Opinion: 3 reasons why the Earth Summit matters for Liberal Democrats

In mid-June 1992, over one hundred heads of state came together in Rio de Janeiro to establish groundbreaking and legally binding agreements which put sustainable development on the global agenda and urged the world to start living within its means.

Twenty years on, sustainable development appears to have lost its way. The global financial crisis and ongoing problems in the Eurozone have led some (including many in the Conservative Party) to turn a blind eye to environmental issues.

Such has been the lack of media coverage, in fact, that you could be forgiven for failing to realise that this week’s Earth Summit, which will seek to accelerate progress on environmental issues, is actually taking place at all.

And for those who have taken an interest, it has been hard not to become disillusioned and depressed by the overwhelming sense of negativity that has dominated the noises coming out of Rio.

But now is no time to give up. As Nick Clegg leads the UK delegation in Rio this week, the issues which will be discussed cut to the core of what we, as Liberal Democrats, believe and will be vital for both the country and the Party in the future.

Here’s three reasons why:

  1. As Joel Kenrick wrote on LDV yesterday, the low-carbon transition will be vital in securing future prosperity and growth in the UK economy. The so-called choice between growth and environmental protection is a false dichotomy and greening our economy will save businesses money – by reducing their dependency on expensive natural resources – whilst stimulating growth and job creation by encouraging investment in new industries. The importance of this, at a time of such global economic uncertainty, cannot be understated.
  2. The others parties just don’t get it. While the majority of Tories ignorantly frame green initiatives as a burden on business (note that David Cameron turned down the opportunity to appear at Rio), the Labour Party have disingenuously used environmental issues to try and score cheap political points and failed to set out any coherent policy propositions in this area. The Liberal Democrats are the green party of Government and sustainability should remain at the heart of all our future policy development. Indeed, this will be a key differentiator at the next election.
  3. As well as being vital to secure future support from outside of the Party, green issues should be used by the leadership to engage the membership and unite the Party around a common cause. At a time where morale in some quarters is low, the Earth Summit is a real opportunity to reinvigorate the rank and file.

We should be proud that Nick Clegg will be leading the UK delegation in Rio and I would encourage all Party members to sign up to Nick’s daily updates on how the summit is going (members should have received an email about this) and read about his priorities for the summit in this Guardian article.

True, this week’s Earth Summit is unlikely to be as groundbreaking as the 1992 summit, but the global challenges facing the environment are even more pressing. It is vital that Rio reaffirms an international commitment to sustainable development and Liberal Democrats should be doing all we can to support this.

* Ben Wood is a member of the Liberal Sustainability Network.

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  • Richard Dean 22nd Jun '12 - 12:51am

    As the developing countries develop, they will want things like cars and cookers and computers in volumes that have the potential to dwarf the damage that the industrialized countries have so far done to the environment.

    So there must be many business opportunities to develop new designs and processes that avoid that scale of damage.

    We should perhaps encourage R&D along these lines, and arrange that developing countries themselves share in this R&D and in the profits that may come from the resulting green products.

  • I just want to point out that Ben Wood has written something that is the opposite of what he means. His mistake here is a very common one. He writes that ‘The importance of this, at a time of such global economic uncertainty, cannot be understated’. What he means is that it cannot be overstated. It doesn’t matter how much you say about it, because it’s so important it won’t be too much. However he has written the opposite, that however little you say or write you can’t make it little enough.

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