In many respects, it has been a decade of experimentation and institution building. There have certainly been disappointments. But even as we acknowledge the work that must still be done we can also say that marked progress has been made in many areas. We have moved steadily from theory to practice. Of special note, has been the growing reliance on partnerships as vehicles for concrete action. People understand the power of partnerships. Given the breadth of the challenge posed by sustainable development, it just makes sense to pool the resources, ideas and imagination of all sectors of society. And the quest for new partnerships is very much driving the environmental agenda of the Government of Canada. A good example is our National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, which we created as an outcome of the Earth Summit. It brings all stakeholders together, in a neutral forum, to forge shared solutions. Right now it is making headway in devising sustainable development indicators. One key reason for the progress that has been achieved through the Roundtable has been the commitment of the private sector. That commitment can be found around the world. Indeed, it is why so many of you are here today. Whether bringing innovative solutions to market, or establishing new processes in your own operations, your leadership has been essential. And your commitment to work with partners in your own industries, workers and the communities in which you operate has made a concrete difference for the better. Making that difference has not been easy or simple — for you or for government. Translating sustainable development from theory to practice has often meant we have learned by doing: by squarely confronting tough questions, by challenging traditional thinking about the role of business in society, and by embracing new technologies and economic opportunities. We have now come to Johannesburg to reaffirm the achievements of all partners and to take on new challenges. As a sign of the resolve of Canada to keep moving forward, I am pleased to announce that we are extending our Sustainable Cities Initiative. Enhancing the quality of life in Canadian cities is central to the 21st century agenda of our government. We have made significant new investments in physical and economic infrastructure, in green spaces and in cultural infrastructure. We are determined to help ensure that our cities are vibrant and clean magnets for talent and investment. This same focus drives the SCI, an initiative that has earned Canada a growing global reputation as a pre-eminent source of sustainable technology, expertise and products. The SCI facilitates business partnerships among firms, NGOs and governments. It creates City Teams focused on assisting cities, in developing and emerging economies, achieve their goals for harnessing new investment and new opportunity in sustainable ways. The SCI has a proven track record of success in Poland, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Argentina, Africa, and Chile. These promising results bode well for the future. As a further sign of the commitment of Canada to building sustainable communities worldwide, I would also like to take this opportunity to reaffirm the desire of Canada to host the 2006 World Urban Forum in Vancouver, which was the host of the first UN Conference on Human Settlements in 1976. The SCI is a concrete example of the power of partnership, of translating theory into practice. And it illustrates the linchpin role that can be played by the private sector. As this gathering shows, visionary business leaders have used the 10 years since Rio to build a business case for sustainable development, one that is based on fundamental business principles – – not on sentiment. Companies are cutting waste and increasing efficiency in how they use resources. You are listening to customers, clients and home communities. Above all, you are demonstrating the spirit of innovation. The need for private sector commitment has never been greater. And not just because of the challenges our world faces. The need has never been greater because of the fundamental challenges that business faces these days. Searching questions are being asked about business leaders: about accountability and transparency, about corporate social responsibility. What is needed in response to those questions is the kind of demonstrated commitment to sustainable results that is being demonstrated by Business Action for Sustainable Development. Firms that show a commitment to enhance their traditional financial reporting to include the environmental and social impact of their operations are sending a strong signal to citizens and to markets. Companies that recognize the importance of signing on to the UN’s Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative are sending an equally strong signal. We have seen that kind of commitment often in Canada in recent years. The Responsible Care Program developed by Canada’s chemical sector has spread to 40 countries. Canada’s eco-logo program, the Partnership for Climate Action and the International Emissions Trading Association, and others, are all fine Canadian examples of corporate commitment, leadership and partnership. But there must be more. The push for sustainability will not go away. The expectation that corporations must take social and environmental factors into account in their decision-making will not fade away. While we see more and more examples of companies reporting on their environmental performance and their social impacts the next step has to be more integrated approaches to reporting. By finding ways to link together financial, environmental and social reporting, the business case for sustainable development will become even stronger. If it is told effectively and clearly, financial markets will listen to the story of sustainable and profitable business. And a deeper interest by financial markets in sustainability would, by itself, take us a long way towards the goals being discussed at this Summit. Ladies and gentlemen, in the next few days, world leaders will review and confirm the work that has taken place over the past week at this Summit. We will match that to our commitments at places like Doha and Monterrey. And then the real work begins. Governments such as ours will leave with a clearer sense of where we go from here Of how governance has to be improved to continue the momentum. Business has been a major partner in that work in recent years and will continue to play an essential role. You are here because you understand that. You are here because your firms appreciate your responsibilities. I salute you for that commitment and that leadership. As we move ahead, governments and business alike must continue to demonstrate that we are making a difference. We must continue to translate theory into practice. We must walk the talk. We must not only trumpet our success. We must also be frank about our mistakes. My friends, our journey has really just begun. And the course we are charting together will not travel the path of least resistance. Achieving a sustainable future will not be quick or easy. But there is no acceptable alternative The citizens of our small planet are depending on us. And we must deliver.
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