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Rio+20 Conference

Volume 738: debated on Tuesday 26 June 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the outcomes at the recent Rio+20 conference and the contribution made by the United Kingdom Government.

My Lords, the Rio+20 conference made clear that the green economy is essential for poverty eradication and sustainable development. It sets out a green economy vision and has agreed some specific steps that countries can take to implement this. These include agreement to develop sustainable development goals and indicators to complement GDP, and to advance corporate sustainability reporting. We approached Rio+20 with ambition and engaged constructively with our international partners, and we will continue to do this as we focus on implementation.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. I certainly welcome the Rio commitment to develop sustainable development goals and the Prime Minister’s involvement in that work. However, does the Minister agree that the facts indicate that now is the time for strong action if we are to avoid severe threats to the lives and livelihoods of future generations, particularly of the poorest among them? Does he also agree that the paucity of specific commitments, credible action plans and funding make Rio+20 deeply disappointing? Will he therefore agree that now is the time to change the debate by providing clear and strong examples of action to achieve results and that of particular importance is the implementation of sustainable energy for all by bringing sustainable power to the approximately 1.5 billion people with no access to electricity? Will the UK Government therefore work directly and strongly to support countries with viable plans for the delivery of sustainable energy for all?

The noble Lord has a great deal of knowledge in this area and I am very sorry that his indisposition meant that he could not chair one of the key committees at the conference. I agree that some of the outcomes are not as strong as we might have hoped. However, we must view this agreement in context. More than 190 countries have signed up to a political declaration and it is on the foundation of that declaration that the detailed work will then go forward. This country went to Rio+20 with a number of proposals that were welcomed by that conference.

My Lords, in view of the fact that one of the greatest single sources of global emissions is deforestation, and yet timber is one of the few tangible assets of some poor countries, will the Minister tell the House what specific agreement we made at Rio to try to tackle this very important issue?

I agree with the noble Lord that this is important. We wanted to impress on the conference that GDP was a rather inadequate measure of the resources of a country, and that we want to develop indicators of natural and social capital to complement GDP and agreement to incorporate these into national accounts. All nations at Rio+20 recognise the importance of a broader measure of progress to complement GDP in order to inform decision-making. Forestry is a key element of natural capital, and the UN Statistical Commission will take this work forward.

My Lords, corporate business is more and more important to the way the world develops. One of my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister’s targets was to get corporates to report much more on carbon emissions and wider environmental issues. I congratulate the Government on deciding to do that here in the UK, but what other nations are following our lead and how does the Minister see this developing in the future?

I am delighted that the Deputy Prime Minister was able to make this declaration on greenhouse gas reporting at Rio. I can report back that the UK was key in this particular area and that this particular development was widely welcomed. Indeed, the decision was cheered by the conference. At Rio, we talked to Aviva and Unilever—companies that have developed exactly this sort of approach to corporate responsibility—and hope that this model will be taken up by other companies.

My Lords, will the Minister take time to reflect on the answer he has given? I suggest, if I may, that he will find it very complacent. Climate change is the largest threat to the global community, notwithstanding our financial difficulties, which are obviously acute. Does the Minister agree that we must take urgent action on migration, world poverty and food availability for the world population? What happened at Rio is a disgrace. We should learn from the financial crisis that we suffer grievously if we do not take action in time. Why have we not taken and agreed specific action at Rio?

The noble Lord makes a passionate contribution to the discussion. Underlying it, of course, is the question of Britain’s role. This is a gathering of the world’s nations, with a huge disparity between the wealth and economic activity of the participating countries. Getting a single agreement is bound to be difficult. It is important that we have laid the foundations for discussions in the future that can lead to exactly the sort of outcomes that the noble Lord seeks, but it would be presumptive of this country or Parliament to go to an international conference and insist that it had the solutions to the world’s problems. We are part and parcel of a global solution, and that is what we seek to maintain.

My Lords, the Rio agreement 20 years ago was a landmark agreement. As a result, we had Local Agenda 21, and “thinking global, acting local” entered our consciousness. By contrast, this agreement is a let-down. What does the Minister think this treaty will be remembered for in a month’s time, let alone in 20 years’ time? Given that the Prime Minister is co-chairing a process for following up the millennium development goals, in the light of a lack of progress at Rio what hope does the Minister have for the Prime Minister’s success?

I certainly have a great deal more hope than is evidenced by the noble Lord’s question. I do not see this as a failure. As I said right at the beginning in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Stern, this has the potential to build the foundations for a durable and sustainable global green economy. The Prime Minister is, through the United Nations, chairing his committee and working in parallel with the millennium development goals, and I am satisfied that he will achieve the outcome that he desires.