You asked the questions, the Deputy Prime Minister has provided some answers

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You asked the questions, the Deputy Prime Minister has provided some answers

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In June, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, outlined his ambitions for the Rio+20 conference in a blog here.  He kindly invited people to submit some questions (which many of you did).  We then asked him to come up with some answers. 

While the process has not been quite as slick as Any Questions/Any Answers, the Deputy Prime Minister has taken time out from this hectic schedule (which those of you who read my blog on Tuesday will know that this does, of course, mean visiting some of our finest wildlife sites) to provide some answers.  As many questions we received were similar, we did lump them together (and prioritise) a bit.  Let me know what you think of his answers!


1.       You were going to push for GDP plus at Rio. But I haven't seen a media word mention it?

While in Rio I made a speech on Natural Capital Accounting at the Natural Capital Summit which I co-hosted on 20 June. You can read the speech in full on my website here

Pushing for GDP Plus was one of my priorities at the Rio summit.  The Natural Capital Summit was an important opportunity for us to urge more national governments to broaden their understanding of wealth. We simply cannot go on ignoring the state of natural capital - assets like forests or coastal areas and only judging how well a country is doing by looking almost exclusively at the money it makes.

GDP is vital in measuring economic performance – but it doesn’t capture the full picture. It says nothing about this natural capital on which future prosperity depends. The UK has committed to including natural capital within our system of national accounts by 2020. Botswana has pioneered this kind of thinking since the 1980s. The government calculates the cost to the environment from mining and then invests in other parts of the economy, like education, to offset the damage.

We want to see others follow suit.  So we worked hard at the summit to ensure that all the nations that attended recognised the importance of broader measures of environmental and social wealth to complement GDP. I was pleased that the final declaration asked the UN Statistical Commission to launch a programme of work to develop GDP Plus, and that it also recognised the importance of broader measures of progress beyond GDP in order to inform governments’ decision making.

I was delighted to also be able to announce at the summit that all businesses listed on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange will have to report their levels of greenhouse gas emissions from the start of the next financial year. We are the first country to make it compulsory for companies to include emissions data for their entire organisation in their annual reports, enabling investors to see which companies are effectively managing the hidden long-term costs of greenhouse gas emissions.

2.       In Pavan Suhkdev's memorable phrase (in the TEEB Report), our economic compass is broken.  What is the single most important thing we need to do to reset it?

3.       Governments must provide the investment needed to maintain and restore healthy ecosystems."; Does this imply we expect countries like Brazil to pay for the Amazon, (at a cost to their agricultural development I guess), or are we doing anything to help poorer countries maintain the investment to help maintain the upkeep of our planet's biodiversity hotspots and key ecosystem services? I think if the world paid what some of these services are worth - developing countries would be planting forests; estimates of ecosystem services are surely worthless if they generate no real value... compared to say selling a mangrove for woodchip and farming shrimp on it.

I believe strongly that our economic, social and environmental agendas must go hand in hand.

Sustainable growth is essential to raise living standards at home and abroad. 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. And being green makes good business sense - UK business can save $35 billion a year from no or low cost measures to use resources, such as energy, more sustainably.

In Rio I was able to underline the UK commitment to playing our part and to working with our international partners.

One of the specific goals recommended by the ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity report is mainstreaming the consideration of the values of biodiversity in our decision making, not just in government but across society as a whole.

Our Natural Environment White Paper and the UK National Ecosystem Assessment commit us to working with business, land managers, local authorities, environmental organisations and others to protect and improve the natural environment; setting up a Natural Capital Committee has provided us with advice and a well rounded picture of the natural capital we all depend on; and we are working with our statistical authorities to develop a more multi-dimensional statistical assessment of our well-being.

We have also provided £3 million worth of support to the World Bank’s WAVES initiative which is designed explicitly to help other countries develop their own measures of growth, taking into account the resources upon which we all depend

Where there are global benefits, for example, through protecting and restoring tropical forests we are already investing with the Government’s International Climate Fund which wills see us provide £2.9 billion for climate projects across the world by March 2015.

But of course government cannot act alone. Crucially, at Rio national governments recognised the importance of working alongside businesses. Thanks in no small part to the leadership of UK firms and the Government, Rio recognised the role of corporate sustainability reporting to their shareholders and to prospective investors, something which would have been inconceivable even a year ago. I also announced in Rio that we will be the first country anywhere to mandate large companies to report on their greenhouse gas emissions.

A growing number of companies and investors are realising that their own success is directly linked to sustainable, green growth. I hope that the call from all nations for businesses to report their sustainability performance will usher in a new era of transparency and consistency in the global business community.

4.       Firstly I would like you to note that there are more Heads of Government attending the Olympics than Rio+20. This is a sad commentary on the "sustainability agenda" and Mr Cameron's absence defines his "green conservatism" as hogwash. Post Rio 1992 CO2 emissions have risen 40 per cent when our ambition, legally defined by the Rio signatories was to have them falling. There is nothing defined or legally binding in ambition at Rio plus 20 and my own conclusion is that society prefers to prepare for war than peace ie it would have been preferable to spend the Iraq/Afghan monies on energy security via sun, wind, wave and tide.

Britain is a world leader on environmental issues, but we cannot tackle these matters in isolation. The Rio summit was an opportunity for us to make the case for all nations to match our progress. I led a UK delegation committed to making the case that growth does not have to come at a cost to the environment and that sustainable use of natural resources will be essential for long-term prosperity.

The summit set an enormous task for all of us who took part. Important progress on reducing poverty and protecting our environment had been made since the original Rio Earth Summit, but all in all, ambitions had not been met. We needed to agree ways to grow our economies without hoovering up or destroying our precious natural resources. And weighing heavily on our minds was the need to take the right decisions, not just for ourselves, but for the next generation which – in just 18 years – will need 30 per cent more water, 45 per cent more energy and 50 per cent more food. 

It is true that the summit did not go as far as we would have liked, but we did make progress on the key areas the UK sees as the priority for sustainable development and green growth. It revived a global commitment to an agenda that has come under threat and the UK Government played a crucial role in this.

Progress was made in the areas were progress needed to be made. I am clear that the declaration agreed by all196 countries should not be seen as the upper end of ambition, it should be our baseline and all countries should strive to surpass its expectation. We must now build on the steps that were taken to reinvigorate the drive for sustainable development and lasting growth.

5.       The Coalition today announced a limited Plan B; its home ownership initiative fails to address the monopoly of land banks and thereby does nothing to "rebalance" the economy through reducing housing costs and rents (which it is driving up) but specifically can I get a commitment from you to start developing the energy potential of the Severn Estuary whether it be a Hain's Barrage, RSPB's "reefs" or FoE's "lagoons.

The UK is a seen as a world leader in developing wave and tidal technologies and we are the global focal point for their development. With our excellent wave and tidal resources and our expertise in oil and gas exploration, the UK is in a unique position to benefit from this type of renewable energy and to develop related wave and tidal services. It is estimated that the UK has around 50 per cent of Europe’s tidal energy resource, and a study in 2004 estimated our technical resource is around 16 TWh/year (4 per cent of supply).However the industry is still in its early stages and further research is needed to determine how best to exploit these assets.

In October 2010 we published a two year Severn tidal power feasibility study, which concluded that the Government does not see a strategic case for public investment in a Severn tidal scheme, which could cost up to £34 billion.  However, the outcome of the feasibility study does not preclude a privately financed scheme coming forward and my Ministerial colleagues and officials are talking to private sector consortia about their ideas for developing tidal energy schemes in the Severn and elsewhere.

6.       I would like to ask you why so many of the recommendations from the excellent review "Making Space for Nature: A review of England's Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network. Chaired by Professor Sir John Lawton CBE FRS" seem to have been ignored?

The Making Space for Nature report was warmly welcomed by the Government when it was published in 2010. The Report's recommendations shaped the direction of our long-term policy ambitions, including the creation of ecological networks, promoting landscape scale approaches to conservation, ensuring important wildlife sites are protected and establishing Nature Improvement Areas.

The report was also one of the key drivers of our Natural Environment White Paper published in June 2011, and the England Biodiversity Strategy published later in 2011.

7.       Despite austerity, what concrete actions are you taking, right now, to protect marine life in British waters?

Part of my work at Rio was encouraging the summit to lay the foundations for a new international agreement to create marine protected areas in the high seas in order to preserve more of the precious flora and fauna of our oceans.

In the UK we are creating a network of Marine Protected Areas to conserve rare and threatened habitats.  Over 22 per cent of English inshore waters are already protected and we will roll out more protected areas over the next four years. We have also said we will consult on new Marine Conservation Zones later this year. This will mean that, by 2016, over 25 per cent of our inshore waters will be within well managed marine protected areas. We are also working to ensure that all UK waters reach what is known as ‘Good Environmental Status’ by 2020.

We have also recently announced a new marine protection zone totalling a million square km in South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands and already have marine conservation measures in place in uninhabited overseas territories. These are vital steps to preserve marine life and crucially to replenish fish stocks.

8.       Nick, what actions the coalition have taken to justify the PM's claim to be the greenest government ever?

RSPB members should not be in any doubt of our commitment to being the greenest government ever. We have pledged to half greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 - the boldest target set, in law, by any government, anywhere in the world, we are leading the biggest shakeup of the electricity market in thirty years and we are creating the UK’s first ever market in energy efficiency through the Green Deal. We are investing in a series of world firsts despite the huge pressures on the public purse. The first ever national bank devoted to green investment, the first ever Carbon Capture and Storage project at commercial scale and in just a few days, the greenest ever Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Periods of economic reinvention force us to do things differently, but lean times can be green times too. We have the sixth largest low carbon market in the world, our green industries are booming. They employ 940,000 people - up 2.8% from last year. Sales in the green economy are also growing at a rate of 4.7%.
At the Rio Summit, we could play a lead role precisely because we were able to point to leadership at home. The economic situation creates challenge, but it has not weakened our resolve, it has only strengthened our ambition. The Summit is over but the work continues and the UK will continue to lead from the front.


  • I agree with Taffy here ! I am really really upset; I have devoted so many years of unpaid work to the broad Rio agenda. The sort of mythological nonsense that prevents actions is encompassed in Mr Cleggs words "we are a world leader on environmental issues"; no Sir we are not. Kenya and other "less developed" countries  are the world leaders; they pollute far less per head within far smaller footprints and defy escalating problems to protect their wildlife. God Bless them ! We fritter our resources on property and banks and allow the rich from billionaires to drug barons to torturers to stash their ill gotten gains within the secrecy of our offshore "protectorates". Sustainability is impossible when the City of London is institutionally corrupt. Reform was the great Liberal perogative of Gladstone; the City is corrupt Mr Clegg and these are empty words you speak within that context.

  • Thank you for posting my question to him to Mr Clegg. My real disappointment is that he seems to have accepted the redrawing of the baseline from Rio 1992 to Rio plus 20. Gutted !

  • One point that came up and hit me was in your answer to question 1, where you state "Botswana has pioneered this kind of thinking since the 1980s. The government calculates the cost to the environment from mining and then invests in other parts of the economy, like education, to offset the damage."

    So it's ok to destroy important habitats providing we then build new schools, playgounds, shopping malls, car parks, roads, fast railways..........? Is that what you really meant, as that is certainly how it read; that the environment is only worth damaging if you can find something else to invest in, which of course you can.

    Oh, I give up.