Big firms should report environmental impact : UN panel

UNITED NATIONS/OSLO Thu May 30, 2013 3:02pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS/OSLO (Reuters) - Big companies should report their impact on the environment in addition to their earnings under a U.N. plan to boost economic growth and ease poverty by 2030, according to recommendations by a panel of world leaders released on Thursday.

Slowing climate change and protecting the environment should be at the core of global development, said the 27-member panel, led by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

"There is one trend - climate change - which will determine whether or not we can deliver on our ambitions," the report said. "Without environmental sustainability, we cannot end poverty; the poor are too deeply affected by natural disasters and too dependent on deteriorating oceans, forests and soils."

The report - handed over by Yudhoyono to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York - recommends 12 so-called illustrative goals to replace eight Millennium Development Goals that were aimed at reducing poverty and hunger. Those goals were agreed to by world leaders in 2000 and expire in 2015.

The goals recommended on Thursday will be the basis for a two-year debate among the 193 U.N. members on a development agenda for 2015 - 2030. Like the Millennium Development Goals, which included a bid to halve extreme poverty, any specific new numeric targets will be non-binding.

Among the recommendations, the 69-page report says large businesses should be obliged to report social and environmental impacts, in addition to their financial accounts. About a quarter of businesses now make environmental reports, it said.

"We suggest that a mandatory ‘comply or explain' regime be phased in for all companies with a market capitalization above $100 million equivalent," the report said. "The same principle should apply to governments. National accounting for social and environmental effects should be mainstreamed by 2030."

Last year, Britain became the first country to force major companies to publish their greenhouse gas emissions in corporate earnings reports. The requirement applies to 1,800 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.

'GRAVE PRESSURES'

Jim Leape, director general of the World Wide Fund for Nature, said this was a welcome change from the earlier goals which he said had barely addressed the environment.

"Nearly fifteen years on, there is finally recognition that poverty cannot be eradicated and the well-being of people across the globe cannot be secured without addressing the grave pressures on the environment," he said in a statement.

The U.N. panel proposes goals for 2030 such as doubling the share of renewable energy in consumption, phasing out harmful fossil fuel subsidies and doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency from buildings to transport.

About 13 percent of the world's primary energy comes from renewables such as hydropower, wood, solar and wind power, according to the International Energy Agency.

The panel said it was not presenting a "prescriptive blueprint ... The suggested targets are ones for humanity to aspire to. They would not be legally binding, but they can be monitored closely," the report said.

The United Nations had hoped to set specific 2030 goals in areas such as water, food security and energy at a summit last year in Rio de Janeiro. But governments fell short, distracted by the global financial crisis and unrest in the Middle East.

"We envision a world in 2030 where extreme poverty and hunger has been ended. We envision a world where no person has been left behind, and where there are schools, clinics, and clean water for all," the panel said.

The report said the Millennium Development Goals had made a lot of progress in reducing poverty. Even so, the 1.2 billion poorest people account for only 1 per cent of world consumption while the billion richest consume 72 per cent, it said.

And it pointed to threats, including climate change. "We must act now to slow the alarming pace of climate change and environmental degradation, which pose unprecedented threats to humanity."

The full report can be seen at: www.post2015hlp.org

(Additional reporting by Nina Chestney in London Editing by Mark Heinrich and Vicki Allen)