Don’t rely on Government

77% believe governments need catastrophe to tackle climate change


EXPERT AND public confidence in the ability of national governments to tackle global environmental, economic and social challenges is at a severe low. This will mean businesses taking the lead.


As world leaders prepare to gather at the G20 and Rio+20 conferences later this month, two major global surveys released today by GlobeScan and think tank SustainAbility suggest national governments will not take action unprompted.


In fact, nearly eight in ten (77%) sustainability experts think a major catastrophe will need to occur for national governments to take action, while 68% identify a lack of political will as the greatest obstacle to making further progress on sustainable development.


The findings are derived from an expert survey of 1,603 sustainability experts across corporate, government, NGO, and academic sectors in 117 countries. In addition, a public opinion survey of over 24,000 people in 23 countries showed that fewer than half believe that society has become better at protecting the environment, improving economic wellbeing, and creating healthier and more equitable societies.


Though gloomy, the results do present an opportunity for the private sector. A third of experts (33%) suggest that businesses need to work with governments to establish the necessary regulatory environment to stimulate change, while 41% highlighted the contribution businesses can make in terms of technology and innovation.


The role of business in spurring government action on sustainability will be crucial, said Chris Coulter, president of GlobeScan.


“We find ourselves in a very challenging dynamic. Both the global public and experts have low expectations for governments to provide the necessary leadership to move us toward a sustainable footing, yet we need governments engaged to make progress quickly. It likely falls on business to not only continue to transform the economy but also cajole governments into action.”


SustainAbility executive director Mark Lee added: “Our polls underscore the gravity of the sustainable development challenge and make it clear that business can contribute by supporting policy that accelerates sustainability progress, sharing technology and improving its own performance – actions which will close the trust gap faced by business regarding its own performance record.”


Earlier this month, the UN announced that almost 7,000 companies have signed up to its Global Compact. This requires businesses to align their strategies and operations with 10 principles covering human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and then disclose progress.


Business efforts to advance corporate sustainability will be in the spotlight at this June’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20.