Nick Clegg's Rio+20 Plenary Speech

Nick Clegg’s plenary speech, delivered at Rio+20 Summit on 21st June 2012.

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

The Rt Hon Nick Clegg

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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.

Published 21 June 2012