1. In October 2011 we published a report on the preparations
for the forthcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development in
Rio de Janeiro in June 2012the 'Rio+20' Summit.
The Summit comes 20 years after the original 1992 Rio Earth Summit,
and 25 years after the Brundtland Commission's report which established
the concept of sustainable development in terms of its three pillarseconomic,
social and environmentaland inter-generational equity.
2. The objectives set by the UN for the Rio+20 Summit
To secure renewed political commitment for sustainable
development, assessing the progress to date and remaining gaps
in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on
sustainable development, and addressing new and emerging challenges.
It will have two main themes:
- 'a green economy in the context
of sustainable development and poverty eradication'; and
- 'the institutional framework for sustainable
3. Our report in October examined the rate of global
progress on sustainable development, the building blocks needed
for a 'green economy' (green taxes, valuing environmental capital,
social policies and the role of the private sector), prospective
reforms of the UN organisational structures for sustainable development
and the Government's approach for securing beneficial outcomes
at the Summit. The main points in our report were:
- The need for action was even
more pressing and more urgent than it was in 1992. Approaching
environmental 'planetary boundaries' will limit our ability to
use natural resources to support further growth and already require
immediate action to avoid further damage to our planet.
- The Government should support work aimed at launching
new Sustainability Goals and Consumption Goals at Rio+20, to reflect
the sustainable development and sustainable consumption contributions
that the UK and other developed countries in particular now need
- The 'green economy' principles agreed at Rio
should ensure a fair economy.
- Private sector businesses had a vital role in
the green economy, some of which would need to be incentivised
to act sustainably through taxation and ecosystem valuation and
a mandatory regime for companies' sustainability reporting.
- Rio+20 needed to be a starting point for important
new initiatives, rather than a sign-off point, with the Government
focusing its input to the Summit on areas that it could particularly
champion, such as ecosystems valuation or sustainable development
- The Government should resist any moves by countries
at the Summit to use the current difficult fiscal situation to
dilute the extent of the environmental and social aspects of the
- Engagement and discussion amongst civil society
groups, businesses and individuals was needed for a renewed commitment
to sustainable development and a wider understanding of the changes
that that entailed for all countries and communities. The Government
needed to engage the public more generally, and in imaginative
ways, to get support for the measures that need to be agreed at
Rio and for their urgency. That could include using creative events
and media, music and the arts, to complement more traditional
communication, as illustrated by the 'Hard Rain Project' presentation;
- Such engagement with organisations, businesses
and the public needed to be a process, rather than a one-off discussion
at the Summit, beginning straight away and extending beyond the
Summit in June. Two decades after the original Summit, a new generation
needed to be enthused about the need for action and the difference
that they could make.
- If the Prime Minister attended the Summit, it
would demonstrate the Government's commitment to the aims of Rio+20,
within the UK and beyond. A 'special envoy' could be appointed
charged with bringing together Government thinking on the Rio+20
agenda from across departments, but also acting as a focal point
for discussion with and between civil society groups, schools,
businesses and individuals.
4. Since our report, there have been a number of
- The publication in January
2012 of a UN 'zero-draft' of an outcomes document, The future
we want, to be agreed at the Summit.
- The publication of the report of the High-Level
Panel on Global Sustainability, Resilient people, resilient
planet: A future worth choosing, which had been charged by
the UN Secretary General with formulating a 'new development paradigm'
to inform the deliberations at Rio+20.
- A presentation of the Government's perspectives
on Rio+20 by the Secretary of State for the Environment at the
Guildhall, London, in February 2012.
- A debate in the House on our October 2011 report
on preparations for the Summit.
- The announcement in March 2012 that the Deputy
Prime Minister (rather than the Prime Minister) would attend the
Summit in June.
- A meeting of chairmen of EU member state parliamentary
environment committees, organised by the Danish government as
part of its Presidency of the EU. Our Committee was represented
by our chair. The presentations emphasised the need for the EU
to show leadership to secure a paradigm change from the Rio+20
negotiations, the urgency of follow up actions being matched
by delivery of policies on resource efficiency and sustainable
energy for all, and the important contribution needed by business.
The meeting also discussed a draft international protocol from
GLOBE for legislators to discuss and agree at a conference before
Rio+20: To commit to strengthen the legislative response
in parliaments to deliver the Rio objectives, and to develop a
plan to more effectively scrutinise individual governments on
their Rio commitments and their progress in the delivery of Rio+20
5. We also published on 21 May our report on a Green
Economy, in which
we concluded that:
Current patterns of growth and development are unsustainable
and much focus has been placed on developing a green economy to
address this challengeprotecting the planet, creating jobs
and securing energy supplies. International efforts to deliver
a step-change on this agenda will be taken forward by the Rio+20
Summit, where world leaders will come together to set out a clear
vision of the green economy and agree a framework for action.
For the Government to be a credible voice at the Summit, it must
ensure that it has put in place a strong domestic policy framework
to drive the transition to a green economy in the UK.
The Government has set out its approach on a green
economy in Enabling the Transition to a Green Economy. However,
it is a missed opportunity to show global leadership on this area
at a crucial time in the run-up to the Rio Summit. It does not
set out a new, comprehensive or strategic approach for a green
economy with targets to assess progress, but rather lists existing
policies. It lacks a long-term vision of a green economy, and
it is not the 'roadmap' to get us there that was earlier promised.
The definition adopted by the Government crucially does not address
all three interdependent pillars of sustainable development, including
the social pillar, well-being and environmental limits.
6. We intend to examine the outcomes of the Rio+20
Summit, and the action that the UK will need to take, later in
the year. That will provide an opportunity to review the way the
Government approached the Summit and its role there. Key issues
to be examined will be the extent to which the Government shows
leadership at the Summit on the green economy agenda, and subsequently
whether the Government revisits Enabling the Transition
to reflect the outcomes of the Summit.
1 Preparations for the Rio+20 Summit, Eighth
Report of Session 2010-12, HC 1026. Back
UN Rio+20 website (http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/) Back
UN Resolution 64/236. Back
http://www.un.org/gsp/ ; UN Secretary-General's High-Level
Panel on Global Sustainability, Terms of reference, UN (http://www.un.org/wcm/content/site/climatechange/pages/gsp) Back
HC Deb 28 February 2012, c221-261 Back
Speech by Deputy Prime Minister at Liberal Democrat spring conference,
11 March 2012 Back
Twelfth Report of Session 2010-12, A Green Economy, HC
A Green Economy, HC 1025, op cit, Summary Back