30 May 2012

S4M-02949 Rio+20 Summit

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-02949, in the name of Aileen McLeod, on Rio+20. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the upcoming Rio+20 summit in June 2012, which will see world leaders, governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups come together to discuss how they can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection for the world; notes that, ahead of the summit, the seven key areas that have been identified as needing priority are decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness; further notes that Rio+20 is in cooperation with the entire UN system; acknowledges the role of CIFAL Scotland in bringing together the public and private sector to advance the green growth agenda in Scotland and supports its ambition to give Scotland a powerful voice in promoting greater sustainability worldwide, including for organisations in the south of Scotland; considers that the original Rio Summit, held in 1992, was a milestone in global environmental talks, and believes that Rio+20 has the potential to go further in providing guidelines for long-term sustainable development worldwide.

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The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I welcome the opportunity to respond to the debate and to congratulate Aileen McLeod on securing it. Indeed, I congratulate all those who have been involved in the launch of the report “A Flourishing Scotland”. I was delighted to be with such an engaged group of people last night, just as I am delighted to be going to Rio as part of the UK delegation to work with people from countries around the world. I should say that when I go to Brazil—I say this to make members feel slightly better—I will almost certainly see none of the country. My experience of international conferences tells me that that is how things will work.

Let me address a few of the points that members have raised during the debate. Aileen McLeod talked about a range of things. I respond to her by saying that, in the preparation for Rio+20, Brazil has been playing a particularly important part, for example by working with others on the wider agenda in the intersessional talks that have taken place in the past couple of weeks. It has shown its ability to draw together disparate points of view and start to get some consensus.

I absolutely agree with the thread that has run through every speech, which is that the world’s poorest people are bearing the cost of the carbon-driven prosperity that we have built up over a long period of time, here and in many other developed countries. It is time that we repaid some of the debt that we owe to the people who are paying the price of our success. It is terrific to see that so much of Scotland’s civic society agrees that we should share responsibility.

Aileen McLeod said that GDP does not necessarily equate to prosperity; there is something in that. I am always drawn to the Bhutanese national constitution, which embeds the concept of gross national happiness as the way in which things should be measured.

We in Scotland are already doing a great deal. We are working on solar energy in Malawi through our international development fund and we are looking for bids for development projects in sub-Saharan Africa. We have awarded £1.7 million to support the University of Strathclyde’s Malawi renewable energy acceleration project so that, for the first time, rural areas can access reliable energy. We collaborate with the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute and we have introduced the Commonwealth saltire professional fellowships.

Claire Baker apologised for Claudia Beamish not being here. I am jealous that Claudia is on Gigha as it is one of my favourite islands. I say that at risk of offending others. Of course, the Gaelic name for the island means “God’s Island”. If someone is going to lose their voice, where better to do it than on Gigha?

Radical solutions will be on the table at Rio, and we have to build alliances to get support for taking them forward. I absolutely agree that, in urging the international community to take action, we cannot neglect the need to continue to do it here.

Jamie Hepburn majored on poverty and what we might term emerging emitters in poor nations moving on to the kind of model that has got us to where we are. We must help them to move to a new economy without their going through the same emitting stage as us. As Jamie Hepburn said, we must protect biodiversity and ecosystems.

We must deliver many messages in Rio and we will work with many different people. We recently accepted an invitation from the secretary general of the United Nations to participate in a sustainable energy for all initiative, which is one of many things that I am sure will come up in Rio. The economy is an important part of the agenda and we must ensure that the green economy has green roots and that it reaches the other parts that previous initiatives did not reach.

Jamie McGrigor talked about food security and sustainable agriculture and touched on the subject of water. I agree with what he said in that regard.

Alison Johnstone highlighted the seven issues in the motion and posed the question: what is a green economy? One thing that we must be careful about in this agenda—as in so many other areas where we seek to influence long-term changes in society, business and government—is that we do not bet on a single idea, because we do not know yet all that we will need to do or what will work. A single idea about what a new economy might look like is probably not going to be sufficient for us to respond as we will be required to respond.

Rob Gibson talked about moral duty and biodiversity. In that context, we must have diversity in all that we do. We in Scotland must show leadership and we must show what can be done. Equally, we must not assume that what suits us and our opportunities will necessarily work so well for others.

I very much look forward to doing more work on peatlands. It was one of the great successes of the Durban conference; it was absolutely first class that we were able to get peatlands into the climate change agenda.

We have seen in the intersessional work that has been going on in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that progress is slower than we would like it to be, which is why it is so important that small nations and sub-states from all around the world are also going to Rio to show that we can take action individually and are not constrained by the idea that we must wait for others to make a move. We are at the forefront of a clean industrial revolution and will be looking to build a low-carbon economy. We can help others see the way forward on that.

I very much hope that I will be able to bring good news from Rio, which is part of a rolling programme of international engagement and United Nations led activity to address climate change. Progress is slow, but the message is spreading and more and more countries around the world are engaging. We will take our opportunities to engage and to show others what can be done.

Meeting closed at 17:43.

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