Business, UN meet to set sustainability agenda

  • 8 October 2001

Industry leaders and UN officials will meet in Paris tomorrow to discuss the business agenda for next year's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

Under-Secretary of the United Nations, Nitin Desai will meet with more than 150 world business leaders to discuss preparations for September 2002 Johannesburg summit.

Tomorrow’s meeting at ICC headquarters in central Paris will be the first major gathering of the new international business initiative, Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD).

BASD is a joint project of ICC (International Chamber of Commerce) and WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development). It has been created to spearhead business preparations for next year’s World Summit and is being led by former Shell chairman Sir Mark Moody-Stuart.

While primarily intended as an opportunity for interested companies to set out their priorities for Johannesburg, tomorrow’s Paris meeting will also be a chance for Sir Mark to urge great caution in response to recent calls for business to help fund the World Summit.

Citing the experience of the Seattle WTO meetings – and following a meeting two weeks ago with the South African government – Sir Mark will warn UN summit organizers not to expect funding shortfalls to be picked up by the private sector.

“It seems there are major budget concerns relating to next year’s World Summit in Johannesburg,” Sir Mark says. “Not surprisingly, the South African Government has turned to business to see what form of financial support they can offer to make up for what is currently a very large shortfall in government contributions.”

“It is clear that South Africa is well-placed to host this vital conference and that the South African Government is putting a lot of effort to ensure a successful meeting. But it is equally clear that South Africa should not have to bear undue expense in hosting the meeting.”

Sir Mark said business would react with caution to calls for funding the Summit.

“Many members of society are suspicious of business,” he said. “Business is seen as powerful, and is suspected of using that financial muscle to influence national and international events.”

“Business funding of the Johannesburg Summit would inevitably lead to fears that business was exerting undue influence. Businesses were approached for support of the WTO meeting in Seattle – those who did so were not surprisingly accused of trying to buy influence and access.”

Sir Mark will hold a press briefing at the conclusion of the two-day Paris meeting.