HC 172 Outcomes of the UN Rio +20 Earth Summit

Written evidence submitted by WWF-UK

i. Assessing the outcome – how well the Rio declaration matched what was needed

2. Rio+20 provided an opportunity to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing the global community. With a wide range of side events surrounding the conference itself, and parallel forums such as the Peoples’ Summit and the Globe International World Summit of Legislators, Rio+20 brought together perspectives and opinions from across the world. However, considered overall, and despite some useful steps forward, the Conference failed to deliver the systemic solutions needed to effectively address interlinked global social, environmental and economic problems. The outcome document is a stark reminder of our collective failure to turn the scientific imperative into urgent action that will ensure a future in which both people and nature thrive.

3. With 20 years since the original Earth Summit in Rio, and 40 years since the UN Environment Conference in Stockholm, a great deal has been achieved through international agreements, and the processes established by them: damage to the ozone layer and the problem of acid rain have both been effectively dealt with; more than 13% of the Earth’s terrestrial land area is protected under the World Commission on Protected Areas; and the problems of climate change and water resource scarcity are high on both political and corporate agendas.

4. Yet over this period most of the threats to global environmental sustainability have deepened. Global average temperature and greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase, while biodiversity loss and ecosystem damage have accelerated. Rio+20 should have been an opportunity to make a transformational shift to build ‘green’ economies which ensure humanity’s ecological footprint is sustainable; maintain and enhance natural capital, biodiversity and ecosystem services; and improve human wellbeing and social equity. Unfortunately, the international political will to support this shift is currently absent.

5. A major brake on progress at Rio+20 was the view that sustainable development cannot be addressed until the current global economic crisis is solved [1] . However, the sustainability issues facing the world underpin and influence global economic wellbeing; our economy is rooted in, and relies on, the natural world. The Stern Report on the economics of climate change showed that environmental deterioration damages economies, and provided a financial estimate for that damage [2] . Similarly, the TEEB ("The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity") report highlighted the economic costs of ecosystem and biodiversity decline [3] . We needed at Rio to build recognition that a "green economy" which is economically and environmentally sound is now vital to our future wellbeing and prosperity.

ii. The role played by the UK Government in the run up to, and during, the Summit.

On the international level

6. WWF-UK believes that the UK Government should be credited for their identification of the key substantive issues relevant to the conference agenda in the run up to Rio+20. The UK Government recognised the nexus of food, water and energy security is important for addressing sustainable development challenges. The UK Government also recognised the important role of the private sector in realising sustainable green economies, and showed consistent support to the initiative on corporate sustainability reporting. The UK Government also recognised the need for an integrated and coherent process for identifying SDGs alongside the review of the post-2015 development framework. In light of the Rio+20 outcome on sustainable development goals, and the role of the Prime Minister as co-chair of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the post-2015 development framework, WWF-UK looks to the Government to continue to emphasise the need for integration and coherence between these processes in order to ensure environmental sustainability is at the core of this framework.

7. The UK Government designated the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as the lead department for Rio+20 and we understand that working groups of representatives from the Department for International Development, Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office were also convened. However, WWF became increasingly alarmed at the apparent lack of progress in cross-departmental working in the run-up to Rio+20. We were not aware that the cross departmental meetings of Directors was effective in building support across Whitehall for the UK’s position at Rio, and we were unable to meet with Departmental Directors other than within Defra and DFID. Furthermore, the sustainable development agenda, and particularly the green economy element, cannot be regarded simply as a matter for ministries of environment, energy, and development; it also requires the involvement and integrated working of ministries of economics, finance, and business. An example of the missed opportunity from poor cross-Whitehall coordination was the lack of integration between Rio+20 and the G20 Summit held in Los Cabos, Mexico. Despite considerable overlap between agendas, it was not apparent that the UK Government had a coordinated strategy – in the run up to, or at the time of these meetings – which could build momentum from Los Cabos to help achieve the transformational change required from Rio+20. The involvement of the Cabinet Office increased with the Deputy Prime Minister as Head of Delegation, but this was rather late in the day.

8. Rio+20 was an opportunity for the UK Government to demonstrate its leadership on sustainable development in two ways; firstly through highlighting and sharing lessons from actions taken to build a sustainable green economy, and secondly through presenting and negotiating new initiatives that would help build sustainable development at the international scale. On the first of these, the UK has a positive and constructive story to tell, not least on initiatives such as the Climate Change Act, the establishment of a Green Investment Bank, and the National Ecosystem Assessment. On the second, we appreciate the commitment of the Government to acknowledging the value of nature to the economy and encouraging other countries to do the same. We welcomed proposals to reduce inefficient and harmful subsidies. However we have yet to see these proposals put into effective operation within the UK.

9. WWF-UK welcomed the appointment of the Deputy Prime Minister as head of the UK delegation, in recognition of the overview of Government policy and the constructive role that he played at the 2010 MDG Review Summit. However, the Government should appreciate that sending the Deputy Prime Minister rather than the Prime Minister will inevitably lead some to conclude that the UK did not attach a sufficient level of political importance to the Rio+20 process.

10. In May 2012 David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of WWF-UK, was invited to join the UK Government delegation to Rio+20, along with the Chief Executives of Oxfam, Unilever, and Aviva Investors. We welcomed this invitation as an opportunity to engage with the Government on the substantive issues under negotiation. We also appreciated the invitation as recognition for the inclusion of civil society in the Summit. On balance, WWF-UK felt that our role in the delegation for Rio+20 was a missed opportunity. This was in large part due to the unexpectedly early closure of the negotiating text, which meant that there was little of substance on which to engage during the final High Level Segment. The relatively short notice of the invitation to join the delegation might also be considered as a missed opportunity – for example, WWF and other NGO representatives could have played a more active role in the final ‘PrepCom’ that took place in Rio de Janeiro immediately before the Summit itself.

11. WWF appreciates the usefulness of regular briefings between senior negotiators and the wider constituency of UK-based NGOs during the Rio+20 conference. In addition to providing a valuable insight into the negotiations, this engagement with NGOs and business allowed the delegation to ascertain the general level of support for its policies and positions. WWF would warmly welcome this level of constructive engagement between official delegations and UK civil society at other multilateral forums.

12. WWF-UK recognises the determination of the European Commission to help make Rio+20 a success and the high level of ambition held by many EU states for the Conference. However, it is clear that the emerging economies now have a major influence on the international agenda on sustainable development and that this has been at the expense of the relative influence of the EU. Effective decision-making and ambitious action at the global level will only come with continued effort and leadership by example from high income countries seeking to work collaboratively, build trust and reach compromises.

On a domestic level

13. As acknowledged by Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the first Globe World Summit of Legislators just ahead of the Rio +20 Conference, domestic legislation opens the political space for international agreement and facilitates greater ambition at the multilateral level. The UK paved the way in 2008 with its domestic Climate Change Act, and has now been followed by Mexico, which adopted comprehensive climate legislation; South Korean legislation has introduced emissions trading; and China is consulting on draft climate legislation for introduction in 2015. The UK Government should ensure that it maintains legitimacy in the global arena by keeping its commitment to action on the domestic front. For instance, transport policy decisions need to take into consideration the UK’s obligations to meet CO2 emissions targets.

14. WWF-UK is disappointed that the UK Government failed to endorse the establishment of a UK Commissioner for Future Generations, which would have enabled the UK to address the long-term consequences of policies. An institution of government which has the responsibility for the interests of future generations would help balance the political short-termism that so often drives unsustainable development. On the international level, we recommend that the UK government adopts an inclusive and participatory approach in its preparation of input to the UN Secretary General’s report on intergenerational solidarity and future generations (paragraph 86 of ‘The Future We Want’), and commits to fostering continued public awareness for this agenda.

15. WWF-UK remains concerned that, following the abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission, the Sustainable Development Programme Board no longer meets [4] . At present there appears to be little co-ordination on sustainable development across Whitehall. The Government’s "Vision for Sustainable Development" published in 2011 is failing to mainstream sustainable development within the Treasury, which continues to resist measures that would put the economy on a sustainable footing. The Government needs to address this problem to ensure it is not a barrier to effective follow up to Rio+20. A ministerial portfolio with specific responsibilities in relation to sustainability and future generations is recommended.

16. Furthermore, the UK could lead by example in championing recognition of environmental limits, illustrating this through the concept of ‘Planetary Boundaries’. Whilst climate change has become a major focus for the international community, it is only one of the environmental limits that are being crossed. A 2009 paper on ‘Planetary boundaries’ [5] suggests that human pressures on the planet have reached dangerous levels. Nine planetary boundaries are identified: climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol loading, biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorus), global freshwater use, land use change, rate of biodiversity loss, and chemical pollution. The authors suggest that already three boundaries have been transgressed (climate change, the rate of biodiversity loss, and biogeochemical flows). We need global leadership on these issues and ask the Government to examine how the concept of planetary boundaries can be built into policy formation and decision-making.

17. The UK Government used Rio+20 to showcase its thinking on valuation of ecosystem services, as outlined in the UK National Ecosystem Assessment. This work highlights that natural assets underpin economic activity to audiences beyond those traditionally concerned with environmental issues and the need therefore for these considerations to be fully incorporated into economic accounting at the national, sub-national and regional levels.

18. WWF-UK welcomed the Deputy Prime Minister’s announcement that the UK intended to accede to the UN Watercourses Convention – an important piece of international legislation which will help ensure the world’s 263 international boundary crossing rivers are protected and peacefully shared. We now understand that the UK Government may not take action before late 2013. 35 nations need to accede for the Convention to come into force and therefore we urge the Government to accede to the Convention as soon as possible. We emphasise that we regret that the announcement was made and then welcomed by WWF in our press release [6] - and then real action has been delayed so long.

 iii. What role the UK Government should now play internationally in taking forward the Rio agenda, including on the Sustainable Development Goals and through the Prime Minister’s co-chairmanship of the UN Secretary-General’s ‘High-level Panel of Eminent Persons to advise on planning for post-2015’.

19. The UK Government should ensure that sustainable development is built into cross Whitehall policies and programmes by providing a coherent, consolidated plan of implementation of the Rio+20 outcomes. This plan needs to engage with other countries seeking to build shared knowledge, experience and practice. Although the sustainable development goals will be a key part in this, the agenda is much broader and must incorporate the full post-2015 development agenda. We re-emphasise that many global environmental problems need urgent and immediate action. If we are to avoid catastrophic environmental destruction, we must address climate change, biodiversity loss, and deforestation now. These actions cannot await the creation of global development framework in three years’ time.

20. The UK Government will need to play a positive and energetic role in the 30-member committee on mobilising finance for sustainable development (paragraph 255 and 256 of ‘The Future We Want’). In particular, if the UK Government remains unwilling to support the implementation of a Financial Transaction Tax, WWF-UK calls for proposals which will raise the necessary funds through alternative mechanisms, such as levies on aircraft and shipping ‘bunker fuels’.

21. As an organisation concerned with both environmental and development outcomes, WWF-UK notes that environmental impacts are often overlooked or not prioritised. The environment has been and remains politically contentious in international politics and the development discourse. Environmental impact assessments are absent from the majority of decision-making processes, which are broadly dominated by economic interests. This is seen globally in both developed and developing countries, for example in relation to land tenure and concessions, mining, forests, and other natural resources. The Millennium Development Goals did not tackle patterns of unsustainable environmental management, often by powerful actors at the expense of poor and disenfranchised communities. Political leaders and decision-makers must ensure sustainable resource management and allocation is at the heart of the post 2015 framework, along with good governance, democratic participation, and upholding of human and social rights. The new framework should ensure the Rio agenda is an essential element in the post-2015 development framework.

22. The UK Government needs to ensure that the intergovernmental Open Working Group on sustainable development goals and the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on post-2015 are coherent, working towards one set of global overarching cross-thematic development goals. At present, there is considerable synergy for a post-2015 development framework built around the principles and values of sustainable development. We need to build coordinated support and action for the integration of the two processes. Without integration there will be unnecessary duplication, wasted resources, and loss of political momentum, as well as making it more difficult for civil society to engage in a constructive manner.

23. WWF-UK asks the Prime Minister to champion a new global framework which enshrines the principles of sustainability, equity and universality. We are conscious that the majority of the panel members come from the field of international aid and development, with a focus on economics. The Terms of Reference for the Panel task it to advise on a ‘bold yet practical’ agenda that has shared responsibilities for all countries. WWF-UK urges the Prime Minister to move beyond aid efficiency, to ensure that inequalities, human rights, climate change, sustainable development, and responsible private sector engagement are at the core of the Panel’s thinking.

24. The High Level Panel’s contribution to the post-2015 development framework needs to incorporate a systemic approach that tackles the root causes of inequality and inequity, both between and within countries. Poverty and environmental degradation do not happen by accident, but are symptomatic of structural inequalities, deficiencies in governance, accountability, and transparency. WWF-UK recommends that the Panel ensures that policy coherence for development (CPD) is integral to their thinking, to avoid falling into the trap of adopting the separate sectoral approach of the Millennium Development Goals.

25. The post-2015 development framework needs to be developed through a participatory, inclusive and responsive approach which includes those directly affected by poverty and injustice. There needs to be a particular focus on including those most marginalised such as disabled people. Therefore we need national-level consultations to be supported, and WWF-UK understands that the governments of Liberia and Indonesia have already commenced in-country consultations to better understand the experiences of people living in poverty. WWF-UK recommends that the UK Government carries out a similar consultation that extends beyond actors in the development sector to understand the impact of poverty and environmental degradation in a high-income country context.

iv. How well the UK Government’s policies and initiatives match the commitments and calls-for-action set out in ‘The Future We Want’ declaration, the areas in which the Government has more to do, and where the Government’s priorities should lie.

Corporate Sustainability Reporting

26. WWF-UK welcomes the Government’s commitment to introducing mandatory carbon reporting (MCR) for public companies, and looks forward to swift implementation. MCR should be extended to AIM-listed and private companies at the earliest possible opportunity in order to establish a level playing field for business and reach the numbers that are necessary to incentivise a shift to a green and vibrant economy.

27. The Government needs also to champion progress on broader sustainability reporting in line with the declaration issued at Rio+20 by the Aviva led coalition "towards a convention on corporate sustainability reporting at Rio+20".

Beyond GDP

28. The UK Government has supported efforts to move to assessments of development that go beyond measuring GDP, and we welcome the Prime Minister’s interest in assessing national wellbeing. The Government now has two separate but overlapping frameworks of indicators: the Office for National Statistics ‘Measuring National Wellbeing’, and Defra’s Sustainable Development Indicators. The establishment of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) is also a welcome step, and we now need to see how these assessments and indicators can be used and developed in a way which ensures sustainable development is the central organising principle for Government policies.

29. Although the Government has developed sets of indicators on sustainable development and wellbeing, these have not yet been integrated with the set of economic indicators used by the Treasury, for example in the Red Book. The Treasury’s indicators are currently clearly given priority, in contradiction to the Government’s commitment to sustainable development. Furthermore, there are no targets or commitments associated with the sustainable development and wellbeing frameworks, and it is unclear how they will influence policy making, if at all. It remains to be seen how the work of the NCC will influence cross Whitehall policies, especially economic and land use and infrastructure planning policies.

Sustainable production and consumption

30. The adoption of the 10-year framework on sustainable consumption and production was a positive outcome from Rio +20. This recognises that urgent action is needed to address unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, environmental sustainability, and particularly the impacts on biodiversity and conservation of natural resources. The UK Government now has a responsibility to promote fundamental changes in the way the UK public produces and consumes. A commitment to phase out harmful and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption and undermine sustainable development is a key requirement. The UK Government now needs to define and rationalise inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, including restructuring taxation and phasing out harmful subsidies to reflect their environmental impacts.

Planning

31. The National Policy Statements drawn up under the Planning Act 2008 have generally taken a "predict and provide" approach to the "need" for infrastructure and other development. It is important to put considerations of demand in the context of the supply of relevant resources, such as land and water, and the sustainability of that supply.

32. Given the importance of ecosystems and natural resources for the future of both the UK and global economy, the planning systems in the UK and elsewhere have an important role in the achievement of sustainable development. WWF-UK supports a planning system which promotes sustainability and safeguards the environment.

Climate change

33. The UK Climate Change Act remains an important institutional framework, and has had positive influence on climate policy internationally in countries such as Mexico, Australia and Denmark. WWF-UK welcomes the Government’s commitment to uphold the 4th Carbon Budget but has some concerns that Government policy in this area lacks coherence or sufficient ambition to deliver. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), in its latest report to Parliament, stated that the rate of emissions reductions needs to increase four-fold if we are to meet our climate change targets, and noted that across the board, ambition is missing [7] . The CCC highlighted a number of policies that need better implementation or finance, such as the Green Deal, measures to promote renewable energy, and sustainable transport. Unequivocally the CCC warns that a new "dash for gas" is incompatible with our carbon budgets and must be avoided.

Funding and finance

34. The Government has made welcome commitments on Overseas Development Assistance (0.7% of GNP by 2013), and climate finance for developing countries (£2.9 billion over the next three years). The Government needs now to look at new and innovative forms of climate finance such as from international aviation and shipping.

35. Domestically, the Green Investment Bank is an important innovation. The Government needs to ensure the Bank is allowed to borrow from capital markets, and that lending is restricted to investments that are compatible with delivering the UK’s carbon budgets.

Subsidy reform

36. The recent redefinition of "environmental taxation" excludes fuel duty, vehicle excise duty and air passenger duty. This is a retrograde step. The Government’s earlier commitment to increase the proportion of environmental taxation will now perversely be achieved even if taxes are reduced on carbon-intensive road and air transport. Aviation fuel remains excluded from VAT which constitutes a substantial fossil-fuel subsidy to the aviation industry.

Marine biodiversity

37. The section on oceans and seas in ‘The Future We Want’ are testament to the prominent place marine issues have on the international agenda. The UK Government must respect its obligations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), and play a constructive role in negotiations towards a legally binding agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources and biodiversity in waters beyond national jurisdiction. We need to act now to meet Aichi Target 11, to create 10% of marine and coastal areas that are effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.

38. The UK Government needs to support action to reform fisheries subsidies regimes, so as to maximise positive investments and to eliminate harmful subsidies both unilaterally and within the EU. WWF-UK looks to the UK Government to enact their commitment to protect and restore the health, productivity and resilience of oceans and marine ecosystems. This includes action to reduce marine debris, which can best be achieved through national processes with the participation of stakeholders, and to identify activities that are at odds with the ecosystem approach. Plans to address these activities should be developed and implemented to meet this objective by 2020. We need to develop jobs for communities dependent on the ocean which are environmentally sustainable.

v. What part greater informed public debate and wider engagement with the Rio issues needs to play.

39. The UK Government needs to adopt an approach to rebuilding the economy which brings together social, environmental and economic dimensions in a balanced and integrated way. It is disappointing to see that the UK Government’s economic strategy to stabilise public finances relies on relaxing planning regulations, further infrastructure developments and building more houses, rather than addressing the structural flaws within the economic system that are driving instability and vulnerability.

40. In the UK we need to encourage greater public engagement so that support can be built for ambitious action. Both education and advertising will play an important role in informed debate and broader engagement with sustainable development by the public. We need a clear message from the Government, politicians, and others that sustainability is fundamental to the ongoing wellbeing of people and nature, not an optional extra once economic problems have been solved. For instance the economic crisis cannot be solved without addressing issues of sustainability of natural resources.

41. Promoting economic recovery from recession without addressing these fundamental flaws will simply provide short-term solutions that contribute to further climate change, ecosystem decline, and resource scarcity. A key test of the Government’s commitment to the sustainable development agenda will be whether it truly embraces green economy solutions built on the principles of inclusion, equity, and environmental sustainability.

28 August 2012


[1] See WWF written evidence to the EAC inquiry on Preparations for the Rio+20 Summit (2011) http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmenvaud/1026/1026vw12.htm#n42

[2] http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/sternreview_index.htm

[3] EC (2008) The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity (TEEB): Interim Report http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/biodiversity/economics/pdf/teeb_report.pdf

[4] See WWF oral and written evidence to the EAC inquiry on Embedding sustainable development across Government (2011) WWF written evidence is from P Ev-46 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmenvaud/504/504.pd f

[5] Rockström, J, W Steffen, K Noone, Å Persson, F S Chapin, III, E Lambin, T M Lenton, M Scheffer, C Folke, H Schellnhuber, B Nykvist, C A De Wit, T Hughes, S van der Leeuw, H Rodhe, S Sörlin, P K Snyder, R Costanza, U Svedin, M Falkenmark, L Karlberg, R W Corell, V J Fabry, J Hansen, B Walker, D Liverman, K Richardson, P Crutzen, and J Foley. (2009) Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society 14(2): 32. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art32

[6] http://www.wwf.org.uk/what_we_do/press_centre/?unewsid=6049

[7] Climate Change Committee 2012, Meeting the Carbon Budgets – 2012 progress report to Parliament

Prepared 14th September 2012