In Los Cabos, even more than at previous summits, the business community played a very active role.  CEOs and other business leaders held their own summit, the B20, meeting with many of the G20 leaders. The private sector put forward an agenda to spur growth by improving access to capital, rolling back trade and investment protectionism, and protecting intellectual property rights, among other measures. Via the International Chamber of Commerce, business also unveiled a scorecard to hold G20 leaders accountable for living up to their pledges (an initiative that was actually welcomed by a number of government leaders).
In short, while the ultimate form and scope of business input to the G20 going forward remains to be determined, Mexico set a clear precedent that private-sector views should be sought out and can be successfully integrated into the summit process. This is important, because the full cooperation from the business community is essential to implement and follow up on decisions made by G20 leaders.
The results were a bit more mixed at Rio+20. As the summit wrapped up, the blame game began, with environmental activists and trade unions dismissing the outcomes as inadequate and not ambitious enough. But this ignores the extraordinary effort by Brazil to lead the conference to a resolution despite an economic downturn and strong political headwinds.
The naysayers also overlook the vast participation, pledges and funding to promote sustainability brought to Rio by non-governmental and public-sector players. The UN reckons those pledges amount to half a trillion dollars. Given the scale of global challenges, more might be needed, but this is a significant starting point.
As in Los Cabos, business turned out in larger numbers than at any previous UN gathering. Did we get everything we wanted? Far from it. Here is our scorecard on the results:
First, what gets measured gets managed, and we were pleased that UN members agreed to develop better metrics and indicators to gauge progress toward a greener economy. But companies still want a commitment to use trade as a “carrot” rather than a “stick,” to keep markets open and encourage developing countries to realize the positive side of moving to more sustainable models of development.
Second, business requires predictability in order to plan and invest for the future. While the final outcome document in Rio recognized the need to square economic and environmental policies, and the importance of R&D, it was skewed to environmental, rather than economic, approaches. The Rio+20 process clearly would have benefited from greater participation from economic, commerce and trade ministries.
Finally, we were disappointed that the Rio+20 outcomes almost completely ignore the need for business to be involved in the process of building a greener economy. In the declaration’s section on jobs and employment, the private sector is mentioned exactly once. Still, industry groups were involved as observers in Rio, held four days of business meetings parallel with the negotiations, and recognized companies that are working successfully to help implement the Millennium Development Goals.
In sum, we could have used a little more of that “Los Cabos” spirit in the halls at Rio Centro, the enormous conference center where Rio+20 took place. While we are confident that the private sector can play an important role going forward, we need a seat at the table.  So far we are still waiting.
If we truly want to re-launch growth and lay the groundwork for a better, more sustainable world for our children, the private sector needs to play a major role. Overall, the G20 and Rio+20 summits underscored the importance of having a manageable process and reasonable expectations going into major summits. We would say that Los Cabos passed that test, while Rio didn’t even finish it.

Robinson and Kennedy are, respectively, president and CEO and vice president for environment and energy with the United States Council for International Business (, which represents U.S. industry views on global matters.