The external environmental costs of doing business are doubling every 14 years, and businesses would have earned 41% less revenue in 2010 if they had to pay the full costs of all the natural resources they used, according to Yvo de Boer, former head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Addressing over 2,000 delegates on the second day of the Planet Under Pressure conference in London on Tuesday, de Boer asked industrialists around the world to “assess environmental risks and how to handle them; look beyond the next quarter. Sustainability makes sense for responsible investment.” The consulting firm KPMG, for which de Boer is now the climate change adviser, has recently published a detailed report on building business values in a changing world.

“Decoupling human development from resource use and resource decline is the main challenge of our time,” de Boer said, while lamenting, “many politicians are behaving as if they are imprisoned by their own constituencies.”

This inertia is worrying most scientists very much, as was clear during this four-day conference that has become the largest gathering of physical and social scientists in this area in recent years. The conference has been co-organised by the International Geosphere Biosphere ProgrammeDiversitasInternational Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental ChangeWorld Climate Research ProgrammeEarth System Science Partnership and the International Council for Science (ICSU).

On Tuesday, ICSU announced the establishment of a global platform called Future Earth – research for global sustainability. The organisers say it “will provide a cutting-edge platform to coordinate scientific research which can respond to the most critical social and environmental challenges of the 21st century at global and regional levels.” Yuan T. Lee, Nobel prize winner for chemistry and ICSU president, said “unifying the different efforts through this new broad partnership will provide the step-change needed in international research coordination to face the challenges posed by global environmental change.”

Organisations joining the ICSU to form the research platform are International Social Science Council, the Belmont Forum of funding agencies, UNEPUNESCO and UN University, with the World Meteorological Organisation as an observer.

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