HC 172 Outcomes of the UN Rio +20 Earth Summit
Written evidence submitted by Progressio
1. Progressio’s participation in the Rio+20 summit
1.1 Progressio was pleased to submit written evidence ahead of the Rio+20 summit to the EAC enquiry in 2011 "Preparations for Rio+20: The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development".
1.2 We were able to contribute recommendations to the UK government in the run up to the summit, and during the summit itself there was dialogue between UK government officials and ministers and NGOs present in Rio. Ahead of the summit DEFRA and DFID both held discussions with NGOs at the level of officials, and the Secretary of State for DEFRA, the Secretary of State for DFID, and the Deputy Prime-Minister also met with NGOs including Progressio.
1.3 Progressio engaged with our supporters in the UK ahead of the summit. A "photo petition" calling for the summit outcomes to be "Waterproof" (to take proper account of water resources issues) was received by Secretary of State Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, and postcard campaign responses for ambitious action towards "The Future We Want" were received by the Deputy Prime Minister Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP.
1.4 Progressio holds ECOSOC observer status, and a small delegation attended the summit. We also presented recommendations directly to the UN drafting process, independently and via the NGO Major Group system.
2. Summit outcomes
2.1 At the level of detail, we were pleased to see that many of the requests made by Progressio regarding the importance of water resources management were reflected in the final text.
2.2 However, in terms of overall ambition, Rio+20 did not deliver the game-changing outcome that is urgently needed to meet the scale of the development and environmental challenges faced by humanity. Whilst ‘The future We Want’ articulates the urgent need for action on poverty, environmental degradation and climate change, and useful language in many areas, the text is a restatement of past promises with few new or ambitious commitments and no targets or deadlines with which to hold governments to account.
2.3 The agreement reached in Rio+20 is not likely to inspire the level of change required for the poorest and most marginalised people who are at the sharp end of water scarcity, food insecurity and changing climate.
2.4 Much more energy and commitment will be required over the next three years if a post-2015 framework for sustainable development is to be up to the linked challenges of tackling global poverty, environmental degradation, and climate change.
3. Role of the UK government
3.1 Progressio welcomes the leading role that the UK government officials played ahead of, and at the summit.
3.2 The role played by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, together with the Deputy Prime Minister, was proactive and welcome. It was important that links were made across Whitehall, especially between DEFRA and DFID, and we note the personal involvement of the Secretary of State for DFID.
3.3 However, the absence of the UK Prime Minister at Rio+20 sent a mixed message in terms of the importance of the Rio+20 agenda to the UK.
4. Engagement with UK NGOs
4.1 A high level of engagement was sought by the UK government delegation with UK-based NGOs in attendance at Rio+20. UK government officials met regularly with UK NGOs in the months ahead of the summit. We attended preparatory consultations with the Secretary of State for DEFRA, the Secretary of State for DFID, and the Deputy Prime Minister. This represents a high level of engagement with NGOs ahead of an international summit.
4.2 The UK was also responsive to our concerns on issues such as water resources and sustainable development goals.
4.3 However (albeit from our position outside government) the impression is that preparations were slow to gather pace. Greater clarity around the UK’s position and priorities at an earlier stage in 2011 could have supported in depth conversations and collaboration between the government and NGOs ahead of the zero draft submission deadline in November 2011.
5. Achieving the "future we want"
5.1 Despite the well-reported concerns about the weakness of the Rio+20 outcome document, the need for ambitious action on sustainable development remains – and there are important opportunities to move forward.
5.2 In taking forward the Rio agenda the UK government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, must work with other countries to build the will and the capacity to ensure that the many ‘acknowledgements’, ‘realisations’, ‘reiterations’ and ‘recognitions’ stated in the text are implemented. Rio+20 in and of itself will not shape the world we want to see and will not deliver change for poor communities, but the UK government can use its leverage to encourage other governments to prioritise sustainable development and poverty eradication.
5.3 The next three years present a unique opportunity to build a new sustainable development narrative amongst governments, civil society and the private sector worldwide. The process agreed at Rio+20 has the potential to create a set of universal goals that will put countries on a more sustainable development pathway – one that eradicates poverty, recognises environmental limits and protects the planet for future generations.
5.4 It is essential that the UK government and 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’ seek to consult with civil society from all over the world, to ensure that the development of sustainable development goals and the broader post-2015 development framework is inclusive.
5.5 The future we want declaration set the bar too low for action by governments. The voluntary commitments made by the UK government, such as the announcement that made greenhouse gas emission disclosure mandatory for the top 100 companies listed on the stock exchange, are welcome, but not enough on their own. In the months ahead the UK government must be ambitious and work with other governments to push for the expansion of this and similar initiatives, such as corporate accounting that takes account of all natural resources, including water.
6. Moving forward in public debate
6.1 Ahead of Rio+20 the government (and also the NGO community) arguably did too little to engage the public and create awareness and debate around the issues at the heart of sustainable development and the green and fair economy. Public awareness of the Rio+20 Earth Summit was certainly low.
6.2 It is possible that for some NGOs, calculations were made that the chances of success at Rio were low, and that it was therefore not right to invest heavily in engaging supporters. But without major efforts to build public awareness, there would be little pressure for governments to act.
6.3 Recognising that adopting a more sustainable means of development requires the participation of all, the UK government will need to engage more widely with the public on issues of sustainable consumption and production. NGOs and civil society will also need to play a full part in achieving this, inspiring public support for action on poverty and for meeting the environmental challenges which threaten the wellbeing of all.
28 August 2012