Ladies and Gentlemen,
40 years ago, in 1972, the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment took place in Stockholm, Sweden. The Stockholm Conference in 1972 was truly a historical meeting, putting global environmental and sustainability problems on the political agenda. As you are all well aware, it was followed by other global conferences in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and Johannesburg in 2002. And now, Rio is once again at the centre of the world's attention as host for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
The UN Global Compact and the Rio+20 Secretariat have put together business leaders, researchers, civil society and political decision makers at the Corporate Sustainability Forum. The issues that we are here to discuss are vital not only to our own future, but to the future of generations to come.
Since 1972, many countries including Sweden have started to solve the most urgent local problems. Air quality in cities has improved, as well as the quality of many rivers and lakes. The global society has also been able to successfully deal with the increasing threat against the ozone layer.
However, there are still many challenges to be dealt with, for instance how to supply energy and food to a growing population in the world, and how to deal with threats to biodiversity and in the long run the stability of our climate.
We must accept reality as a starting point, but be smart enough to turn problems into opportunities.
And it is here that business and the private sector must enter the picture. Because if it is something that business is not only good at but excels at — it is turning problems into opportunities by providing solutions. The private sector is focused on innovation and change, and they — you — are key in the transformation to a more sustainable society. The private sector has a special interest in looking ahead, grasping new ideas and innovations, and adapting to changing realities.
Business and investments are also indispensable in spurring the sustainable and inclusive growth needed to fight and one day even eradicate poverty. Business' key contribution to poverty reduction is the creation of more and better jobs. A job is a starting point for change, allowing people to make choices, to take an active part in their societies and to be strengthened by the dignity of being able to provide for oneself and one's family.
However, there is still much to be done to better leverage the initiative, expertise and resources of the business sector in meeting the challenges for sustainable development.
The UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban-Ki Moon, and the UN Global Compact should be commended for their leadership and advocacy role both in highlighting the importance of mainstreaming universal principles into the daily operations of businesses as well as work to catalyse actions in support of broader UN goals , including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
By advancing responsible business practices companies can become part of the solution to the challenges of globalisation.
There is a great potential for business to become even stronger engines in the process of creating a sustainable society.
You have come from all over the world, from countries at different stages of development. All of you represent different stakeholder groups. You all carry with you crucial knowledge on how to identify the challenges that we are facing, as we work towards environmental, social and economic sustainability. I look forward to learn from you and listen to your good examples. We all need to put forward and underline the benefits of action.
International perspectives and cooperation are necessary to achieve global sustainable development. Working towards this goal, in partnership with the private sector is key.
I would like to conclude by quoting from the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, agreed in Stockholm in 1972: "In our time, man's capability to transform his surroundings, if used wisely, can bring to all people the benefits of development and the opportunity to enhance the quality of life."
This is my belief and I am sure that you all agree with me.