Ahead of the Rio+20 Conference on sustainable Development, Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC) has conducted a business poll to examine global threats and challenges facing business in driving sustainable development.

The survey has revealed an increasing awareness of environmental issues amongst top-level CEOs. The polled-CEOs identified energy affordability, equality and social inclusion, sustainable and resource scarcity as the top three concerns facing businesses in 2012.

Moving out to 2022, all CEO concerns over the issues identified intensified, especially over climate change. With regard to energy affordability, 87 percent of respondents believe cheap energy is an important factor to their business. This number rises to almost 90 percent by 2020, with the proportion of CEOs who cite affordable energy as ‘very important’ increasing significantly, from 39 percent in 2012 to 60 percent in 2022.

Malcolm Preston, Global Lead, Sustainability and Climate Change, PwC said: “Global threats and challenges of sustainability are now clearly on the radar screen for multinational companies. Affordable energy, resource scarcity, water stress and climate change are all expected to become bigger, more pressing issues for corporate strategy within the next ten years, and that is a shorter window than the time frame for most major investments.”

“There’s a perception that there is a lack of understanding in the corporate sector about Sustainable Development, yet the issues of water, energy, resource scarcity are very real issues.”

The PwC poll also revealed a high level of scepticism about the ability of Rio+20 to help improve the situation, just half of those polled expected any progress to made at all on the issues being discussed. Around 80 percent of CEOs agreed that stringent private sector pledges such as emission reduction targets or taxation would be a far more effective agent for change for the private sector.  A quarter of CEOs polled believed that global goals and targets are an ineffective way of enforcing behaviour change.  

Preston, added: “The Rio + 20 summit can shape the vision and drive the ambition. But business has more confidence in 'bottom up' driven actions than it has in 'top down'. Over 90 percent of CEOs signalled that regional or national regulation and fiscal measures, along with private sector investment, are the most effective mechanisms for driving investment and change.”

“There is a sense that business can and will respond on sustainability and climate change. Big business gets the strategic importance of sustainable development and consumption, and many major players are already taking action in their businesses and along their supply chain. But the private sector is looking for more ambition and more leadership from Governments and policymakers.”