Deputy Prime Minister's speech at the Natural Capital Summit

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made a speech at the Natural Capital Summit as part of the Rio+20 conference on 20 June 2012.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Nick Clegg

President Chinchilla, Prime Minister Stoltenberg, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen.  It’s a real honour to co-host this event.  I’ve only just arrived a few hours ago in Rio and some people […] are claiming that the draft agreement that has been put together by our Brazilian hosts is not ambitious enough and some have claimed that it is too weak a text and others have said to me that they recognise that is a very ambitious text.  My own view is that the text represents a real step forward.  Sure it doesn’t go as far as many people would want, sure it is not as ambitious as it would be if I were able to write it myself.  But the whole point about summits like this and the whole point about the text which we are agreeing at this summit is that it brings together a huge number of different countries from very, very different parts of the world over a hundred and ninety different countries. 

By definition any text which is agreed by a hundred and ninety different countries from different hemispheres will always involve compromises, will always involve diluted language and a key thing is to look beyond every adjective and adverb and ask yourself what direction does the text point us all in, in what direction are those a hundred and ninety countries going in.  And my view is that the summit here and the draft text which has been assembled by our Brazilian hosts quite clearly and unambiguously pushes all of us, all hundred and ninety countries, towards a world in which we treasure, measure and, and protect sustainable development in a way that we have never done before. 

And this brings me to the subject of this important event, natural capital accounting because you can’t, you can’t mainstream sustainable development in to our thinking, you can’t avoid the mistakes of the past where we went for growth today and paid the costs and cleaned up later unless you measure the right things.  And for too long we have valued the wrong things and undervalued the damage we’re doing to the natural resources upon which we all depend.  And unless we move both as Governments and as the private sector to developing a more holistic picture of the resources we drew on, drawn on and the sustainability of our activities, we will keep repeating the mistakes of the past.  So what might appear quite technical, quite dry as a subject is actually hugely important.  Without the right tools to measure the right things we won’t end up doing the right thing and that is what natural capital accounting is all about.

I’m immensely pleased that this concept of accounting for, measuring and assessing our own natural capital is, is something which unifies people.  It’s not something which is pioneered by the developed world and shunned by the developing world as Rachel said.  The Gaborone declaration in my view really sets the pace and sets, sets the level of ambition which many other people and many other Governments should now emulate and I want to pay tribute to the African representatives who were involved in that all important declaration.  Nor is it something in which Government say one thing and the private sector does something else. This will only work if public authorities and the private sector work hand in hand and that’s why for instance I’m delighted to be able to confirm that I’ve announced today that in the United Kingdom we will be the first country anywhere that is obliging those companies listed on the London Stock Exchange to publish in full on an annual basis greenhouse gas emission reports about their own activities and […].

And that, and that as Rachel kindly said comes on top of a number of other radical steps we’ve taken as a Coalition Government in the last two years setting up a Natural Capital Committee to provide us if you like with advice and a well-rounded picture of the natural capital upon which we all depend.  We are working with our statistical authorities in the United Kingdom to develop a more, a richer more multi-dimensional statistical assessment of our, of our well-being and why we are such enthusiastic supporters providing three million pounds worth of support to the World Bank’s Waves initiative which is designed explicitly to help other countries develop their own means of measuring not only growth in the narrow snapshot sense of the word, but also the resources upon which we all depend.

So I’m delighted to be able to stand here and co-host this important event. I think the fact that the World Bank and that Andrew Mitchell - the other Andrew Mitchell that is - and in the Natural Capital Declaration have set this target of finding fifty Governments and fifty private sector entities to commit themselves now right here today to measuring capital in a different way, I think if we succeed and build on what they have done, we will look back in my view on this event as an extremely important one indeed because if in ten, fifteen, twenty years’ time we no longer assess our wealth and our prosperity in the narrow snapshot terms of GDP alone, but give people a clear, easily understood measurement of our long term prosperity and sustainability upon which we, with which we use our resources, I think we can genuinely start changing things for good.  Thank you very much indeed.

Published 20 June 2012