Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future

Rio: greenbacks for green

Twenty years ago, the most influential heads of state met in Rio de Janeiro. They talked of the urgent need for sustainable development and pioneered plans to protect the world from imminent ecological disaster. Since then, the lofty green dreams have all but fallen apart: human consumption of natural resources has doubled and carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 40 percent.

Enter Rio+20. In June 2012 at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development conference, 40,000 hopeful people gathered to discuss growing environmental concerns. But disappointment swiftly followed, as the summit wrapped up without any groundbreaking agreements.

Despite that, a significant sum of money has been committed to funding green projects. The UN claims that governments, NGOs and the private sector have pledged roughly US$513 billion toward worthwhile objectives: planting 100 million trees, recycling 800,000 tons of plastic per year and empowering 5,000 women who are spearheading green businesses in Africa.

Among the big spenders, Brazil committed US$2.4 billion to ensure all of its citizens would be connected to the nation’s power grid by 2014, and South Korea has pledged to spend more than US$5 billion to spur environmentally conscious growth among developing countries. According to the Jakarta Post, South Korea aims to direct 30 percent of its total Office of Development Aid expenditures toward green aid programmes by 2020.

A large chunk of the committed funds was from the private sector. Merely a handful of corporate representatives attended the summit in 1992, while nearly 1,500 participated in 2012. As part of what The Guardian has dubbed “green economics,” corporations pledged US$50 billion to public-private partnerships. One such partnership is the Asian Development Bank, which plans to spend US$175 billion over the next decade on "sustainable" transportation systems, including railways, bus networks and fuel-efficient vehicles. – Kate Springer