Preparations for the Rio +20 Summit

Written evidence submitted by Derek Osborn and Felix Dodds, Stakeholder Forum

Inquiry into the UK Preparations for the UN Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012

1. Conclusions and recommendations

 

1.1 The Rio 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ought to send out a clear signal to the world community, with specific proposals for the transition to an economic order based on the restoration and improvement of quality of life, natural environments and ecosystems. Sustainable development will require more efficient use of energy and resources and lower levels of environmental pollution than have ever been achieved in the past.

1.2 The transition to a sustainable economy needs to be a fair one, with all that that implies. To this end, the social dimension of sustainable development needs to be given greater emphasis. The basic preconditions for this are: social cohesion, fairness, including inter-generational fairness, fair redistribution and solutions for social problems such as growing inequality, lack of access to a whole range of resources, poverty and unemployment.

1.3 New global challenges to maintain food security, energy security and natural resources security need to be added to the global sustainability agenda and prioritised.

1.4 Governance for sustainable development should be strengthened at national, regional and local levels, and in the governance of businesses. Ombudsmen for future generations should be considered.

1.5 The Conference should establish a UN GA Council for Sustainable Development similar in status to the UN Human Rights Council.

1.6 It should adopt a set of principles to guide the new Council and all others concerned with the greening of the global economy.

1.7 The Conference should give the new Council a "Rio" mandate to drive forward work around the world on:

· Dealing with emerging issues including: food security, water security, energy security, climate security and economic security and their interlinkages

· Greening the global economy including

· Measuring progress in the green transition;

· Educating for the green economy;

· Fiscal measures for the green economy;

· Investing for the green economy;

· Regulating for the green economy;

· Targets for sustainable development in different sectors of the economy that can feed into the MDG review in 2015.

1.8 UNEP should be upgraded to a World Environment Organisation and given a responsibility for co-ordinating and rationalising all the disparate global multilateral environmental agreements.

1.9 The conference should launch negotiations to establish a framework convention on corporate responsibility requiring listed companies to operate sustainably and to report publicly on this.

1.10 Forums for dialogue should be established at national and international level to facilitate dialogue between civil society stakeholders, and between civil society and political decision-makers, on issues related to the greening of the economy and sustainable development.

1.11 The Conference should support the establishment of regional conventions to secure public access to information, participation in environmental decision-making and environmental justice in pursuance of Principle 10 of the original Rio Principles.

1.12 The EU, the UK and all the other member states should put their own houses in order on all the challenges of sustainable development and moving to a green economy. Both the UK (and other member states) and the EU need to revive and reinvigorate their own commitment to sustainable development, so that they can be credible champions of the global advances that should be made at Rio.

1.13 The conference should recognise and support role of Parliaments in countries throughout the world in promoting and monitoring progress on sustainable development and the transition to a green economy.

2.  Background

 

2.1 On 24 December 2009, the UN General Assembly (GA) adopted a resolution to hold a Summit level Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Rio in 2012.

2.2 The GA resolution determined that the Conference should have three objectives:

· securing renewed political commitment for sustainable development;

 

· assessing the progress to date and remaining gaps in implementation of the outcomes of the major Summits on sustainable development;

 

· addressing new and emerging challenges.

 

2.3 Progress to date. Although there has been progress on some aspects of sustainable development over the past 20 years many issues are becoming more difficult. Well-known examples include:

· Current demographic trends mean that by 2050 the world's population will have grown to around 9 billion.

· Poverty has increased in absolute terms. 2.6 billion people are living on less than USD 2 a day;

· 1.5 billion workers, half the global total, work under insecure conditions. In 2010 the highest level of unemployment was measured since records began;

· Carbon emissions and carbon levels in the atmosphere are continuing to increase and climate change is having increasingly damaging impacts on living conditions in many parts of the world;

· Migration is on the increase globally, putting additional pressure on the environment and security of supply;

2.4 New and emerging challenges. Growing world population and continuing growth in expectations of standards of living and material consumption are beginning to place strains on the world's supplies of food, marine resources, forests, energy and other natural resources, leading to higher prices and severe social and political problems.

2.5 Maintaining or achieving adequate food security, energy security, and resource security for all in a world of increasing population and greater scarcity of resources is therefore one of the biggest new challenges facing the world in the century ahead. Establishing institutional structures and an intellectual framework for managing this challenge should be a central issue for the 2012 Summit.

2.6 The financial and economic crisis has preoccupied political leaders and finance and economics departments over the past three years. But these pressing short term issues must not be allowed to distract attention from these emerging problems in the real economy of the world and the urgent need to transform the operation of the world's economies in a more sustainable, fairer and greener direction. That transformation should itself be a major source of new investment and new jobs, and should create greater equity, cohesion, stability and resilience. It is an essential part of the solution to current economic difficulties.

2.7 Renewed political commitment. Rio 2012 provides a crucial opportunity to build a framework for this transformation, and to establish the high level political commitment to making this change a reality. It is essential that Heads of Government themselves take hold of the issues, attend the Conference and guarantee its follow through. And since transformation of the global economy is the key issue the Conference needs to be attended also by Ministers of Finance and Economics and prepared by all the major financial players as well as those responsible for environment and development.

2.8 Sustainable development relies on civil society initiatives and participation. Civil society needs to be actively involved in both in the preparation for the Summit and in its follow-up and implementation. Forums for dialogue should be established at national and international level, to facilitate dialogue between civil society stakeholders, and between civil society and political decision-makers, on issues related to the greening of the economy and sustainable development. Businesses of all kinds need to be actively engaged in reshaping their operations in a more sustainable direction.

2.9 The GA resolution determines two specific themes:

· a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication;

 

· the institutional framework for sustainable development.

 

2.10 The hope is that the Summit will outline a compelling vision and intellectual framework for the greener economy that the world now urgently needs. It will not be possible however at a single Summit meeting to reach agreement on all the practical steps that need to be taken in the world to achieve this transition. A crucial objective for the Conference should therefore be to establish a stronger governance framework for sustainable development at national and international level that will be able to carry forward an effective action programme for greening the global economy and pursuing sustainable development over the years ahead.

3. The Institutional Framework. A new Council for Sustainable Development

 

3.1 At international level the UN Commission for Sustainable Development has had a responsibility for monitoring progress on sustainable development in the world for the past 19 years. In its present form however the CSD is no longer as productive as it should be. It has made some good analyses of problems, but it has not proved capable of following through with substantive action on the major transformational issues for the global economy. A more powerful structure within the UN system is needed to tackle the big global sustainability issues more effectively.

3.2 One promising idea that is emerging in the preparatory discussions in New York is the concept of a new top level Sustainable Development Council reporting directly to the General Assembly and integrating and strengthening the work currently done separately in the UN ECOSOC and CSD. It should be charged with driving forward global action on all aspects of sustainable development, promoting the transition to a greener economy, and initiating action on new and emerging issues such as food and energy security.

3.3 Participation in the new Council should be led by Heads of Government and supported by all relevant departments and ministries with the responsibility and power to discuss and agree substantive action on sustainable issues at a global level. In particular economics and finance ministries need to be fully engaged and committed to managing the transition to a greener global economy in a just and sustainable way.

3.4 Membership of the new Council should include all the countries of the world. The G20 or a similar grouping of leading countries might be given a special responsibility within this structure to prepare positions on some key topics.

3.5 The new Council should establish close links with the World Bank and the IMF, which should themselves be given a new mission to put promotion of sustainable development at the heart of their mission.

3.6 The work of the new Council should have a strong secretariat under the Secretary General and should be able to draw on the highest level professional advice on economic, social and environmental issues. It should be supported within the UN system by an interagency committee led by the Secretary General bringing together all the UN agencies concerned with aspects of sustainable development, including the World Bank, IMF, WTO, WHO, UNESCO etc.

3.7 UNEP and UNDP should be strengthened so that they can together provide stronger inputs on the environmental and developmental dimensions of sustainable development.

3.8 National governance. At the same time as establishing this new UN Council for Sustainable Development political leaders need to use the opportunity of the Rio Summit to reinvigorate their own national machinery for sustainable development. The lead responsibility for promoting sustainable development needs to be clearly identified at the heart of government; and economics and finance ministries need to take on an explicit responsibility for managing the transition to a greener economy with appropriate support from environmental and other ministries.

3.9 Good governance and transparency are essential for sustainable development. National Sustainable Development Strategies need to be revived and refreshed with full engagement and support from business and all parts of civil society. Advisory bodies such as Councils for Sustainable Development need to be adequately resourced to play their full part in bringing forward new thinking and maintaining pressure for progress.

3.10 Regional, city and local governance. Regional, city and local governments have many responsibilities that are crucial for the advancement of sustainable development, and there are many excellent examples in the world of what they can achieve. The Summit should showcase the best examples and commit national governments to mandate and support their regional and local governments in making further advances.

3.11 The role of business and social partners. Building on the best examples of good practice the time is ripe for mandating best business practice on sustainability more widely by creating a framework convention on corporate sustainability responsibility and Accountability Framework convention based on ISO26000. Negotiations to this end should be launched at the Summit. Trade unions and other social partners should be fully engaged in this process.

3.12 Ombudsmen for Future Generations. The needs of future generations are a crucial element of sustainable development, but are not represented in the relevant decision-making processes. In order to remedy this situation and ensure that long-term interests are heeded, a proposal is being advanced at the UN for the creation of ombudsmen for future generations at UN and national level.

4. The Green Economy

 

4.1 At present the operation of the global economy does not produce deliver sustainable development. On the environmental side it encourages over-consumption of natural resources, allows pollution of the environment, and fails to prevent climate change; while on the social side it allows widespread unemployment, allows widespread poverty, poor health and lack of education to be widespread.

4.2 Greening the global economy means redirecting the way it operates so as to deliver more sustainable outcomes. Other economic objectives need to be reassessed in terms of their contribution to sustainable development. All the tools of economic management need to be reset to steer the economy in a more sustainable direction.

4.3 Economic growth has been a central objective for all countries for the past two hundred years as providing the means for people to enjoy a better quality of life. It must remain a key objective, particularly for developing countries still striving to achieve a decent quality of life for all. But the world is now for the first time coming up against the finite limits of some non-renewable resources, and the severe global impacts of by-products and pollution from some economic activities. Future economic growth will therefore need to follow different pathways, and be consistent with the sustainable use of natural resources. There will need to be less reliance on consumption of material resources, particularly non-renewable and scarce ones. There will need to be more care to avoid waste and pollution. Growth paths will need to favour leaner, cleaner, greener modes of production and consumption

4.4 This is a very large task that has to be carried through in many different arenas:

· at international, national and local levels of government,

· in many different sectors of the economy,

· involving businesses of all kinds and social partners and other economic actors.

engaging citizens and consumers in the changes they will need to make in their lifestyles and consumption patterns

4.5 The Rio Conference should generate a new political commitment to promoting sustainable development and the green economy transition throughout the world. It should adopt a set of principles to guide the new Council and all other bodies concerned with the transition to a greener economy. And it should give a mandate to the new Council to develop and action-oriented work programme on key issues for the advancement of sustainable development in the world

4.6 Principles for a green economy. Principles for a greener global economy could be derived from relevant parts of the Rio principles, the Earth Charter, work in UNEP and OECD and other authoritative sources. They should clearly include

· the polluter pays principle and the internalisation of externalities;

· the elimination of perverse subsidies,

· building sustainability assessments into investment programmes and fiscal decisions,

· the crucial principles of intra and inter-generational equity, cooperation, and common but differentiated responsibilities.

4.7 A Green Economy mandate for the new Council. Six main pillars or chapters should be included in a green economy or "Rio" mandate for the new Council to drive forward work around the world on:

· Measuring progress in the green transition;

· Educating for the green economy;

· Fiscal measures for the green economy;

· Investing for the green economy;

· Regulating for the green economy;

· Targets for the green economy

4.8 Measuring progress. Parameters need to be established that give a clear indication of the extent to which countries, businesses and other organisations are making progress towards greater sustainability. In particular there need to be agreed ways of measuring the various types of natural capital in our land, seas and atmosphere and the biosystems they support, and of how this capital is eroded or can be enhanced by different types of economic activity.

4.9 The Summit should establish a timetable for the new Council to oversee standardisation of the way in which countries should draw up and publish natural capital accounts, and reports on how annual economic activity in each country is contributing to the enhancement or erosion of natural capital and to the shared goal of sustainable development.

4.10 In the past most countries have focussed on the growth of GDP (production and consumption) as the main goal for management of the economy, and have given attached less importance to dealing with "externalities" such as pollution and with promoting equity. A more sustainable or "greener" approach to the management of the economy requires a broader concept of maximising national welfare as the true goal of society. Commitment to establishing a new system of measuring welfare or a Green GDP, perhaps derived from the new OECD Better Life Index, should be a specific goal for the Summit.

4.11 Education and Information. Information about the environment, progress towards a greener economy and other aspects of sustainable development need to be made widely available within each country so that there can be better informed public debate about the key issues. In Europe the 1998 Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention) has been successful in extending and entrenching public rights of access to information, and promoting public participation and access to justice. The Summit should encourage moves to establish similar conventions in all the regions of the world and the new Council should be mandated to pursue this objective within a global framework.

4.12 Fiscal measures. The Summit should give a further impetus to national and international efforts to green the fiscal base, by eliminating perverse subsidies and shifting tax burdens away from taxes on labour and more onto pollution and consumption of fossil fuels and other natural resources that need to be better conserved. The time is also ripe to launch a new initiative to tax financial transactions on a globally agreed basis, and to use the proceeds to fund sustainable development investments.

4.13 Investing for a green economy. The new Council should be specifically charged to have an oversight of R and D efforts for sustainability throughout the world, and in particular to identify areas for potentially useful international collaboration. It should also promote the greening of public procurement programmes throughout the world.

4.14 Investment Flows. A new Global Deal. Authoritative estimates of the global investment needed in the energy sector alone to move to a low carbon economy over the next 40 years run to trillions of euros. Other aspects of the sustainability transition will also need very large sums. The new Council and its supporting machinery should provide a forum for monitoring the major global flows of investment, and identifying where they need to be increased or modified in order to support the sustainability transition.

4.15 The capacity to make the sustainability transition varies considerably between countries in terms of natural, economic and human resources. The 2012 Summit needs to secure a global deal to mobilise public and private resources for capacity building, technology transfer and sustainable investment programmes to help the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and other developing countries to keep pace with the sustainability transition in an equitable way. The new Council should be mandated to monitor progress on financial and other commitments to assist developing countries in the sustainability transition.

4.16 Regulatory Measures. Within Europe efficiency standards for many different products and processes (particularly energy efficiency standards) have been driven steadily upwards by progressive tightening of minimum standards over the years. Europe should propose similar machinery for driving the same process forward internationally. The time may also be ripe for new international initiatives on the management of chemicals in the environment, and for regulating the impact of new emerging technologies such as nanotechnology.

5. Targets in key sectors

 

5.1 A greener economy will affect all the main economic sectors. In each sector it will be necessary to promote greater efficiency in the use of energy and all other natural resources, to reduce the impacts of pollution and waste production, to pay greater regard the natural environment and biodiversity, and to ensure equity and fairness.

5.2 International development objectives are currently focussed around implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. Many believe that at their review in 2015, a new set of international development goals should be set for the next period, with a greater emphasis on sustainable development objectives. The Rio Summit should adopt this as a general objective and should mandate the new Council to follow it through with specific proposals in the key subject areas. The following paragraphs briefly review the priorities in some of the key sectors.

5.3 Energy. The greening of the energy sector and the promotion of energy security is the single largest challenge within the whole greener economy project.

5.4 The transition to a greener economy requires a radical transformation of the energy sector away from fossil fuels towards low or zero carbon sources of power such as renewables. At the same time in order to manage this transition more economically and efficiently there needs to be a major effort in all sectors to utilise energy more efficiently and thus to contain or reduce increases in total global energy demand.

5.5 Many people in the world still have inadequate access to energy or suffer from fuel poverty. The transformation to greener forms of energy production must have as a primary objective the bringing of energy to poorer communities.

5.6 Agriculture, biodiversity and the natural environment. The agricultural sector in many parts of the world needs thorough review from the perspective of the green economy perspective and maintaining food security for all, in maintaining the natural capital of the land and its biodiversity resources, and in promoting resource efficiency in this sector. There is a particular need to manage and conserve water resources better. New targets are needed in these areas.

5.7 The marine environment. The marine environment is under severe stress from pollution, over-fishing and over exploitation of other marine resources. The Summit should initiate a new international process to strengthen and coordinate existing mechanisms for protecting the marine environment, and protecting fish stocks and other marine resources more effectively than present arrangements, perhaps under the banner of the "Blue Economy" concept.

6. Role of the UK and the EU

 

6.1 The Rio Summit in 2012 provides a unique opportunity to establish a new Council for Sustainable Development in the United Nations charged with driving forward an action programme for the greening of the global economy.

6.2 The UK and the EU should both be powerful champions of this approach over the next 12 months.

6.3 The UK has established appropriate inter-departmental machinery to co-ordinate UK positions, for inputting both to Brussels and direct to the UN process. It has also held some initial discussions with UK civil society on the issues. But the imminence of the Rio Summit is not yet very high in public awareness, and there will need to be more intensive interactions between civil society, business and other groups and government in the months ahead.

6.4 Many of the issues on the UN agenda for the Summit will need to be co-ordinated at European level, and a European preparatory process to establish appropriate European positions is already under way. The Commission has produced a slightly disappointing communication setting out some ideas for this process. The European Parliament will be discussing a rather stronger resolution early in September. The Council is expected to co-ordinate Ministerial positions during September and October.

6.5 In order to be credible champions at the UN both the UK and the EU (and other member states) need to put their own houses in order on their approach to sustainability. The most important points, corresponding to the recommendations for international action recommended above, are:

· for the UK (and other member states) and the EU collectively to reconfirm their political commitment to sustainable development by placing responsibility for it at the centre of government supported by economics and finance Ministers as well as by environment and other ministries

· for the UK (and other member states) and the EU to reinvigorate their own sustainable development strategies and specific action programmes, which can take a worthy place in the global framework for the green economy transition to be established at Rio.

· for the UK (and other member states) and the EU to engage fully with business and all parts of civil society in preparing and following up the Conference and in promoting sustainable development and the green economy

6.6 There is considerable scope for Parliaments throughout the world to play an active part in championing sustainable development and in promoting and monitoring the transition to a greener economy. The Environmental Audit Committee is well-placed to take this role within the UK. It might also wish to support international efforts to promote Parliamentary capacity and engagement with sustainable development issues around the world through the GLOBE process or other similar initiatives.

5 September 2011

Prepared 20th September 2011