Sustainability and development must be inextricably linked at Rio+10 conference

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) must not be seen purely as an environmental conference, but should offer the prospect of development – combined with sustainability - to the Third World, according to delegates at a conference on 22 January, which included speakers such as Jonathon Porritt and Environment Minister Michael Meacher.

The conference, held by UNED-UK (United Nations Environment and Development – UK Committee), was the second major conference (see related story) focusing the UK’s preparations for September’s WSSD in Johannesburg, marking ten years since the Earth Summit in Rio.

Michael Meacher emphasised the UK government’s support of the summit, pointing out that Prime Minister Tony Blair was the first national leader to announce that he would be going to the meeting. “The UK’s overarching strategic objective is to eradicate poverty through sustainable development,” he said.

However, Jonathon Porritt, Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, criticised the prime minister’s advisors for still failing to understand the importance of sustainable development. He called for sustainable development to be at the heart of decision-making in the UK, rather than being made to creep inch by inch onto the stage.

John Gummer MP, former environment minister and a champion of climate change issues in the UK, called on Chancellor Gordon Brown to do his bit to promote sustainable development between now and September. “The Treasury must show itself able to understand what it can do to make the government more effective,” said Gummer. He also called on the Department of Trade and Industry to promote sustainable development here and abroad.

Those preparing for the conference must not be held back by fears of failure, and need to have confidence in the process, but must also be prepared to achieve practical environmental gains themselves, and must lobby those that they have a right to influence, Gummer told the conference. “We have to face our doubts that we won’t achieve everything we hope to by Johannesburg – of course we won’t – that’s the nature of hope,” said Gummer.

“We want to create a world which is conscious of its responsibility to the future and secondly is responsible for each other now,” said Gummer. “Only the world that is sustainable is a world that is just.”

Concern was expressed by a number of delegates as to the absence of big business from the event. However, it was also pointed out that one possible source of assistance for sustainable development was through the armed forces, whose members understand the issues behind it.

UNED-UK’s preparations for Johannesburg have included seven working groups, designed to establish the most important issues that the UK should take to the summit. Details of the group’s findings can be found on UKED-UK’s website. The groups have focused on:

  • the UK in the wider world;
  • biodiversity and natural resources conservation;
  • education for sustainable development;
  • sustainable cities and communities;
  • energy and climate change;
  • sustainable production and consumption; and
  • human population and sustainability (see related story).

The 22 January UNED-UK event was carbon neutral, with the estimated 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide produced both at the venue and by travel by delegates resulting in the planting of 50 trees in rural India, Dan Morrell, Chairman of the carbon-offset company Future Forests, told edie. Future Forests has announced the ambitious aim of ensuring that the Johannesburg summit is carbon neutral, and has already reached agreements with organisations such as the Johannesburg City Council. International organisations taking part in the event are also being lobbied, said Morrell.

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