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A New Generation of Sustainable Investment, Trade and Development

Sustainability wasn't always a hot theme, particularly in the world of finance. But looking at the new UNCTAD World Investment Report, that's quickly changing.

Every year, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) publishes the World Investment Report, which looks at "non-equity modes of international production and development." And in this year's report, the theme of sustainability was front and center.

Even though the Brundtland Commission defined the term "sustainability" in 1983, its principles had barely been integrated into the world of investment and enterprise development even a decade later. In 1992, representatives from 172 governments met in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio Summit, to discuss such pressing problems as climate change, toxic production systems, vehicle emissions and water scarcity. But the UNCTAD World Investment Report from the same year only mentioned the word "sustainable" four times.

Fast forward another ten years, to 2002. The surface of sustainability was still barely scratched, as the UNCTAD report only mentions the word "sustainable" eight times. Then last year, that number jumped to 62. And now, the recently released UNCTAD World Investment Report 2012 mentions "sustainable" a whopping 274 times. Of course, there is a strong connection between that and the fact that the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as "Rio+20" to honor its roots in the original Rio Summit, was held last month.

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