HC 172 Outcomes of the UN Rio +20 Earth Summit

Written evidence submitted by Christian Aid

Summary

· Christian Aid welcomes the inquiry, and the important work of the Environmental Audit Committee in ensuring the UK Government is held to account on its performance at the Rio +20 conference.

· We welcome the UK Government’s preparations for the conference, especially its cross-Whitehall engagement with civil society and other stakeholders.

· Overall the outcome of Rio+20 was disappointing in its lack of urgency to address the problems of climate change, resilience to disasters, unsustainable consumption and production and inequality of access to resources we face now and into the future.

· Nonetheless, Christian Aid welcomes some of the concrete and positive outcomes such as the Sustainable Development Goals and Corporate Sustainability Reporting. Of greatest importance is the actions governments, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders take from now on to deliver the Rio+20 legacy on these issues. We look forward to working with the UK government to develop both of these agendas.

· The UK government should focus on facilitating multi stakeholder consultation in the UK and internationally in order to make a more informed and legitimate contribution to the Post-2015 process including the SDGs.

· The UK’s announcement of mandatory reporting of carbon emissions by UK registered companies is very welcome. Christian Aid and its supporters have campaigned for 6 years for this outcome.

· A focus on disaster resilience in the Rio+20 outcome is encouraging, but will depend on actions and finance moving forwards from Rio+20 to see the results. We call on the UK government to be more pro-active at including disaster resilience on the post-2015 development framework.

· We are disappointed, however, at the UK and the wider Rio+20 conference’s response to the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative.

1 Introduction

1.1 For the past For the past 7 years Christian Aid has been campaigning in the UK and internationally with our global partners on sustainability and climate change, with a focus on environmental justice. In our recent report ‘The rich, the poor and the future of the earth: Equity in a constrained world [1] we outlined the fundamental linkages between environmental degradation and inequality at global, national and

2 Question 1: How well the Rio declaration - ‘The Future We Want’ - matched the actions that were needed.

2.1 Christian Aid views the Rio+20 Earth Summit as a key step towards ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future for all. However, the outcome of Rio+20 was disappointing in its lack of urgency to address the problems of climate change, resilience to disasters, unsustainable consumption and production and inequality of access to resources we face now and into the future. There were some concrete and positive outcomes – both the Sustainable Development Goals and Corporate Sustainability Reporting were particularly welcomed by Christian Aid. The difference these commitments and statements can make depends on the actions governments, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders take from now on to deliver the Rio+20 legacy. There were also some disappointing outcomes, such as the lack of support for the UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4ALL).

Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL)

2.2 The urgency of climate change means that support for the energy sector in developing countries must be based on low-carbon interventions [2] , such as investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. It is absolutely essential that this happens in a way that makes energy accessible and affordable for the poorest and most marginalised. The Sustainable Energy for All initiative has the potential to make this happen.

2.3 Ahead of Rio+20 the United Nations Secretary General initiative on SE4ALL was billed as possibly the first sustainable development goal. SE4ALL combines targets for universal access to clean cooking and electricity with low-carbon targets of doubling the use of renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency improvements. However, the Rio+20 outcome document simply ‘noted’ the SE4ALL. This is very disappointing and lacking the urgency required to stimulate rapid acceleration of sustainable energy access in developing countries.

2.4 The SE4ALL initiative so far has had very marginal engagement of NGOs and wider civil society at international or country level, particularly when compared to the dominant voice of the private sector in the process. The SE4ALL Action Agenda and the presentations on SE4ALL made at the Rio+20 Summit have only re-enforced this concern. The main SE4ALL event at Rio+20 had no civil society speakers, while a number of large private sector company representatives spoke to promote the public-private partnership approach.

2.5 Christian Aid and a number of our Southern partners are extremely concerned that the focus on public-private partnership, without adequate civil society engagement, will result primarily in conventional centralised models of energy delivery – including large coal, gas and hydro power, and industrial biofuels – and not deliver sufficiently on either low-carbon or energy poverty goals.

Green Economy

2.6 The distinguishing theme at Rio+20 was ‘Green Economy’ or ‘Green Growth’ but this key theme was not addressed sufficiently to have the impact that is needed to set the world on a new trajectory. For example, Rio+20 did very little to further clarify and define the concept of a Green Economy. A worrying recurrent feature of the debate was the prioritising of economic growth over environmental impacts; Rio missed the opportunity of establishing how both are intrinsically linked, and are having a massive impact across the world especially in developing countries.

Corporate Sustainability Reporting

2.7 It is a positive step that there is a paragraph in ‘The Future We Want’ acknowledging the importance of corporate sustainability reporting (CSR). Paragraph 47 recognises the importance of corporate sustainability reporting and encourages companies to develop models for best practice and facilitate action for the integration of sustainability reporting. This not only gives another signal to business, governments and civil society that sustainability reporting can have an impact on both green and economic outcomes, but it also encourages joint development of frameworks for action and measurement across different sectors. Though this is a positive step, it does not yet match the actions that are needed for a sustainable future. What is important is the follow-up process to develop global framework for CSR. It is regrettable that other Governments did not show the same ambition set out by the UK Government in its own announcement on mandatory reporting (see more below).

Resilience, adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR)

2.8 Disaster resilience is a necessary prerequisite for development and economic stability.  Disasters reduce economic, environmental and social capital and therefore undermine or even reverse developmental progress.  This is particularly important as climate change progresses rapidly and increasing populations are exposed to hazards from their natural environment such as drought and flooding.

2.9 The strong commitment to DRR and resilience in the Rio+20 outcome document is a significant positive development, especially the recognition of the importance of integrating DRR and resilience into long-term development. However, this recognition is not made as one of the top line priorities early on, instead hidden in paragraphs near the end of the document. To ensure resilience is integrated into sustainable development in a way that safeguards gains from the risk of disasters the issue should have been a stronger priority for the whole document and political process. Therefore, we do not think the text matches the actions that are necessary on resilience, adaptation and DRR.

2.10 The text has governments calling on a variety of actors – from government to civil society, the scientific community, academia and the private sector – to take measures to reduce the exposure of people, infrastructure and other national assets to risk, in line with the Hyogo Framework for Action and any post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction that might follow (UNISDR). Whilst this is a positive recognition of the linkages to the Hyogo Framework for Action and global commitments on DRR, there were few new commitments by states themselves to deliver greater resilience and DRR actions or funds in this area.

2.11 Another element which did not live up to the actions necessary was the fact that the emphasis was put on recommendations for top down government policy rather than in facilitating local action and delivery [3] . Finally, for DRR and resilience efforts to really have a lasting effect they have to be part of the mainstream development discourse and owned across the sustainable development agenda. The side lining of these issues within the outcome document reflects the continued marginalisation of the issue for humanitarian work.

Sustainable Development Goals

2.12 The outcome on sustainable development goals, as outlined in ‘The Future We Want’ is an excellent first step in the process to ensure sustainability is central to the post-2015 development agenda. The outcome document lays out a process for developing SDGs, and does mention that it should be coherent with the ‘UN Development Agenda beyond 2015’ but it was disappointing that the text did not explicitly state the relationship between the SDGs and the post-2015 process. The announcement of an intergovernmental working group on SDGs provides for an open and inclusive structure (a country led process with a remit to include civil society views) that is missing from the High Level Panel on Post-2015. We will work to ensure that the working group takes time to support and listen to what citizens and stakeholders want for our sustainable future. The text missed out on some key opportunities to link various upcoming development agendas, but it has begun to mark the path for goals to replace the MDGs which will be developed in an inclusive manner, which we think is absolutely essential.

3 Question 2: The role played by the UK Government in the run up to, and during, the Summit.

3.1 With the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment focussing the UK agenda on the SDGs in the post-2015 process, GDP+ and natural resource accounting, the UK negotiating team actively engaged on these issues  at the Summit, including through the EU delegation. However, the UK delegation played a low-key role in the intersessional negotiations in the run up to the Rio+20 Summit, particularly when compared to previous Summits where the UK has played a much more instrumental role in developing the conference agenda.

3.2 While Christian Aid did not have access to the negotiations of the EU delegations which were held in private, we understand that the UK played an active role in many priority areas, and the Government has made a strong commitment to lead international work on sustainable development goals.

3.3 We welcome the frequent and open engagement the Government led across Whitehall and with multiple stakeholders in preparation for the conference. We recommend that a similar process be maintained throughout the development of SDG’s/ post-2015development framework. We were pleased that there were civil society members included in the UK delegation, as had been the custom at previous Summits.

Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL)

3.4 The UK government’s support for the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative has been muted. Though ministers have broadly supported the aspirations of the SE4All initiative, they have not put commitments behind achieving the goals themselves. This was apparent both at Rio+20 and at the UN High Level Panel on SE4ALL held in London in April 2012. Slightly more positively, a limited allocation of the DFID/DECC International Climate Fund (ICF) of £25 million towards the World Bank Scaling Up of Renewable Energy fund has been announced, but this is still well below the commitments from Norway, USA and the EU among other high level donors. The Deputy Prime Minister has made it clear that the UK priority is to leverage private sector engagement in delivering sustainable energy. We encourage the UK Government to be vocal about its support for this initiative and work with its European partners and the UN to rally broader support, in the context of the post-MDG discussions.

Green Economy

3.5 It was quite significant that there was barely any mention of and no concrete actions or policies on the Green Economy or inclusive green growth at the concurrent G20 summit. The UK missed an opportunity to champion this growth agenda in that forum. For the world to move forward in this arena the G20 will need to take up this policy agenda more vigorously so that there is focus on action and finance rather than simply discussion. We encourage the UK Government to take this agenda forward in the context of the G20.

3.6 The UK government focused on Natural Capital Accounting and GDP+ as issues within Green Economy, and they have done very well to set up a Natural Capital Committee with the support of the World Bank prior to the Rio+20 summit. During Rio+20 DPM Nick Clegg spoke at the Natural Capital Summit about how we have been undervaluing the damage we do to natural resources because we don’t have a system of measurement beyond GDP.

Corporate Sustainability Reporting (CSR)

3.7 Christian Aid strongly welcomes the UK commitment to implement the mandatory carbon reporting provisions of the Climate Change Act (2008). The announcement demonstrated leadership and we look forward to rapid and effective implementation. Christian Aid has been campaigning for mandatory carbon reporting since 2006 and have requested a meeting with the Secretary of State subsequent to Rio +20 in order to discuss its implementation.

3.8 The UK government in the run up to the conference and during the conference made encouraging noises related to corporate sustainability reporting. Importantly, the government backed proposals that would push companies to report on their environmental strategies and performance. However, slightly disappointing is that the government backed the ‘report or explain’ model (on the basis of limiting the regulatory burden on companies) rather than a mandatory, compulsory style of reporting which is preferred by Christian Aid. Finally, the inclusion of Aviva Investors as a member of the government’s delegation is worth noting. This action gave a signal as to the importance of Sustainability Reporting.

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Resilience

3.9 The lack of references in the UK government’s submission to Rio+20 on DRR and resilience undermined their global leadership on this issue and the aims of integrating DRR and resilience in development goals. Where other governments recognised clearly the links between delivering on DRR and resilience and sustainable development, the UK government failed to do this and missed a significant opportunity to progress efforts at integration being championed by Andrew Mitchell and UK government in other fora.

Sustainable Development Goals

3.10 The UK government was an active participant in the discussions around sustainable development goals before and during Rio+20. The UK was working closely with the Colombian government to hone their proposal on SDGs, and more recently the government was very responsive to and supportive of the idea of having one process and one set of goals leading to the post-2015 development agenda (rather than separate post-2015 and SDG processes and goals). Christian Aid would have welcomed a more vocal UK position in support of merging the two processes.

3.11 The fact that the UK was interested in the ‘nexus’ issues of Food, Water and Energy for the SDGs was quite positive as they form some of the essential foundation of sustainable development and they clearly demonstrate the need to think about issues as interconnected in order to tackle poverty and ensure a sustainable and equitable future for all.

4 Question 3: 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’.

4.1 As mentioned earlier, the document lacked the urgency of action needed to tackle critical issues of sustainability and poverty reduction, but there are some promising processes named in the text. The key now will be the actions that governments, civil society and other actors take to ensure these processes actually turn into concrete and successful actions. With that in mind, the UK government can play a role in the following areas:

Sustainable Energy for ALL (SE4ALL)

4.2 It is possible that the SE4ALL initiative could be integrated into the SDGs. Therefore it is important that SE4ALL sets high standards for implementation and delivering impact.

4.3 The UK support towards the UN SE4ALL initiative has prioritised public private partnership approaches. In delivering high impact for the SE4ALL goals on both universal access to energy and the climate change targets, it would be far more effective to have public-private-civil society partnerships. To achieve high impact and value for money in delivering the SE4ALL goals, civil society plays a very effective role in ensuring delivery of energy to the energy poor and in holding government and private sector to account on delivering development outcomes. There are numerous examples of scaled up renewable energy access projects which can best demonstrate this approach, including the Biogas Support Programme in Nepal, Toyola cook stoves in Ghana or micro hydro power in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Peru.

4.4 The UK government should play a leading role in encouraging and ensuring civil society engagement in the SE4ALL initiative, and ensure the governance structures of the initiative have a greater balance of participation between government, civil society and private sector. In addition best practice in stakeholder engagement is established at a national level when developing national implementation plans.

Corporate Sustainability Reporting (CSR)

4.5 Of primary importance, the UK Government should follow through swiftly on its Rio announcements and implement the mandatory carbon reporting for UK listed companies. Furthermore, it is important that the UK government communicates the next steps in delivering and advancing sustainability or corporate social responsibility reporting in relation to the commitments in paragraph 47. The UK should join Brazil, Denmark, France and South Africa in becoming ‘friends of paragraph 47, and so work together to develop effective global approaches to CSR.

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Resilience

4.6 Both the SDGs and the post-2015 process will need to deliver a framework or set of goals that incorporate a strong understanding of risk management and resilience that cross-cut all priority areas/goals. Without this any goals will be systematically undermined by the shocks and stresses increasingly affecting all countries but particularly those countries most vulnerable and exposed; often developing countries.

4.7 As the Hyogo Framework for Action also comes up for review and refocus in 2015, it is essential that this process informs and is incorporated into plans for the post 2015 and SDG agenda. The UK government and the Prime Minister in his role as co-Chair should:

· Prioritise disaster resilience as an essential prerequisite for delivering development goals and safeguarding achievements.  Disasters reduce economic, environmental and social capital, and therefore they impede, undermine and reverse developmental progress. 

· Integrate concrete commitments to deliver disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience building as part of a sustainable approach to disaster management globally, including through imbedding them across the SDGs and post-2015 processes, through committing resources and through wider commitments to sustainable development and green growth.

Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Agenda

4.8 One of the most important aspects of this will be ensuring that whilst there may be two processes at the outset, that these processes are very closely linked and are in regular communication, and that they clearly and coherently turn into one set of goals by 2015.

4.9 The HLP will be setting the overarching vision of the post-2015 development agenda, and the Prime Minister as one of the three co-chairs must put sustainability at the heart of that vision. The UK Government will support the PM in this through the work being done in DEFRA, DFID and DECC, and through the newly formed Post-2015 team in Cabinet. Civil society organisations such as Christian Aid and networks such as Beyond-2015 must have a clear process to input into all of these bodies as well as to the PM himself and his special envoy, Michael Anderson.

4.10 On SDGs, we do not yet know if the UK government will have a seat on the 30 member intergovernmental open working group. Either way, the UK will have a key role to play. If the UK is part of the intergovernmental working group on SDGs, they will have a really great opportunity to provide high quality input both through civil society consultation (UK and overseas) and through the existing expertise within government. If the UK is not part of that group, gathering citizens input from the UK and developing countries will be a critical role. With this input the UK can contribute to the EU’s thinking, as well as maximise the influence of the Prime Minister in his role on the High Level Panel. The UK government should focus on facilitating multi stakeholder consultation in the UK and internationally in order to make a more informed and legitimate contribution to the Post-2015 process including the SDGs.

28 August 2012


[1] http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/constrained-world.pdf

[2] http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/Time-for-climate-justice-7.pdf

[3] The Characteristics of Climate Finance, Christian Aid, November 2011. http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/time-for-climate-justice-finance.pdf

Prepared 14th September 2012