HC 172 Outcomes of the UN Rio +20 Earth Summit
Written evidence submitted by the Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs
How well the Rio declaration - ‘The Future We Want’ - matched the actions that were needed
The UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio + 20, put sustainable development at the centre of the international agenda, and at the heart of decision making. The principal theme was ‘the green economy – in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication’. In Rio Governments affirmed that economic and environmental agendas must go hand in hand – and that sustainable use of our natural resources, and sustainable economic growth, are one and the same.
The Rio declaration, ‘The Future We Want’ was adopted by 193 countries: it sets out a common vision for sustainable development and provides a framework for action. The declaration is a springboard for action, and the focus is now on implementation.
The main outcomes from Rio+20 were:
· agreement to develop Sustainable Development Goals.
· agreement to establish an intergovernmental process to develop options on a global Sustainable Development Financing Strategy.
· agreement on two important institutional reforms: to establish a High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development; and to strengthen and upgrade the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
· recognition for the first time by the international community of the importance of the green economy for poverty eradication and sustainable growth, and that the development of green economy policies should be a common undertaking.
· agreement on the need for broader measures of progress to complement GDP.
Role of the UK Government in taking forward the Rio outcomes
The UK is committed to playing a leading key role in implementing the outcomes from Rio+20. This includes:
Development of SDGs
Rio+20 agreed to establish an intergovernmental Open Working Group (OWG) to develop Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The OWG will submit a report, to the sixty-eighth session of the UN General Assembly (September 2013 to September 2014), containing a proposal for SDGs for consideration and appropriate action. The UK Government was an early and strong supporter of the concept of SDGs and is keen to help the OWG develop a targeted set of goals, in particular on food, energy and water security.
On 31 July the UN Secretary General announced that the Prime Minister will co-chair, with the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia, a High-Level Panel (HLP) to advise the Secretary General on the post-2015 development framework. The Panel will meet for the first time in September, in the margins of the UN General Assembly, and will produce its report by June 2013. The Secretary General has asked the panel to deliver the following:
· Recommendations regarding the vision and shape of a post-2015 development agenda that will help respond to the global challenges of the 21st century, building up on the MDGs and with a view to ending poverty.
· Key principles for reshaping the global partnership for development and strengthened accountability mechanisms.
· Recommendations on how to build and sustain broad political consensus on an ambitious yet achievable post-2015 development agenda around the three dimensions of economic growth, social equality and environmental sustainability; taking into account the particular challenges of countries in conflict and post-conflict situations.
· Consider how the SDGs relate to the broader post-2015 development agenda.
The Prime Minister’s role as co-chair will enable the UK Government to play a leadership role on this agenda. This will hold a strong emphasis on gathering the views of individuals, regions and countries around the world and facilitating evidence gathering which can support consensus on the Panel and with Governments world-wide. The Open Working Group and the High Level Panel are likely to have overlapping scope but each will be able to add value by bringing different perspectives to the debate through its different membership. The two processes need to be co-ordinated and coherent – as agreed at Rio+20 - and both will contribute to Member States’ consideration of one single post-2015 development framework. Representatives of each group should interact with each other on a regular basis to share information and ideas, and the UK, in support of the Prime Minister’s role as a co-chair, will do what it can to support this.
Sustainable Development Financing Strategy
Rio+20 also agreed that an intergovernmental committee should be established to promote options on an effective sustainable development financing strategy. This will assess financing needs, the effectiveness of the existing framework, and evaluate additional initiatives, to prepare a report on resource mobilisation for sustainable development by 2014. This will cover sustainable development globally, and funding from all sources.
Establishment of a High Level Political Forum; and strengthening and upgrading of UNEP
Rio+20 took important decisions to strengthen the institutional framework for sustainable development. Reform options were based upon the principle that ‘form should follow function’. Rio agreed a set of functions to improve coordination and cooperation between the organisations with sustainable development within their mandate, especially the UN General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council. Rio+20 also decided to replace the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) with a high level political forum. It will be important that the new forum builds on the lessons learned from CSD – what worked, and what did not, that its mandate does not replicate or duplicate the work of existing bodies, and that it is able to maintain a high level of participation from governments and stakeholders.
Rio did not agree to establish a new UN Agency for the Environment. It did make key recommendations for the strengthening and upgrading of UNEP, which is a step in the right direction. These include establishing universal membership – meaning that all countries will have a voice in its governing body; and for increased financial resources – China and Brazil have already announced an increase to their contributions.
Rio did not appoint a special envoy for future generations, but invited the UN Secretary General to produce a report on the needs of future generations for promoting intergenerational solidarity for the achievement of sustainable development.
Intergovernmental action to take forward these important institutional reforms will be initiated by the UN General Assembly before the end of this year. We are working closely with key EU Member States and international partners to ensure that reforms are developed and implemented in a timely and cost-effective manner, and deliver an international architecture for sustainable development which is more coherent and better co-ordinated, and which helps to break down siloed ways of working.
The UK is committed to building on what was achieved at Rio, showing leadership internationally, and leading by example. The UK will continue to advance the green economy agenda both at home and internationally. The UK will encourage others to demonstrate the global policy leadership that it has already shown through the publication of ‘Enabling the Transition to a Green Economy’, which sets out UK’s green economy policies, providing businesses with more certainty and clarity to plan, innovate and invest in greener technologies.
The UK has also taken action on GDP+ with a commitment to incorporate the value of natural capital into the framework of the National Accounts by 2020. And the Office of National Statistics (ONS) also intends to better reflect economic well-being in the UK’s national accounts. The Government’s draft sustainable development indicators recently published for consultation cover links between the environment and the economy, and this work is being co-ordinated with ONS on measures of national well-being. The UK will follow up on the programme of work under the UN Statistical Commission to ensure that wider measures to complement GDP are taken forward and add value to existing work and to ensure domestic Sustainable Development indicators are aligned.
Rio+20 fell short of agreeing a global non-mandatory framework on corporate sustainability reporting, but the UK will continue to work towards that end and will also engage with the relevant UN bodies to establish a programme of work.
At Rio t he UK announced it was the first country to require certain listed companies to report on greenhouse gas emissions , with the announcement at Rio that the UK would introduce mandatory greenhouse gas reporting for quoted companies, by April 2013. Mandatory greenhouse gas reporting is expected to save approximately 4 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2021.
Sustainable Consumption and Production
The UK will fully engage with the development of the 10 Year Framework Programme on Sustainable Consumption and Production adopted at Rio, and supports its aim to enable governments to share information and tools, and foster increased cooperation and networking amongst themselves and with the private sector. The UK continues to push forward the sustainable consumption and production agenda domestically through, for example, its work on monitoring UK’s greenhouse gas consumption emissions and setting mandatory Government Buying Standards for a range of products. The Government is also working to remove barriers to green behaviours and help consumers make informed buying choices by improving the information about the environmental impact and qualities of products and services. Our Green Claims Guidance provides advice to business for clear, accurate, relevant and substantiated environmental claims whereas WRAP is helping businesses, local authorities, and individuals address the major problem of food waste with initiatives such as the "Love Food Hate Waste" campaign and community composting projects.
Rio also made progress on sustainable marine biodiversity. This is in line with the Natural Environment White Paper, where the Government committed itself to work towards delivering a new global mechanism to regulate the conservation of marine biodiversity in high seas. Such an agreement should set up a clear means of designating High Seas Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), building on the work undertaken by Regional Seas Conventions.
The UK therefore continues to endorse the urgent need to initiate the negotiation of an implementing agreement to UNCLOS to address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
The role played by the UK Government in the run up to, and during, the Summit
The UK delegation at Rio+20 was led by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Caroline Spelman, led the Government’s preparations for Rio+20, and also attended. In preparing for Rio+20, the Secretary of State worked closely with her Ministerial colleagues.
The UK was in the vanguard of countries pressing hard for an ambitious outcome at Rio+20. The UK was an early supporter of the Colombian proposal for SDGs. And the UK also worked closely with its EU and international partners for strong agreements on the green economy and for improved governance structures.
In addition to the formal UN process, Rio+20 provided a platform for Governments, business and civil society participants to host side-events, share best practice, and promote partnerships, with the UK was particularly active. During Rio+20, the UK Government:
· hosted a Natural Capital summit, with the Deputy Prime Minister speaking alongside leaders from Norway, Denmark, Costa Rica, Gabon and CEOs from finance and business, announcing commitments from over 50 countries and 50 major companies to integrate natural capital into their accounts;
· pledged £150 million of UK support for smallholder farmers to help them adapt to climate change in agriculture;
· became the first country to require certain companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions;
· signed up as a founding member of the Global Green Growth Institute, which will support the spread of best practice in green economy management, using private sector ideas and expertise;
· announced that the UK is to ratify the UN Convention on Transboundary Watercourses to help ensure that the world’s 263 international boundary crossing rivers are protected and peacefully shared; and
· recognised access to sanitation as a human right under international law.
Ministers were clear that the Rio+20 process should be open and collaborative, involving businesses and civil society. Beginning in October 2011, the Government held extensive consultations with business and NGO stakeholders. This process included meetings with Ministers, most frequently the Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, and also the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell. There were also frequent meetings at official level, with working groups on food, energy and sustainability reporting. At Rio+20, the Government scheduled several briefing sessions with UK participants: these were well-received and the official delegation benefitted from the insights offered by civil society and businesses. The UK delegation included participants from civil society (Dame Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive Oxfam GB and David Nussbaum, Chief Executive, WWF UK) and business (Paul Abberley, Chief Executive, Aviva Investors and Paul Polman, CEO Unilever); this added expertise and credibility to the UK’s work, and was a source of strength.
Representatives from the Governments of Wales and Scotland were part of the UK delegation in Rio. Each had a strong role to play in advance and during the meeting. John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, and Peter Davies, Commissioner for Sustainable Futures attended Rio+20. The Welsh Government engaged with the Network for Regional Governments for Sustainable Development (nrg4SD) and the Climate Group in the run up to the summit. This included ensuring Wales had a role to play in high profile events and that regional and sub-national governments were recognised as key players at the summit. And the Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Stewart Stevenson MSP also attended Rio+20 as part of the UK d elegation. The Minister had the opportunity to meet and speak with Senior UN representatives, to discuss taking forward the Scottish Government’s active participation in the UN Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.
What part greater informed public debate and wider engagement with the Rio issues needs to play
The UK Government worked with business and civil society stakeholders at all stages its preparations for Rio+20. Stakeholder participation has been an important part of the preparatory process, and will also be important in the implementation of what was agreed at Rio. This engagement with UK business and civil society groups strengthened the UK’s position. Civil society and business can play an important part in engaging the public.
The Governments of Wales and Scotland also engaged stakeholders in the run up to Rio, and have committed to doing so following the Conference. The Welsh Government has used the Rio+20 process as a means of engaging the public in its Sustainable Development Bill. And the Scottish Government has emphasised the importance of public engagement, and behaviour change in implementing outcomes from Rio+20.
4 September 2012