Last week, 196 nations met in Rio, 20 years after the original Earth summit. Our task was to find a way to set the world back on a sustainable path. Important progress had been made in the past two decades on reducing poverty and protecting our environment, but all in all, ambitions had not been met. Our dilemma was to agree ways to grow our economies without hoovering up or destroying our precious natural resources, recognising that our economic and environmental agendas must go hand in hand. Our challenge was to take the right decisions, not just for ourselves, but for the next generation which, in just 18 years, will need 30% more water, 45% more energy, and 50% more food.
Was this summit an unqualified success on all those fronts? No, it was not—but few would have expected it to be. But we did make progress on the key areas that the UK sees as the priority for sustainable development and green growth. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for her commendable efforts at the summit itself and for her intensive preparations with the Secretary of State for International Development.
At the summit, the United Kingdom Government played a crucial role in leading on four important shifts. First, while the Rio declaration was not all that we would have wanted, this is the first time that a multilateral document expressing such strong support for the green economy has been agreed. That in itself is a major achievement recognising that, in the long term, greening our economies should not conflict with growing them. The declaration helped to alleviate some of the fears of developing countries that green growth is a veil for a kind of eco-protectionism designed to stymie their development. It united nations behind the simple principle that, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it at the summit,
“the only viable development is sustainable development which will deliver lasting progress for everyone.”
Secondly, Rio+20 recognised that we need to develop broader measures of progress to complement GDP in order to take account of the natural assets that will contribute to future prosperity—so-called GDP-plus. In the UK we have already committed to including natural capital within our system of national accounts by 2020. We worked hard at the summit to ensure that all nations present recognised the importance of broader measures of environmental and social wealth to complement GDP.
Thirdly, we agreed to set up the sustainable development goals—a concept proposed by Colombia. I was one of the first to welcome this idea when President Santos visited London in November. The UK has been pushing hard to secure agreement ever since, and achieving it, even at this high outline level, was no mean feat. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said that the SDGs should draw on the success of the millennium development goals and should be an integral part of the post-2015 development framework. We would have liked to see specific themes agreed, focusing on ensuring that everyone can access enough food, energy and water, but getting such agreement was always going to be a huge undertaking. The UK Government will continue to keep up the pressure for rapid agreement. From now on, the process must be coherent and co-ordinated with the work of Secretary-General Ban’s high-level panel on the post-2015 framework, which the Prime Minister will co-chair along with the leaders of Liberia and Indonesia.
Fourthly and finally, at Rio national Governments recognised the importance of working alongside businesses. Thanks in no small part to the leadership of UK firms, Rio recognised the role of corporate sustainability reporting to their shareholders and to prospective investors—something that would have been inconceivable even a year ago. I also announced in Rio that we will be the first country anywhere to mandate large companies to report on their greenhouse gas emissions. A growing number of companies and investors are realising that their own success is directly linked to sustainable, green growth. We hope that the call from all nations for businesses to report their sustainability performance will usher in a new era of transparency and consistency in the global business community.
In summary, although Rio+20 did not go as far as we would have liked, it revived a global commitment to an agenda that has come gravely under threat. Progress was made in the areas where progress needed to be made. The declaration agreed by all 196[Official Report, 3 July 2012, Vol. 547, c. 7-8MC.] countries should not be seen as the upper end of our ambition; it should be our baseline and we should all strive to surpass its expectation. We must build on the steps that were taken to reinvigorate the drive for sustainable development and lasting growth.
The UK played a leading part last week because we are on track to deliver our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance to developing countries from 2013; because I announced the adaptation for smallholder agriculture programme, which will improve the lives of more than 6 million smallholder farms; because we are taking the lead in areas such as reproductive health and family planning; because we are the first country whose major businesses will report their greenhouse gas emissions as part of their annual accounts; and because of the range of ways in which we are greening our economy. We will remain committed to working with our partners and will be ambitious for the future. The summit is over but the work continues, and the UK will continue to lead from the front.
I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for the advance copy of his statement.
The original Rio declaration sought to eradicate poverty, reduce unsustainable production and consumption, and promote greater co-operation to protect the world’s ecosystems. It is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. Expectations were low for this summit, and those expectations were met. I pay tribute to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who worked as part of the EU delegation to prevent the summit from reaching abject failure.
There was a glimmer of hope. Ban Ki-moon’s zero hunger challenge aims for a future in which everyone enjoys their basic human right to food and in which global food systems are resilient. It aims to provide access to adequate food all year round, increase small farm productivity and see zero waste of food. We welcome the UK’s contribution of £150 million to help meet the zero hunger challenge.
Will curbing land grabs by large companies and improving land rights, especially for women, be on the agenda of the high-level meeting on hunger that will take place during the Olympics? What does the Deputy Prime Minister make of the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday that a future Conservative Government would consider handing out some state benefits “in kind” rather than in cash? Does he think that handing out food vouchers to the poor is a good idea, when the Brazilian zero hunger scheme was based on the Bolsa Família, which gave money directly to families in poverty and let them choose how best to feed their children? How will the zero hunger initiative tackle food poverty in the UK, where the Trussell Trust charity estimates that it will feed 130,000 people this year, 45,000 of whom are children?
The Deputy Prime Minister mentioned that the Prime Minister, alongside the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia, will co-chair a new UN committee to establish a new set of millennium development goals to follow those that expire in 2015. How will the new goals relate to the sustainable development goals that will emerge from Rio?
There was progress in the field of energy, with the Secretary-General’s sustainable energy for all initiative, which received pledges of $323 billion in funding to bring clean energy to more than a billion people in developing countries. We welcome that. We also welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s announcement at Rio that the UK will introduce carbon reporting for 1,800 quoted companies from April next year, as set out in Labour’s landmark Climate Change Act 2008. That was, sadly, the weakest option that the Government consulted on. It creates the anomaly that British Airways will report its carbon footprint as a public company, but that Virgin Atlantic, as a private company, will not. However, we are the first country in the world to do it, which gives us a temporary, green competitive advantage to make up for the Government’s disastrous handling of the solar feed-in tariffs.
The agreements on biodiversity, oceans and the trade in endangered species are welcome. However, the Government have refused to guarantee funding for the UK’s wildlife crime unit after next April. Does he agree that that unit is on the front line of fighting the illegal trade in endangered species, and will he argue for its benefits at the heart of Government?
Sharing the benefits of the planet’s biodiversity equally is an important building block for what happens after Rio, yet the Government have still not ratified the Nagoya protocol, which was agreed last year, on access to and benefits from genetic resources. What assessment has he made of the action we need to take to comply with the protocol, and will the Government show leadership in the EU by ratifying it?
We know that sustainable development starts at home. Far too often, the Government have been found wanting—they abolished the Sustainable Development Commission and failed to introduce marine protected areas, and their implementation of their forests policy was disastrous. Will the Deputy Prime Minister therefore tell the House how the Government will change how they do business to reflect the Rio conference outcomes?
Will the Government publish a UK action plan as a framework for the changes that they seek after Rio? Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with his right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for International Development and for the Foreign Office that the Government need to invest more in a resource-efficient economy and low-carbon jobs to reduce costs and protect the UK from rising oil prices and energy dependency?
The Deputy Prime Minister should be in no doubt that the Opposition will work with him across party boundaries to achieve the long-term solutions that our planet needs. Rio showed that the solutions to ending hunger and deforestation, and to securing clean energy and water for the poorest, are all out there. We just need to scale them up.
The scientists tell us we must act now and businesses stand ready to play their part. The tragedy is that the politicians did not agree concrete mechanisms by which those things can happen, but as the Deputy Prime Minister has said, Rio was not a destination but a milestone on a long road. We stand ready to support the Government to make the change we need to deliver the future we want.
I thank the hon. Lady for her recognition of what I think is our shared commitment to the agenda discussed at Rio. I totally share her support for the zero hunger initiative; I attended a session in Rio at which the initiative was discussed. She asked about the hunger summit that will be held this summer. I do not know the precise agenda, but she referred to the importance of legal rights to property and land, which are crucial to dealing with hunger sustainably.
The hon. Lady asked about the interaction between sustainable development goals, ill-defined though they were at the Rio summit, and the work on the post-2015 agenda. The Government’s strong view is that the sustainable development goals as defined by the group of 30 representatives, which will be established in September, must feed into the wider review of the millennium development goals through the high-level panel that has been established by the Secretary-General.
I will not disguise from the hon. Lady the fact that within that procedural complexity, there are a lot of sensitivities. Candidly, some developing countries have hitherto felt that their voice is not strongly enough heard in some UN processes. The Prime Minister and his co-chairs will work hard to ensure that the voices of the developing world are properly listened to in the review of the MDGs to allay the concern that precisely the part of the world that will benefit most from the process is shut out from it. We need to do quite of lot of work to ensure that the different acronyms and processes do not start becoming rival acronyms and process—that is a danger.
The hon. Lady mentioned the sustainable energy for all initiative, which I am glad she supports; it is an outstanding initiative. I hosted a preparatory meeting of the group on the initiative in London some months ago. We had hoped that the Rio declaration would adopt the initiative as a core conclusion. In the event, because of the nervousness of some participants on what the initiative means and its implications, it was “recognised” in the declaration. We would have inserted a stronger verb, but none the less, as with all those initiatives, we now need to exploit that recognition and work on it.
The hon. Lady complained that the proposal on greenhouse gas emissions reporting does not go far enough. We have to start somewhere. We are the only country doing this. Some people complain that we have already gone too far and are imposing too many burdens on business. Other business groups, such as the CBI, have welcomed the proposal. I think we are breaking new ground, and I hope she will welcome that rather than cast aspersions on it.
The hon. Lady will know that the Darwin initiative is a robust initiative that we are using to monitor the plight of endangered species. Finally, she rightly said that these summits make sense only if one acts consistently with them at home. We are rightly proud of our record: we are the first country to establish a green investment bank; the green deal, which will be up and running in the coming six to eight months or so, will be the largest initiative of its kind for installing energy efficiency measures and bringing down energy bills in homes up and down the country; and the green sector, the green economy, is growing by about 5% a year, employs close to 1 million people in this country and actually runs a trade surplus. That is something we should cherish and celebrate. The carbon floor price is another major innovation of the Government, while the electricity market reform, which is one of the most ambitious legislative and regulatory overhauls of an electricity market I am aware of anywhere in the developed world, is explicitly designed to ensure that we have a sustainable energy mix for future generations.
I congratulate everyone involved on what was a genuine team effort. Will the Deputy Prime Minister assure the House that one of Rio’s lasting legacies will be the agreement to reaffirm a universal, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system for food and agricultural products? Will he give an undertaking that we will really push for Doha to deliver this through the World Trade Organisation?
No one is in any doubt that one of the greatest boosts to prosperity across the world would be a successful completion of the very, very, very, very long-awaited Doha development round. It is immensely frustrating that getting agreement on it has proved so elusive. Many have written it off altogether, and it is difficult not to be pessimistic about it, but that does not mean that we should not continue to pursue the cause of multilateral trade liberalisation.
Given the frustratingly disappointing outcome of Rio and the crisis of investor confidence in solar PV, onshore wind and nuclear in Britain, is it not even more important that the Deputy Prime Minister joins the growing cross-party support for the Severn barrage, which would generate 5% of the electricity in Britain and create nearly 40,000 jobs—a green project that will deliver the Government’s renewable energy commitments?
I pay tribute to the fervour with which the right hon. Gentleman is throwing himself into this new cause in a political career of many great causes. I agree with the underlying assertion that for investors to make investments in major energy infrastructure of whatever kind, they need long-term stability and long-term certainty about the direction of Government policy. That is precisely what the electricity market reform aims to provide.
Despite the prominence given before the conference to protecting the world’s oceans in the face of the ongoing collapse in world fish stocks and the continued obliteration of coastal livelihoods, it has been widely reported that the concrete steps put forward were effectively blocked by Russia, Canada and the US. Is that true? If not, what specific steps were agreed?
In many ways, it is actually more dispiriting than the hon. Gentleman suggests, because we did not manage to get any agreement on any of the themes governing the sustainable development goals. Sensibly, perhaps, in view of the dynamics at Rio, that has been left for the working group in September. On the plus side, from his point of view, the text reflects the importance of oceans and their sustainable use, and I would be surprised if oceans did not feature prominently in the final shape of the sustainable development goals as they are crafted in the months and years ahead.
The Deputy Prime Minister will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) mention the Nagoya protocol, which, as he knows, has not been ratified. He knows how important it is to access and benefit sharing. Will he undertake to meet his EU counterparts in order to move forward the EU position on this matter, which is truly critical?
We certainly want to see full ratification of the Nagoya protocol. It is something that this country has done, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working with her counterparts in the European Union to encourage those who have not yet taken the necessary steps to do so. To make one observation, the Nagoya protocol flowed from the original Rio+20 summit, but it was not agreed at that summit. The only reason why I make that point is that, for those who say that an insufficient number of legal texts were agreed this time around, it is worth recalling that the history of the last Rio+20 summit was that, while it was much more substantive than this one, it did lead and create a momentum that subsequently led to legal texts. I say to those who have responded with complete despair about this summit that it is now a matter of what we do with it and whether we can turn it into legally binding documents, which is the challenge for the future.
Within the privacy of this Chamber, will the Deputy Prime Minister admit that Rio actually showed that it is now blindingly obvious that no other major country proposes to follow us in imposing a legally binding obligation to cut emissions by 80% at a cost of £430 billion to our economy, so we should discreetly shelve the Climate Change Act 2008 as soon as possible?
My understanding is that Mexico has done just that, just now, so it is not right to say that countries are not seeking to follow our lead. In my bilateral discussions with members of the Brazilian Government, I was struck by how forceful they were, as a major emerging economic power, in expressing the view that their own future success would be defined by their ability to grow sustainably, which would require a departure from simply copying how development has been pursued in the past. I am afraid that I do not share the right hon. Gentleman’s pessimism about the virtues of, and potential for, sustainable growth in the future.
The final text from the Rio summit effectively sells out the vision of a green economy by replacing the usual phrase “sustainable development” or even “sustainable growth” with a phrase of a quite different meaning—“sustained economic growth”. Given that Kenneth Boulding has famously written:
“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist”,
will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the problem at Rio was too many madmen or too many economists?
I will not choose which. I think the hon. Lady is selecting somewhat partially from a mammoth text, which refers to “sustainable growth” and “sustainable development” throughout and in almost every paragraph. She has been a little partial in her selection of those two phrases. The whole assumption behind Rio was an overt recognition that it is senseless, and unfair on future generations, our children and our grandchildren, to grow today and clean up later. That fundamental development dilemma, whereby development is pursued at the cost of the sustainable use of resources, was at the heart of Rio thinking before the summit and during it, and it must remain part of our thinking subsequent to the summit as well.
The agreement at Rio for a new high-level political forum on sustainable development could provide the leadership that has been lacking in the past for the implementation of declarations and action plans. Will the UK Government do all they can to ensure that the new forum has a wide agenda, a clear mandate to act and high-level political backing?
In thanking the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for their work at Rio and notwithstanding the outcome, will the right hon. Gentleman commit to an early appearance before the Environmental Audit Committee, so that all the different strands of all the different groups that want urgent action now, but did not get that reflected in the high-level agreement, and this UK Parliament and its legislators, can map out a way of taking urgent action and ensuring that it is followed up?
I thank the hon. Lady for her invitation, and I will think about it carefully. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has attended her Select Committee. She is right, of course, to say that the Committee plays a crucial role in mobilising the opinions of many groups—non-governmental organisations and others—which take an interest all this. I hope that she recognises—as I know she was there—that the Government made considerable efforts to talk to all those groups on an ongoing basis, notwithstanding their evident disappointment in the outcome of the summit, and we will of course continue to do so.
There is great news about the economic development of sub-Saharan Africa, which is a possible portent for the future but is also a double-edged sword, because that development is built on the back of natural and mineral resources. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the UK will continue to take a lead on sustainability, and will tackle concerns about eco-protectionism head-on?
That is one of the issues that were raised forcefully by many of the leaders from Africa. I had a meeting with President Meles of Ethiopia, who is a leading thinker on all these matters. He recognises, in a way that I think is pretty far-sighted, that notwithstanding the challenges that his people now face, he will be doing a disservice to them and, indeed, to future generations of Ethiopians if they do not use the resources that are available to them in a sustainable fashion.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) was right to identify as particularly depressing the total failure to make any progress on the second biggest environmental issue that affects us—the need to protect our marine environment—but would not Britain have more credibility in terms of leadership if we were not already two years behind in establishing our own network of marine protected areas, and if the Government had not drastically reduced their number so as to render them almost useless?
I think that it was right for us to take the extra time to secure a firm evidence base in regard to those areas. We are not abandoning the agenda; we are trying to do our job as thoroughly and rigorously as I know the right hon. Gentleman would expect.
The UK hit the Kyoto targets, while a number of our leading European Union competitors signed up with a fanfare but came nowhere near hitting them. Is there any sign now that those European big energy-using countries will do better in the future?
My own view is that any developed economy will serve itself best by moving towards an energy mix that is diverse, sustainable, and not over-reliant on unreliable forms of energy and very volatile global prices. I think it is a good thing that we have been leading that agenda in this country while also meeting our Kyoto targets. Those activities are not inconsistent with each other, and I personally rebut the idea that a shift of that kind is incompatible with highly competitive economies.
I welcome the frankness with which the Deputy Prime Minister delivered his statement on the outcomes of Rio, which were not what we could all have wished for. I think he recognises that one of the real strengths of the processes surrounding Rio is what is happening at national level. In that context, would he care to comment on the success of the world summit of legislators, which was held during the weekend before the high-level session, and on the progress that was achieved there at national level? He referred to Mexico, but there has also been progress relating to natural capital, the marine environment and deforestation.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work in GLOBE International, the world legislators’ forum. It was very helpful to me in Rio to listen to his views about the work of that body. I strongly agree with him: I think that some Governments and Parliaments sometimes struggle to know exactly what legislative steps they should take in this regard. The establishment of best practice for them, via GLOBE, on a range of sustainable development issues can serve as an important catalyst to ensure they do not just talk the talk, but walk the walk.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his ministerial team on pushing the summit further than I suspect it would have gone without them, although the outcomes themselves were very modest. Does he agree, however, that although binding agreements and legislation were never going to be part of the final outcome, we should welcome the fact that the summit put genuine sustainability back on to the agenda, and also set out a vision for its delivery?
Yes. The breakthrough, conceptual though it is and not concrete enough, is that 196 countries are saying overtly and explicitly, “We think development needs to be resource-sustainable and we want to craft sustainable development goals.” However, in a sense, this is a concept without sufficient content. The test of whether it will be looked back on as a complete wash-out or a great triumph is what we then do with that outline concept, and whether we have the political will to use the mechanisms that have been established—not least the group that will start work in December—to flesh out the content and feed that into the wider review of the millennium development goals as they are reviewed and strengthened in the post-2015 framework.
The Deputy Prime Minister has been very candid about the limitations of the declaration from Rio, but he urges us to strive to surpass his expectation. Does he any specific ideas about what the UK might do in this respect? In particular, has he thought about following the Scottish Government’s example of establishing a climate justice fund?
As the hon. Gentleman may know, we have not only set an international precedent by, for instance, announcing that some of the largest companies will be abiding by new greenhouse gas emission reporting requirements; we are also setting the pace by moving towards what I referred to in my statement as GDP-plus by 2020, whereby we do not just take a snapshot of our nation’s wealth and prosperity, but try to include in that new measures of the resources we are using and their sustainability. We have established a natural capital committee, chaired by Professor Dieter Helm, which I think is the first of its kind. Those are not only institutional but methodological innovations that are genuinely world beating, and I very much hope that other countries will follow our lead.
Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with Mr Kandeh Yumkella, the joint head of the United Nations “sustainable energy for all” initiative, who said:
“You can’t save the forest if you don’t have gas”?
Consequently, this country ought to expedite the use of our shale gas reserves in order to reduce domestic energy prices.
As the hon. Gentleman may know, the Chancellor announced at the Budget that we would be developing a gas strategy. Our overall approach to energy policy as a Government is to make sure that the sources of energy we rely on are as diverse and sustainable as possible, and clearly, gas plays an important role in that. That is why we are committed to producing this new gas strategy.
The Deputy Prime Minister referred in his statement to the commitment to providing 0.7% of GNI for development assistance. All three major political parties would like to put that commitment into law. Why, therefore, did the International Development Secretary—he is in his place next to the right hon. Gentleman—categorically refuse point blank to support my private Member’s Bill? Members of both parties in the coalition have said that they will support the Bill, and doing so would save parliamentary time and get it through sooner, rather than later.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the response to his private Member’s Bill is a matter for the House. I should point out to him that if he attaches such significance to legislating on this issue, why on earth did his party not do it in 13 years in office? We are very clear that we will be delivering our commitment to allocate 0.7% of GNI from next year, and that we will legislate as soon as we possibly can.
Across the world at national level, legislators are effecting environmental change and improvement, even as intergovernmental processes stall. Further to the Deputy Prime Minister’s reply to the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), will he support the GLOBE world summit of legislators process going forward, so that, from Mexico to China in the past, and other countries in the future, we can see action today, rather than words at summits?
As I explained in my meeting in Rio, I am intuitively a big supporter of GLOBE, as I think it is far better if these summits are not just a get together of Presidents, Prime Ministers, Deputy Prime Ministers and Ministers, but involve legislators; they should not just be a great big club of the Executive. The more we can involve legislators and Parliaments, the more we can guarantee that action is subsequently taken. I am very happy to look at ways in which the Government could provide more support, in as much as we can, to the excellent work that GLOBE has already undertaken.
Following Rio+20, I am sure that we all agree that fine words need to be backed up with practical actions, so could the Deputy Prime Minister tell me what safeguards his Government will put in place to ensure that, with the growing number of biomass-fuelled power plants, imported biomass material comes from genuinely sustainable sources and is not contributing to deforestation and loss of biodiversity?
My understanding is that there are European Union standards that seek to ensure that the biomass industry adheres to basic environmental standards, but it is one industry of many in which this Government are keen to ensure that there is more, rather than less, investment, in order that we get the diverse mix of energy sources and energy generation that I referred to earlier.
I commend my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State on the positive stand taken by Britain in Rio, but given the lack of any landmark agreements comparable to the original Earth summit, how can Britain now promote rapid, timetabled agreement on issues such as GDP-plus and the sustainable development goals?
The SDGs, which are the core commitment at Rio, do have fairly clear procedural timetables; a group of 30 representatives will be established in September, and the UN Secretary-General has been clear that that must feed into the wider post-2015 millennium development goals process. There is a pretty clear process. However, we just have to recognise that a summit in a world where power is shifting to different hemispheres and different continents is different from one that took place 20 years ago. Brazil now has authority and clout on the international stage that it did not have then; the G77 is organised as a caucus of developing countries, which was not quite the case 20 years ago, and they are rightly more demanding that their voice and voices should be heard. That is reflected in the more diverse push and pull that we witnessed at the Rio summit.
One of the areas of disappointment was the failure to move forward on measures to improve access to water and sanitation for the many millions in the world who do not have that. Given that, and given that I know the Government are committed to that objective, what steps will they take in other international bodies to try to promote the objective of improving access to water and sanitation throughout the world?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is one of the most important issues, as we see from the shocking and scandalous figures on the number of children and women, in particular, who have died because of poor sanitation and restricted access to clean water. It was one of three themes—food, water and energy—that we had hoped would be defined in greater detail under the rubric of the sustainable development goals at Rio. We will continue to push to do that as they are defined in greater detail in the months ahead.