Ambitions for Rio+20: a guest blog from the Deputy Prime Minister

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Ambitions for Rio+20: a guest blog from the Deputy Prime Minister

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The countdown to the Rio+20 conference continues and I hope that you (like me!) have been enjoying reading Mark’s short essays reflecting on the state of the planet and the challenges facing nature.  Today, I am delighted to welcome a contribution from the Deputy Prime Minister, Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP.  He will be leading the UK Government’s delegation to Rio next week and his ambitions are outlined below.  At the end of his blog I have outlined how you can ask the DPM a question and I have also shared with you the ambitions that the RSPB has for the conference.


From the Deputy Prime Minister, Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP

Next week I’m leading the UK delegation to the Rio+20 Summit, two decades after the original Earth Summit. Back then world leaders agreed – for the first time ever – that development must not come at any cost. They recognised the dangers of making a dash for growth by hoovering up or destroying precious resources: you’ll only find yourself poorer in the end. 

But the legacy of that momentous meeting is seriously under threat. Despite the progress that has been made, the vision set out in 1992 remains a long way off. And, now, as turmoil continues in the Eurozone, there is a real risk that in many major economies we’ll see sustainability sacrificed in the name of growth.

That would be a huge mistake. Our economic and environmental agendas go hand in hand (a point the RSPB has been making for years). We will only deliver lasting prosperity by conserving resources and learning to live within our means. And it’s more important than ever that we respect the natural environment on which future wealth depends.

So Rio must – once again – deliver a show of solidarity from the international community: there can be no more living only for today if we are to deliver a better tomorrow. I want to pay tribute to the work Birdlife International has been doing to encourage governments around the world to be bold when we meet next week. I’ll be pushing – with the help of Caroline Spelman – for three big things:

First, national governments must move beyond a narrow understanding of wealth. Right now we judge how well a country is doing by looking almost exclusively at the money it makes. But to fully judge success we need a kind of ‘GDP+’, which takes into account the state of assets like forests or coastal areas – vital natural capital. We’re reforming the UK’s national accounts so that, by 2020, they also reflect our natural wealth. In Brazil I’ll be pressing our international partners to follow suit.

Second, Rio must set out a plan for the future. That’s why I want us to kickstart a package of Sustainable Development Goals to help meet the fundamental challenges we now face. Like feeding growing populations; ensuring everyone has clean water; giving people access to green energy too. Agreeing these goals will be no mean feat – it will take an enormous diplomatic effort. But now is the moment to get them off the ground.

Finally, Rio must get business on board. Many firms still have no idea how they impact on our environment. That isn’t just bad for the planet. It makes companies inefficient and depletes the resources they themselves depend on. Plus their customers and investors have a right to this information too. So it’s time for governments to give ‘sustainability reporting’ a much-needed global push, getting more companies to green their books.

1992 was a triumph and next week governments from across the globe must revive the spirit and ambition of our predecessors. It’s time to set the agenda for the next twenty years. 


What would you like to ask the Deputy Prime Minister about Rio+20?

You can ask your question by commenting on this blog (if you are not already registered on RSPB Communities you will need to do so - see here for find out how) – alternatively we will be taking questions via Twitter and Facebook.  We’ll pick the best 20 questions for the Deputy Prime Minister to answer on his return from Rio+20.

Finally, today two of my colleagues (Tim Stowe and Sacha Cleminson) will be flying out to the conference to join our BirfdLife International Partners in Rio. You will be able to recieve updates on their experiences by reading their blogs which will apear hereIn preparation for this conference, we have worked with Green Alliance to produce a series of essays entitled ‘Rio+20 Where It Should Lead’ from business, political and NGO leaders to stimulate fresh debate about how we rise to the sustainable development challenge set twenty years ago. You can read a copy of this report hereAs BirdLife International, we shall at Rio be making the case for the following:

1. A green economy in the context of sustainable development: We want governments to demonstrate global leadership to re-direct the global economy towards a sustainable pathway.  The resilience of the global economy is intimately linked to the state of the environment . Will want governments to mainstream consideration of nature across policy formulation and decision-making processes, and reflect it clearly in indicators of socio-economic development and growth. We want governments to recognise that healthy ecosystems underpin our lives and that the poorest and most vulnerable are frequently the most dependent on them. Governments must provide the investment needed to maintain and restore healthy ecosystems.  We also want governments to phase out and redirect harmful and perverse incentives that act to undermine sustainable development.

2. Securing our oceans: We strongly support efforts to protect and restore marine ecosystems and in particular we a) support the call for negotiation of an implementing agreement to the United Nations Law of the Sea that would address the sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, including effective safeguard for ecologically and biologically significant areas and b) calls on states to reduce fish harvest to levels that allow stocks to rebuild, in order to restore, by 2015, and maintain depleted fish stocks above levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield. For stocks which, despite targeted measures, fail to achieve this target, science-based management plans should be implemented in order to restore and maintain populations to these levels within the shortest timeframe biologically possible

3. Biodiversity and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): we support the development of a set of universally agreed Sustainable Development Goals that will accelerate and help measure progress towards sustainable development. However, it is essential that Governments ensure that a) the underpinning role of nature and biodiversity is clearly reflected in the SDGs b) the SDGs and their indicators link explicitly to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 (agreed in Nagoya in 2010) and its associated indicators c) a process is established to follow from Rio+20 that will agree the themes of the SDGs.and d) Any indicative list of themes to be decided upon at Rio+20 should not restrict the choice of SDGs by this future process.

4. Framework for action: To ensure coherent progress towards sustainable development, priority cross-cutting issues (e.g. forests and biodiversity, oceans, food security and agriculture, energy and water) identified in the Rio+20 outcomes require urgent action. They must link and refer to the delivery of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Good luck to all those (politicians, business leaders and NGOs) that are going to Rio.  Please do come back with concrete commitments.  Mark’s final essays will appear over the next few days after which I shall reflect on the successes (we hope) of the Rio conference. 


  • Mr Clegg's messages are encouraging. To pick up on one "Consumers want to make informed decisions about products". How much better would it have been therefore if our mainstream media had not been so lamentable in it's coverage of Rio. Hardly a word relative to the G20 and the usual diet of trivia. Even the Guardian who hosted the web chat didn't carry a single word the day after the event! The "big issues" programs, Question Time etc etc never cover this topic - why?

  • Thanks for all your comments.  I thought you'd be interesting reading Mr Clegg's speech which he has just given to the plenary session in Rio.


    Thanks to President Dilma, Secretary General Ban and the governor, mayor and people of Rio.

    20 years after the original Earth Summit our task is to show the same ambition as our predecessors and get sustainable development back on track, with a focus on poverty eradication

    We believe strongly that our economic, social and environmental agendas go hand in hand.

    Sustainable growth is essential to raise living standards.

    It is often the poorest people who are most reliant on natural resources. And our natural resources provide essential economic resources for long-term growth. Globally the green sector is worth about $5 trillion a year. UK business can save $35 billion a year from no or low cost measures to use resources, such as energy, more sustainably.

    The UK is absolutely committed to playing our part and to working with our international partners.

    At home: we are on track to deliver our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on official development assistance to developing countries from 2013. As part of this, I am announcing that the British Government will provide up to £150 million to the International Fund for Agriculture Development’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme.

    We are also greening our economy in a range of ways: Green Investment Bank - a world first; Have set up a Natural Capital Committee to advise the finance minister; Electricity Market Reform; About to host greenest Olympics ever; and Greenhouse Gas Reporting Initiative.

    Here in Rio the UK believes there are three big shifts we need to lead. And pleased to see they have been included in the draft outcome:

    First, a key outcome from Rio will be the agreement to develop Sustainable Development Goals. These need to focus on food, energy, and water – important for growth, poverty eradication and sustainability, and be coherent and integrated with the UN Development agenda beyond 2015. SDGs should be aspirational and universal.

    Second, we need better understanding of growth. Rio+20 has recognised we need to develop broader measures of progress to complement GDP – this can be a spring-board for action – to allow countries to measure their natural wealth and social wellbeing –and make informed decisions.

    And this is the crucial part. We don’t just need to measure what matters, we need to adopt Natural Capital Accounting to ensure that our natural resources, on which 40% of our global economy depends, are properly reflected in decision-making. Governments need to show leadership here, and I’m delighted to say that in the UK we have committed to including natural capital within our system of national accounts by 2020.

    Third, we need to involve businesses more. Government cannot do this alone. There is increasing recognition among major companies that using resources sustainably is in their own interests. That is why it is so important that Rio has recognised the role of business sustainability reporting. There is a market demand for this. Companies have been asking for it, investors need to know, consumers want to make informed decisions, and this should eventually lead to a global framework.

    I am pleased to see that the centrality of reproductive health and family planning to sustainable development has been recognised in the outcome document.  This includes creating an enabling environment in which reproductive rights, particularly those of women and  adolescent girls, can be realised. The UK will continue to be a strong champion for sexual and reproductive health and rights and is heartened that the Rio document underlines how important this is to sustainable development.

    I am also pleased to see that the importance of reliable, trusted geographic information is now recognised. The United Nations has now established a Committee of Experts of Member States, which the UK co-chairs, to move this agenda forward.

    Finally, Rio+20 has provided us with an opportunity to strengthen the coherence of governance. The current landscape is too cluttered with too many organisations focusing only on their own objectives. At Rio we have decided to strengthen ECOSOC and to upgrade UNEP. This will give these bodies the authority to lead to more coherent approaches.

    It cannot have escaped the attention of anyone in this room that there are individuals and organisations outside arguing that the text we have agreed does not go far enough or reflects too much the spirit of compromise.  What I believe is that the text gives us all the right components; what we need now is enough political will and determination to build those components into a machine capable of delivering the inclusive, sustainable growth we all seek.

    This week we have agreed to set sustainable development goals.  I want to see very rapid progress in agreeing these within the post-2015 development framework, so that - as at the original Rio conference - the environment and development are again part of a coherent whole.   And I would like to think that the ideas we have promoted here – governments, civil society, consumers and business working together and concepts like the green economy and natural capital – will be central to the way we all behave.  

    We need to turn words into action. We need to work together to change behaviours, to change all our mindsets and put our world on a more sustainable footing. That’s why the UK Environment Secretary and I have been using the unique platform that Rio provides to talk to fellow leaders from around the world about how we turn these ideas into reality.

    If we do this together, then we have an opportunity to make the Future We Want.

  • I welcome Mr Clegg's comments.  I hope he sticks to his guns when dealing with cabinet colleagues who don't seem to recognise the need for a sustainable economy.

  • Agree wholeheartedly with Wobbly1. We're constantly hearing about the increase in pollution and diminishing natural resources whilst demand for those natural resources is only going to increase but nobody is brave enough to talk about population control. There are too many families with 4, 5, 6 + kids. Why?

    What does Mr Clegg think about population control?

  • One thing I think needs to be done worldwide is to enforce population control.  This world is fast running out of its resources and an ever increasing population is no doubt making it worse. If China can impose such a thing then why can't the rest of the word? Maybe China did not get it quite right, but the idea should be developed.

  • Is anything meaningfull going to come out of RIO + 2O I dont think so,not while the world is run by big buisness. DEREK

  • Most people are aware of the urban heat island effect whereby the air temperature above our towns and cities is 4 or 5°C above that of the surrounding countryside. This is due in part to hard surfacing materials used for buildings and roads and the anthropogenic heat sources from vehicles and air condition units. However the main cause is a lack of evaporative and transpiration surfaces resulting from reduced areas of vegetation. Evaporation from open water and transpiration from plants is a cooling process which helps maintain a balanced air temperature. Without this evapotranspiration ambient temperatures inevitably rise. However what is less well known is that the air temperature in the countryside has also increased through the drainage of wet lands and the destruction of our woods, forest and jungles to be replaced by agriculture where transpiration rates are less than before. With much of the world’s surface so altered by man it is no wonder that we are seeing changes in ambient air temperatures.

    Water vapour is a far more potent greenhouse gas and exists in the atmosphere at concentrations between 25 and 100 times than that CO2. Changes in the concentration of atmospheric water vapour consequently have a far greater effect on climate than changes in other greenhouse gases and yet while there is research going on about the effect that changes in those other greenhouse gases may have on levels of atmospheric water vapour there is very little research about how changes in concentration of that water vapour has on our climate.

    An extreme example of how man’s activities have changed the environment can be seen in the “Golden Crescent”: the land between Lebanon through present day Syria and Iraq to Iran. In biblical times this was a land “flowing with milk and honey” and yet today, through wholesale destruction of the forests that once grew there, has been reduced to little more than desert.

    There are three messages therefore that have to be taken to Rio if we wish to see a sustainable planet:-

    1) that the world must stop destroying its forested areas and draining its wet lands. Not so much because that that destruction can lead to the release of CO2 into the atmosphere but to balance the water cycle and so that the planet can continue to breath.

    2) that crop researchers should stop trying to adapt the land to the crop but to adapt the crop to the land and

    3) that we need to green up towns and cities by building open green space and installing green roofs on all buildings as research has shown that this can help reduce the urban heat island effect and make those urban spaces a more comfortable place in which to work and play.

  • I would like to support the comments from Mirio, and ask Mr Clegg what he would or could to to ensure that organisations such as Network Rail take their responsibilities for regard to the conservation of biodiversity under the Nerc Act, and other Wildlife Acts, seriously.   Network Rail has just chopped down all the trees on a patch of railside land in Highbury during the nesting season and without consulting LB Islington, which it agreed to do after a similar act of devastation last summer.    These sort of organisations seem to be completely unaccountable - when they were publicly owned, they were accountable.

  • I would like to ask the deputy prime minister why so many of the recommendations from the excellent review "Making Space for Nature: A review of England's Wildlife Sites and Ecological. Network. Chaired by Professor Sir John Lawton CBE FRS" seem to have been ignored.

    I would like to see railway lines used as linear nature reserves instead of the constant spraying of herbicides on trackside vegetation which occurs now.

  • An excellent blog from the Deputy PM. I think he and Caroline Spelman represent a strong UK team at Rio+20, appreciative of the critical issues at stake. Well done to the RSPB for inviting Nick Clegg to provide this blog and for him to accept.

  • Martin, I have just posted the following on the Birdguides site in response to a comment about modern farming harming the enviroment. I felt the need to provide balance to Rob.

    "Not all farmers (will evade the issue). The North Cotswold Ornithological Society (NCOS - had the privillege of an escorted tour around Mark Tufnell's Calmsden Manor Farm estate last weekend. Mark signed up to a competitive government scheme to promote conservation in farming and has acheived some amazing success with Grey Partridge, Barn Owl and Skylark amongst many others - ref This represents a very progressive view valuing all aspects of farming not just the economic imperative. The sad thing is that the scheme was not only competitive (rather than open to all) but is about to be cutback by the government. False economics or what especially at a time when Caroline Spelman (Defra) is saying all the right things ahead of the Rio Earth Summit (June 20-22)!"

    With regard to the cutback, is this a case of politicians saying one thing and doing another with regard to the cutback?

  • Mr Clegg,

           Firstly I would like you to note that their are more Heads of Government attending the Olympics than Rio+20. This is a sad commentary on the "sustainability agenda" and Mr Cameron's absence defines his "green conservatism" as hogwash. Post Rio 1992 CO2 emissions have risen 40% when our ambition, legally defined by the Rio signatories was to have them falling. There is nothing defined or legally binding in ambition at Rio plus 20 and my own conclusion is that society prefers to prepare for war than peace ie it would have been preferable to spend the Iraq/Afghan monies on energy security via sun, wind, wave and tide.

          The Coaltion today announced a limited Plan B; its home ownership initiative fails to address the monopoly of land banks and thereby does nothing to "rebalance" the economy through reducing housing costs and rents (which it is driving up) but specifically can I get a commitment from you to start developing the energy potential of the Severn Estuary whether it be a Hain's Barrage, RSPB's "reefs" or FoE's "lagoons and can this be decided via the Bristol Mayoral campaign and a start made ? Also will you support plans to put a solar power station on Bristol roofs coming from Hamilton house, Stokes Croft, Bristol ?

  • I have a question regarding terrestrial ecosystem services provided by biomes such as the tropical rainforest, and mangrove. Protection of these services would appear implicit in the protection of biodiversity, the question is really about who foots the bill.

    "Governments must provide the investment needed to maintain and restore healthy ecosystems."; Does this imply we expect countries like Brazil to pay for the Amazon, (at a cost to their agricultural development i guess), or are we doing anything to help poorer countries maintain the investment to help maintain the upkeep of our planet's biodiversity hotspots and key ecosystem services? I think if the world paid what some of these services are worth - developing countries would be planting forests; estimates of ecosystem services are surely worthless if they generate no real value... compared to say selling a mangrove for woodchip and farming shrimp on it.