Sustainable Development and Corporate Social Responsibility

12 May 2012

By Christophe Bahuet, Country Director
2012 Liangjiang Forum [Session 1], Chongqing

12 May 2012, 10:10-10:30

Distinguished Mayor Huang Qifan,
ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. It is my pleasure to be able to join you at 2012 Liangjiang Forum. On behalf of UNDP, may I begin by thanking the Chongqing Municipality for the invitation to speak at this high level international forum, and for the opportunity for UNDP to continue its association with the Liangjiang New Area.

The title and the text presenting this session in the Forum programme attracts attention and interest in many respects.

First and foremost is the mention of the “sustainability” aspect of development, which is a concept of highest importance to the United Nations Development Programme. At the root of this concept is the recognition that development is not equal to GDP growth. Development is different from GDP growth; it is much more than economic growth. Economic development is important. However, it must be combined with two other dimensions. One is human development, to reduce poverty and inequalities, to improve education and health for people to have a better life. The other is sustainable development; development that is both forward thinking and long–term, and that will benefit future generations. As early as the 1990’s, Governments and the people of the world came to realise that sustainable development could not be taken for granted, and that it may well be under serious threat. This global recognition may be traced back to 1992, as a milestone year in which the UN organised the first conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the participation of many State and Government leaders. A second global milestone was the realisation that climate change as a result of human activity was actually happening and was a growing threat.

At the country level, the admission of the need to sustain development also came in stages. First came evidence that development was having an adverse impact on the environment, resulting in serious air and water pollution among other things. This was followed by the realisation that natural resources were being overused and depleted.

In this context, emphasizing the importance of sustainable development in this session, as the organisers have done so, is most appropriate.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me now read the first sentence announcing the session: “Chongqing, China and the entire planet are faced with many rapid changes over the coming decades”. How true this is! Not only in terms of rapid changes like climate change, but also because as this sentence points out, these changes are affecting all levels, global, regional, national and local – the world, Asia, China and Chongqing – with a very high degree of interdependence.

At the same time, solutions can also be found at all levels. Challenges will only be overcome by the addition of commitments and actions at all levels, from global to local, and by all actors and stakeholders, from public to private. This is how one can approach the answer to the two main questions being asked for this session, namely “how to cope with global challenges,” and “how can China make greater contributions to the sustainable development of the world as a responsible developing country?”

Twenty years after the first Conference on Sustainable Development I referred to earlier, world leaders will meet next month, again in Rio, for the second UN conference on Sustainable Development. This UN conference, known “Rio+20”, will be  an opportunity to take stock of what has happened, or not happened in the world during the last two decades in promoting sustainable development. Looking forward, the conference will also provide a timely and historic opportunity for the world’s leaders and people to bring about real changes by setting a new development agenda and galvanizing progress towards a sustainable future.

At Rio+20, governments as well as the business sector and civil society organizations are expected to launch actions to improve people’s lives and well-being.  They will announce a large number of new commitments and initiatives for sustainable development that will make a measurable difference in improving people’s lives and in protecting an environment that will continue to support growth for future generations. A new agenda for sustainable development as well as an agreement in global climate change negotiations are essential to overcome the challenges that we face.

At the national level, changing development models and shifting from an exclusively growth-led approach to one that balances economic, social and environmental dimensions, moving towards a less energy intensive, low carbon and green economy is essential. This is both the challenge and the ambition of China, through the 12th Five Year Plan. If implemented successfully the Plan will contribute to changing China’s development model which, given the size of the country, will have with a positive global impact.

At the local level, a change in development models will also be required, particularly in urban areas. This is an issue of specific interest to UNDP, as our 2012 National Human Development Report will analyze as it seeks to clear a path towards sustainable and livable cities in China.

These changes require active contributions from all actors and stakeholders. An essential one among them is the business community. This brings us back to the title of the session and its essential second concept, which is corporate responsibility.

China’s economic development and Liangjiang development would not have been possible without the emergence of the private sector, as the result of reforms. Business has been an engine of development, increasingly pushing technological boundaries, providing goods and services, and creating jobs that reduce poverty for millions of people. Because it has become such an important actor, sustainable development will not happen in China or the world, without the contribution of the private sector. This is precisely what we mean when we use the term corporate social responsibility

To succeed in expanding in China and in the world, Chinese companies will need to seize business opportunities, while at the same time addressing environmental and social challenges that help to secure sustainable development for all.

While some still find it challenging to integrate sustainability within business operations, a growing number of companies in China embrace the objective of sustainable development and the principles of corporate social responsibility. In 2006, the number of Chinese companies issuing CSR reports stood at just 18. That figure now stands at over 600. The reason for this growth is a realisation that companies that pursue sustainable business models can expect to generate benefits from stronger branding and public trust, improved employee health and enhanced access to markets.

Chongqing has accelerated its development of an open economic system. With the construction of the Eurasia Land Bride providing rail links to Europe, it is set to become an important frontier for trade and investment in China’s inland regions. Plans to build on reforms and opening-up along with the prospect of increases in domestic and international investment will provide further opportunities for the regions people and businesses to contribute to sustainable development and corporate responsibility.

UNDP recognises that businesses play an essential role in all aspects of development. We therefore work extensively with companies to build innovative partnerships between the public and private sector and develop projects with private sector involvement that support inclusive growth and development, that address inequalities between men and women, that protect the environment for future generations, and that share a common purpose of improving the lives of poor and vulnerable groups.

I look forward to working with many of you towards these noble objectives and wish you a highly successful 2012 Liangjiang Forum.

Thank you.