28 June 2012

Statement: Rio+20 Earth Summit

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a statement by Stewart Stevenson on the Rio+20 earth summit. The minister will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I would like to report back to Parliament on the outcome of the Rio+20 earth summit, which I attended and which was an immensely valuable event for the Scottish Government to participate in. Once again, we contributed to a major international conference in which the subject of debate was the vital sustainability and climate change agenda. While I was there, it became ever clearer to me that our actions, leadership and messages are well received and welcomed by other Governments, international organisations, non-governmental organisations and other actors including businesses and young people.

The wide range of stakeholders whom I met at the conference were keen to hear about what we are doing here in Scotland, and in partnership with other countries. There is support for our commitment to actively addressing climate change and sustainable development and, through our contribution to climate justice, to helping others to do the same. Even though we are, in global terms, a small emitter, we are acting big—we have big ideas, big ambition and a big message. We discussed that with Minister Lidegaard of Denmark, which is a similar-sized European country with big ambition, whose determined leadership of the European Union at the conference should be applauded.

At the conference, which came barely three weeks after the First Minister was joined by Mary Robinson to launch our climate justice fund with £3 million, our message was focused: it is that engagement with the agenda is not simply a moral duty that is born out of historical responsibility and the current economic position, because the path to a green economy that is now laid beneath the feet of the world’s leaders offers a substantial economic opportunity to countries around the world that choose to grasp it.

In Scotland, we have proved that the economics of low carbon are sound and that reduced consumption and smarter management of resources do not mean reduced productivity or economic decline, but quite the opposite. Given our competitive advantage and the excellence and experience of key sectors, our low-carbon sectors have experienced consistent growth in jobs and output and our technological base continues to expand and to be world-leading.

Our record continues to attract the attention of others in the international community, with which we are continuing to build alliances, including with the Inter-American Development Bank, which wishes to benefit from our expertise and innovation in low-carbon technologies—notably marine energy. However, such messages should be coupled with our equally key messages about the importance of strengthening support for developing countries.

In Rio, I had the opportunity to speak about our climate justice agenda at a United Nations Institute for Training and Research and CIFAL event. I talked about our new fund and its objectives of providing poor and vulnerable communities with projects that address climate adaptation solutions and which should result in climate-change resilient legacies in those communities. I was also able to confirm the latest funding, through the international development fund, of three new projects in sub-Saharan Africa, which will receive a total of £4 million investment over three years and will contribute to work in Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.

I was also delighted to be able, with the delegation of the Government of Malawi, to build on discussions that we had at previous conferences. I took the opportunity to discuss strengthening our existing relationship and, following our provision of £3 million in recent years for community solar and community renewables, we made an offer—which was accepted—of practical assistance for the country’s development of climate change and renewable energy policies. That assistance will take the form of our providing short-term policy secondees from the Scottish Government to the Government of Malawi, and will offer an opportunity for some of its staff to come to Scotland and learn directly from what we are doing, as well as giving us a valuable insight into their work.

The conference’s overall programme was extremely full. I attended numerous events, participated in panels and programmes, met many people in the margins and held specific bilaterals with a number of important stakeholders, including the Inter-American Development Bank and The Climate Group. Building on a meeting between the First Minister and Ban Ki-Moon in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, I met United Nations Assistant Secretary General Bob Orr, who is responsible for policy co-ordination and strategic planning, and we discussed the contribution that Scotland can make to Ban Ki-Moon’s sustainable energy for all initiative. That meeting will pave the way to the development of a clear offer that we can make actively to participate in and to support the achievement of the three goals of sustainable energy for all: first, to ensure universal access to modern energy services; secondly, to double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and thirdly, to double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. Scotland will play a full and active role in that.

As for the conference itself, I was deeply disappointed that there was not more agreement on a more ambitious programme. Nevertheless, we are still determined to engage with partners and, over the coming weeks, there will be a process of analysing and thinking beyond the text.

The conference proceeded in a rather different fashion to many previous international conferences of this variety. After 12 months, there had been only limited progress on agreeing the text; indeed, by the end of the fourth preparatory committee in the week preceding the conference, only about one third of the text had been agreed. Significant differences remained over key elements, including the green economy, the process for agreeing sustainable development goals and the resources that will be required to implement the text.

As the week of the conference opened and further negotiating days were added to the schedule, extraordinary events unfolded. Although certain of the tactics that were deployed by President Rousseff of Brazil were initially not universally welcomed, all the Governments that I met during the week ultimately expressed admiration for, and gratitude towards, the Brazilians for the strength and commitment of their chairmanship. Brazil’s achievement was to get an entire text delivered as agreed before the commencement of the high-level summit. The initial shock at not having to spend another three days locked in negotiating rooms quickly wore off as we all realised the opportunity to start focusing on the deliverables—in other words, the concrete next steps towards delivering on sustainable development.

The text has reasonably been criticised for not addressing resources and for setting a weak timetable and thematic list for delivery of the sustainable development goals. Others have described the agreement as “timid”; I must say that I agree. Although it builds on the Durban accord, which is to lead a legally binding agreement by 2015, and takes us forward to a discussion of the timetable and resources for delivering sustainability, it does not go as far as I would have liked and currently provides no certainty that either will be delivered.

The Brazilian text and leadership enabled heads of delegations and ministers to begin to address what each country in the world must now do and what resources might be made available in order to implement the programme and to build towards a complete post-2015 framework, which will now include the second phase of millennium development goals, a new legally binding framework on climate change and—as a result of the Rio+20 conference—sustainable development goals.

The world no longer needs to rely upon the traditional leaders of opinion. Although the role of the European Union and its member states continues to be important, we now can look wider for sources of progress. We are working on that by building on partnerships with colleagues in Malawi and the Maldives, among others, as well as continuing to work with our European partners.

When Parliament debated the Rio+20 summit on 30 May 2012, much was said about the preparations and expectations for Rio. I very much welcomed the unanimity of support that Parliament showed for my participation in Rio. I am also grateful to the many NGOs and businesses around Scotland that provided support to my programme by recommending side events, facilitating my direct participation in them and offering briefings.

In spite of our disappointment that the summit did not deliver more, it is vital that we maintain and build upon our work so far. I trust that all parties will join me in ensuring that Scotland makes a full and positive contribution to delivering the outcomes of Rio+20, which will support other ambitious nations around the world.

Stewart Stevenson
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