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Caroline Spelman sets out UK ambitions for Rio+20

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has set out the UK’s ambitions for Rio+20, the forthcoming United Nations conference on Sustainable Development.

In a speech to businesses, green groups and NGOs at the Guildhall in London on 9th February, Mrs Spelman explained the importance of Rio+20, arguing that our economic, social and environmental security, and our future well-being, depend on tangible outcomes from the conference. While progress has been made since the first Earth Summit 20 years ago, we live in a world with over a billion people in poverty, two thirds of the world’s ecosystems are in decline, and we face the most severe economic challenges for decades.

Against this context Mrs Spelman argued that Rio+20 an opportunity for action to make a lasting difference:

“We want Rio to send out a clear message that the world is committed to creating a greener and more sustainable global economy. This is our opportunity to create a more sustainable world. We want an ambitious outcome and we are ready to take the lead to try and achieve it.”

The case for green growth

Welcoming The Future We Want, the UN’s zero draft negotiating text for the conference, as a good start, Mrs Spelman said that it lacks focus and ambition, and must go further to make the case for green growth by recognising the interdependency between natural resources, poverty and the economy. Citing evidence of the costs of climate change and deforestation and the reliance of much of the global economy on forests and other natural resources, Mrs Spelman dismissed any suggestion of a tension between environmental and economic progress:

“Sustainable development is no longer a sideline or an afterthought. There’s real recognition that it matters, and our location here, in the City of London, is testament to that.

“But – and it’s a big but – some people still think that there’s a tension between being green and delivering growth. I disagree. Being green is integral to sustainable economic growth.”

Just as many businesses now recognise that their future success is directly linked to sustainability, governments must commit to sustainable development and green growth. Mrs Spelman argued that long term, sustainable growth can only be achieved with efficient use of resources, the reduction of carbon emissions, and the eradication of poverty.

Leading on GDP+

Recognising that sustainable growth is not simply about economic output, Mrs Spelman said the UK will call for governments to measure and account for natural and social capital, as well as GDP. The UK is taking a lead on this concept of GDP+, with plans to measure the well-being of society and establish a new committee to report to the Chancellor on the state of natural capital.

Aiming for sustainable development goals

Mrs Spelman said the UK will work with Colombia and others to develop and drive forward the proposal for new Sustainable Development Goals, with the potential to guide and galvanise international and domestic efforts on major sustainability issues, such as food security, water, and access to sustainable energy:

“The international community has not made sufficient progress on important world challenges such as food security, access to clean water and sustainable energy. We need urgent action now. Sustainable Development Goals can drive international action on these key issues and build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals. I will be pushing for real progress on new goals to set us on the right path to a greener and more sustainable world.”

The role of business and civil society

Mrs Spelman stressed the essential role of the private sector and civil society in delivering a green economy through trade, innovation and investment, and campaigning, evidence and implementation.

By working together, Mrs Spelman hoped that government, business and civil society could develop:

“An understanding that inspires real change in the world through sustainable development and green economic growth.”

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