Former New Zealand Prime Minister, Mrs. Helen Clark
Former New Zealand Prime Minister and current head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Mrs. Helen Clark, has said the outcome document of June’s ‘Rio+20’ UN Conference on Sustainable Development reinforced global commitment to tackle social, economic and environmental challenges together.
Giving Lincoln University’s annual ‘State of the Nation’s Environment’ address in Christchurch, New Zealand, Clark said, “The more polluted and unequal our world becomes, the more Governments will tend to view environmental and social protection systems not as luxuries to be acquired when countries become wealthy, but as necessities, vital to sustain development and meet the needs of citizens”.
Rio+20 ranked as the largest ever UN gathering, including some 100 Heads of State and 40,000 individuals and representatives of civil society, communities and businesses.
“The outcome document from Rio+20 is a solid foundation on which to build,” Clark said of the text that resulted from negotiations among the UN member states, highlighting the importance of sustainable development that is equitable and profitable for all
Rio+20’s key outcome was the 700 formal, voluntary commitments made not by national governments but by businesses, development banks, cities and regions, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and civil society, along with the more than $500 billion of pledged support.
These include: the 1,800 largest companies on the London Stock Exchange promised to begin disclosing their greenhouse gas emissions; a number of major cities - including Beijing, Cairo, Moscow and New York - committed to reducing a gigatonne of carbon emissions;
Also, eight multilateral development banks committed to spending $175 billion in grant and loan funding by 2020 to support sustainable, low-carbon transportation; while the United Nations Volunteers registered 64 million individual volunteer actions through its Volunteer Action Counts initiative, tied to the Rio+20 Conference.
Participation of and commitments made by small businesses, medium-sized enterprises and global corporations in Rio+20 was notable, given past tension between supporters of economic growth and supporters of environmental protection.
“Rio turns such thinking on its head, encouraging us all to identify how entrepreneurship, job creation and social protection can be generated through and linked to environmental protection,” said Clark.
Rio+20 also called on member states to eliminate or sharply reduce fossil fuel subsidies. In 2010, the world spent roughly $409 billion subsidising fossil fuels; in some countries these subsidies now exceed the total budget allocated to education, health and social programmes.
Ending fossil fuel subsidies would represent the kind of “triple win” policy called for by the Rio+20 outcome document, promoting energy conservation, increasing investments in renewable energy and freeing up significant funding for social policies to benefit the poor.
UNDP committed to bringing forward the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative - which calls for universal access to modern and renewable energy services by 2030 - in the 55 countries that have signed onto the initiative thus far.