12 links between the G20 and Rio+20 in 2012

27 March 2012
Articles and blogs

The planet is under pressure – a whole conference is devoted to the topic this week. Global growth is under pressure ­- full debt deleveraging has not yet taken place in Europe, and every day brings new evidence of a growth slowdown in China and India. The normal course of action is to see these as separate issues and discuss solutions in separate fora: planetary issues at the UN Conference for Sustainable Development in Rio (called Rio+20), growth crises and the Framework for strong sustainable and balanced growth, or FSSBG, (including its development components) at the G20.

What if we argue that this is no longer considered efficient because short-term welfare and long-term planetary boundaries are increasingly linked? In what ways could environmental and growth thinking in the G20 and Rio+20 reinforce each other?

This year’s European Report on Development (ERD 2012) Confronting scarcity: managing water, energy and land for inclusive and sustainable growth, to be launched in May 2012, makes a link between economic and environmental thinking. The ERD is led by European think-tanks building on the best of research, has European values such as inclusiveness and sustainability at its heart, and aims to influence European policies related to development (including beyond aid). But its applicability goes beyond European development policies, as witnessed by recent discussions at the World Water Forum. A joint presentation by the ERD team and the Stockholm Environment Institute during a ministerial roundtable at the World Water Forum in Marseille emphasised the nexus between water, energy and food security globally.

Since April last year, a set of ERD consultations have concentrated on the water-energy-land (WEL) nexus, assessing the evidence that environmental trends put development goals under pressure, and exploring (nexus) solutions, highlighting in particular political-economy aspects of such solutions at country level. The presentation illustrated the growing interrelations between water, energy and land, arguing that nexus thinking can lead to new solutions that differ from those developed in silos, which in the end will lead to improved policies for inclusive growth whilst being environmentally friendly.

At the morning roundtable, ministers and heads of delegation from around the world, as well as representatives of United Nations and other agencies and councils, contributed their own perspectives on the nexus, with the aim of feeding into the Rio+20 conference. In the afternoon, the ministerial declaration put forward three priorities to the Rio+20 conference, one of which argued for

The interlinkages between water, energy and food security, ensuring full policy coherence and well-functioning water-related ecosystems, with a view to exploiting synergies and avoiding adverse consequences across sectors, as a basis for sustainable growth and job creation’.

At the forum, the EU Commissioner Piebalgs further underlined the importance of this year’s ERD topic on the water, energy and land (WEL) nexus.

Now consider that Mexico, as chair of the G20 in 2012, has put green growth and sustainable development high on the agenda. Green growth cuts across a number of issues that are already on the table such as food security, green jobs, and phasing out of fossil-fuel subsidies. The G20 is a network of networks specialising in economic governance. It is beginning to realise that natural resource management is a G20 growth and productivity issue at the heart of FSSBG; the Rio process tries to link socio-economic and environmental processes, but has failed in the past 20 years.

But the circumstances are different now (the evidence on environmental pressures is stacking up). Moreover, the next G20 leaders summit takes place just days before the Rio+20 discussions, so now is the time to think about a set of high-level messages to link the G20 and Rio summits.

Do’s and don’ts for both the G20 and Rio+20:

  1. Highlight the challenges of resource scarcity (water, land, carbon space) for achieving sustained growth (in G20 and low income countries, LICs) and discuss the effects of G20 environmental policies on growth prospects in LICs and especially the small and vulnerable economies (SVEs) which have most to lose from inaction.
  2.  Frame the debate on the G20 workstream on solutions for green growth around the need for transformative action in a combination of areas ranging from influencing demand, to improving the quantity and quality of supply, increasingresourceefficiency and increasing resilienceagainst shocks and benefits for the poorest.
  3. Map global governance of sustainable development, encourage collaboration amongst international organisations, upgrade UNEP, and establish and agree global governance gaps in both Rio+20 and G20 communiqués.
  4. Encourage policy coherence for development: acknowledge that solutions to one crisis affect the possibility of a further crisis, so there is need for ‘smart’ solutions. For example, use a green stimulus, not a farmer subsidy.
  5. Highlightthe potential for partnerships for inclusive and sustainable growth,consisting of finance, technical assistance, knowledge-sharing for green infrastructure, energy-efficiency and renewable energy at the heart of both Rio and G20 (and the UN year of sustainable energy for all). Simon Maxwell talks off a “green growth guarantee” , which would needs to be supported by the full range of policies.
  6. On finance, provide appropriate mandates and tools to ensure Development Finance Institutions are geared towards upcoming global environmental challenges.
  7. Work better with the private sector and challenge them to do more for the protection of ecosystem services that will safeguard growth in the future, including by fostering learning amongst companies.
  8. Address market and co-ordination failures by scaling up market-pricing solutions such as payments for ecosystem services, by highlighting successful cases
  9. Encourage GDP+ accounting in the G20, report on progress in each G20 summit, and support GDP+ accounting for interested LICs.
  10. Prepare the ground for discussion on sustainable development goals. This will need to take into account that goals are increasingly interrelated and that the institutional context and capabilities to achieve the goals matters.
  11. Stop wasting resources: halving our wastage could neutralise the expected growing demand for water, energy and land by 2030 due to population and income growth.
  12. Stop perverse solutions such as subsidising inefficient resource use (especially in times of fiscal austerity). Annual subsidies for fossil fuels, farmers, water and fisheries for example top a trillion dollars, and they could more coherently be put to use on spending for resource productivity.

 What do you think?