HC 172 Outcomes of the UN Rio +20 Earth Summit

Written evidence submitted by UNICEF UK

1. Introduction 

1.1 The UK National Committee for UNICEF welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry into the outcomes of the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit

1.2 UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to advocate for the protection of children's rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential. UNICEF is guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and strives to establish children’s rights as enduring ethical principles and international standards of behaviour towards children.

1.3 This submission will focus on the following aspects of the Environmental Audit Committee’s call for evidence:

· How well the Rio declaration - ‘The Future We Want’ - matched the actions that were needed.

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

· 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’.

· 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.

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

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

2.1 UNICEF UK welcomes the progress for children made at the Rio+20 summit in June 2012, reflected in the ‘Future we want’ outcome document. Ambitious action to tackle sustainability and recognise the links between environment and development challenges will be essential to ensure that children everywhere now and in the future, especially in the most vulnerable countries are able to grow up to meet their full potential

2.2 UNICEF UK believes that there is still need for more ambitious action to put the world on a credible path to sustainable development, nonetheless we believe that ‘The Future We Want’ is an important start to this process, and delivered some important outcomes for children.

2.3 In the run up to the Rio+20 summit, UNICEF UK ran a public campaign entitled ‘Speak Up for Children [1] . This campaign asked the UK government to ensure that children were prioritised in sustainability solutions emerging from Rio+20. Sustainable development is about ensuring intergenerational equity for current and future generations, therefore it is vital that these groups are actively considered and included in sustainability responses [2] . Specifically we asked the UK government to ensure:

i) that children’s right to participate in sustainability decision making was recognised by Rio+ 20,

ii) that child centred responses were seen as central to sustainability and;

iii) that development issues that are impacting on children in vulnerable countries such as climate change, water scarcity, food security, disaster risk reduction and urbanisation were given sufficient attention.

2.4 On the basis of this, UNICEF UK welcomes several key elements in ‘The Future We Want’ and the level of ambition that this sets for further action on sustainability at the international and national levels. These points were as follows:

· Recognition of the importance of children to the sustainability debate

· Recognition of the importance of meaningful participation of children in sustainability policy

· Recognition of the specific vulnerabilities of children in regards to food security

· Reaffirmation of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation

· Commitment to advancing approaches to disaster risk reduction

· Reaffirmation of the urgent need to mobilise new and additional climate finance to ensure we can build a climate safe world for all.

2.5 UNICEF UK urges the UK government to ensure these outcomes from Rio+20 are adequately integrated into their overseas development strategies.

2.6 However, despite these achievements of the outcome text, a greater level of ambition is needed within the international community to put the world onto a credible path to sustainable development to safeguard current and future generations

2.7 Consequently, as already stated publically by UNICEF UK President Lord Ashdown [3] , UNICEF UK believes that ‘The Future We Want’ should be seen as a starting point for strong ambitious action on sustainability, not the final blueprint for levels of ambition.

2.8 UNICEF UK calls on the UK government to build on the Future We Want by pushing for further ambitious international action over the next year and in the run up to 2015 on sustainability and integrating environment and development

Recommendations:

UNICEF UK therefore recommends the following in regards to the outcome text of Rio +20:

a) The UK government should ensure that the key outcomes from Rio+20 (as outlined above) are adequately integrated into UK overseas development strategies

b) The UK government should build on the outcomes of Rio+20 by pushing for further ambitious international action on sustainability and integrating environment and development concerns

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

Youth Participation

3.1 As previously mentioned, in the run up to the Rio+20 summit, UNICEF UK ran a public campaign entitled ‘Speak Up for Children [4] . This campaign asked the UK government to ensure that children were prioritised in sustainability solutions emerging from Rio+20. Sustainable development is about ensuring intergenerational equity for current and future generations, therefore it is vital that these groups are actively considered and included in sustainability responses [5] .

3.2 UNICEF UK would like to take this opportunity to welcome the government’s role in engaging with UK young people ahead of the summit- the Youth Question Time that DEFRA organised, which enabled young people to question the Secretary of State for Environment ahead of the summit.

3.3 The sustainability pathways that governments choose to follow will have a impact on the future that today’s children will inherit. It is therefore right that children should have a say in such processes and their views be taken into account.

3.4 UNICEF UK would have liked to have seen to UK government do more to engage with young people and take their views into account in the formulation of the UK government’s position ahead of Rio+20. We would also have liked to see the UK government to have taken greater consideration of engagement of children and young people at the summit itself and in feeding back to young people after the summit.

3.5 UNICEF UK recommends that the UK government feedback to children and young people in the UK on the outcomes from Rio +20, and find an ongoing, permanent way to seek and integrate children’s view points into the UK government’s sustainability policy

Emerging Development challenges

3.6 UNICEF UK would have liked to have seen the UK government show greater recognition of some of the key development challenges such as disaster risk and vulnerability that are facing vulnerable populations in their positioning ahead of and during Rio+20.

3.7 More than 175 million children will be affected by climate change induced natural disasters every year over the next decade [6] . T he need to scale up disaster risk reduction strategies to protect children and future generations is therefore integral to successful sustainable development. UNICEF UK was disappointed to see not a single reference to disaster risk reduction in any of the UK government’s positioning ahead of and during Rio +20.

3.8 Similarly, we would have liked to see greater recognition in the UK government’s positioning on other emerging development challenges such as climate change and urbanisation. It is disappointing that the UK government did not capitalise on the opportunity presented by Rio +20 to push these issues to the forefront of their dialogue.

Private sector

3.9 UNICEF UK welcomed the UK government’s position ahead and during Rio +20 in regards to involving the private sector in sustainability solutions. If we are truly to create a sustainable world, the private sector clearly has an important role to play. However, w e would have liked to see greater recognition in the UK government’s positioning on the responsibility of the private sector to respect human rights and, in particular, children’s rights.

3.10 S ustainable development cannot be achieved in isolation from human rights, as was recognised in the Millennium Declaration in 2000. Children are especially vulnerable to the impacts of the private sector. In many developing countries, children constitute half of the national population and the majority of those affected by poverty. Despite thi s, there has yet to be a global focus on the impact that businesses have on children.

3.11 The Children’s Rights and Business Principles address this shortcoming by providing the first comprehensive set of principles to guide businesses on how to respect and support children’s rights. The principles are as follows:

All business enterprises should

1. Meet their responsibility to respect children’s rights, and commit to support the human rights of children

2. Contribute towards the elimination of child labour, including in all business activities and business relationships.

3. Provide decent work for young workers, parents and caregivers

4. Ensure the protection and safety of children in all business activities and facilities

5. Ensure that products and services are safe; and seek to support children’s rights through products and services

6. Use marketing and advertising that respect and support children’s rights

7. Respect and support children’s rights in relation to the environment and land

8. Respect and support children’s rights in security arrangements

9. Help protect children affected by emergencies

10. Reinforce community and government efforts to protect and fulfil children’s rights.

3.12 UNICEF UK recommends that the UK Government endorse the Child ren’s Rights Business Principles and integrate them into its sustainability policy regarding the private sector . [7]

Recommendations:

Based on the role played by the UK in the run up to and during Rio +20, UNICEF UK recommends the following:

a) the UK government should feedback to children and young people in the UK on the outcomes from Rio +20, and find a permanent way to integrate children’s view points into the UK government’s sustainability policy

b) that the UK Government endorse the Children’s Rights Business Principles and integrate them into its sustainability policy regarding the private sector

4. 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 UNICEF UK believes that UK government has a unique opportunity to drive the international post-2015 agenda through the Prime Minister’s co-chairmanship of the UN Secretary-General’s ‘High-level Panel of Eminent Persons’

4.2 The high level panel presents a unique opportunity for the UK to show ambitious global leadership in the post-2015 framework and use their role to highlight the importance of sustainability and the key issues identified at Rio+20 for the future of international development

4.3 If the post 2015 framework is to succeed in the places where the MDGs have failed, sustainability must be a key guiding principle. A sustainable post-2015 framework is essential to help ensure that all children everywhere can survive and thrive. A sustainable future will help guarantee that children have the opportunity to grow up healthy, well-nourished, well-educated, and protected from violence and neglect, to realize their full potential for the benefit of society as a whole. It also requires that they have access to sustainable, safe and protected key ecosystem goods and services, such as clean water and air.

Recommendations:

UNICEF UK recommends the following in regards to follow up from Rio+20 and post-2015:

a) Prime Minister should champion sustainability as an essential part of the post 2015 framework and use his role to ensure that the process of developing the SDGs and post-2015 framework is complementary and coordinated.

b) The UK government should use other opportunities in international fora (such as through the UN, G20 and so forth) to push for further ambitious action on sustainability and ensuring sustainability is integrated into the post 2015 framework.

5. 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.

5.1 Whilst the ‘Future We Want’ outcome text goes some way to recognising the challenges facing children, and the need for scaled up action to truly deliver long term sustainable development that will benefit current and future generations, there are still areas in which the UK government has more to do.

5. 2 In addition to those activities, UNICEF UK would like to see the UK government prioritise a child centred approach to sustainability in their overseas development strategy.

5. 3 Children’s futures and intergenerational equity are core principles for sustainable development, so children’s rights and consideration of children’s specific vulnerabilities should be at the centre of the discussions and outcomes on sustainability.

5.4 The rights of children and young people are also increasingly threatened by issues and events outside of their control, including climate change, food crises, economic crises, humanitarian disasters and conflicts, high levels of youth unemployment, rapid urbanisation, and increased fiscal austerity. These challenges compound existing problems, exacerbating the situation faced by many children in developing countries.

5.5 Children need to be prioritised in development responses to counter these challenges, so that they can better withstand these threats to development. For example, disaster risk reduction needs to be child centred, urban interventions should recognise children’s vulnerabilities, and food security policies need to pay specific attention to children.

5. 6 UNICEF UK therefore asks the UK Government to follow policies and strategies that are designed so that they give the best possible outcomes for children. This means taking a child centred approach to sustainability, as well as scaling up programming in areas that are negatively impacting on children- such as food security and disaster risk

Recommendations:

UNICEF UK recommends the following in regards to further action by the UK government following on from Rio+20:

a) the UK government should prioritise a child centred approach to sustainability in their overseas development strategy

b) the UK Government should follow policies and strategies that are designed so that they give the best possible outcomes for children. This means taking a child centered approach to sustainability, as well as scaling up programming in areas that are negatively impacting on children- such as food security and disaster risk

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

6.1 Informed public debate and wider engagement with Rio issues is an important part of delivering successful sustainable development.

6.2 Specifically, UNICEF UK would like to use this opportunity to highlight the importance of children and young people’s engagement in the sustainability debate.

6.3 The voices of children and young people are rarely heard in global negotiations amd national and international decision making. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that "children have the right to participate in decisions affecting them."

The outcomes from Rio+20 and action by international governments will shape what the future looks like, so they should be informed by the people who will be the future leaders – today’s children and young people.

6.4 Moreover, children can be key actors in driving the sustainability agenda forward, both now and in the future as adults, so they should be included and consulted on sustainability initiatives at the earliest possible moment.

6.5 UNICEF UK recommends that the UK government rigorously and regularly consults with children and y oung people on sustainability strategies and plans following on from Rio +20.

6.6 For the UK Government, consultation with children and young people on sustainability could take a variety of forms. Options recommended by UNICEF UK include:

• In the UK : consultations with groups of children and young people from around the UK and from different genders, ethnic and socio/economic backgrounds and from a variety of age groups. This will help gauge what issues UK young people feel are important in global sustainability discussions

In the UK : Youth panels established by the UK Government to regularly consult UK young people on the UK Government’s sustainability plans

Around the world : The Government should work with their partners at country level to hold consultations with children and young people. These consultations should include children from a variety of ages from across gender, ethnic and socio/economic backgrounds. These consultations should seek the views of children and young people on issues that matter to them and the future they would like to see. In developing countries, children and young people should also be consulted on the interventions in the areas of water, food and disaster risk reduction that would make their lives more secure. These views should then be incorporated into the UK ’s own development strategy.

Recommendations:

UNICEF UK recommends the following in regards to further action by the UK government in engaging the general public following on from Rio+20:

a) UNICEF UK recommends that the UK government rigorously and regularly consults with children and young people on sustainability strategies and plans following on from Rio+20.

31 August 2012


[1] http://www.unicef.org.uk/Latest/News/unicef-uk-campaigners-ask-nick-clegg-to-speak-up-for-children-at-rio-earth-summit/

[2] http://www.unicef.org.uk/Latest/Publications/Briefing-making-a-better-world-for-children-at-Rio20/

[3] http://www.itv.com/news/2012-06-25/silver-linings-to-the-storm-clouds-over-rio/

[4] http://www.unicef.org.uk/Latest/News/unicef-uk-campaigners-ask-nick-clegg-to-speak-up-for-children-at-rio-earth-summit/

[5] http://www.unicef.org.uk/Latest/Publications/Briefing-making-a-better-world-for-children-at-Rio20/

[6] Save the Children ‘The Legacy of Disasters’ http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/resources/online-library/legacy-of-disasters-the-impact-of-climate-change-on-children

[7] The Children’s Rights and Business Principles, UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children (2012). http://www.unicef.org/csr/css/PRINCIPLES_23_02_12_FINAL_FOR_PRINTER.pdf and accompanying workbook Children are Everyone’s Business, UNICEF, 2012 http://www.unicef.org/csr/css/CSR_Workbook_A4_LR_low_res.pdf

Prepared 14th September 2012