Governments should account for resources from fish and forests to water and swamps alongside measurements of gross domestic product to curtail the erosion of natural resources, the Globe alliance of lawmakers said.
Legislators from around the world should hold governments to account for commitments they make in June in Rio de Janeiro at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, U.K. and Brazilian members of Globe said yesterday in a panel discussion in London’s Parliament.
“We must make sure that when governments promise to do things, they actually carry out those promises,” said John Gummer, a member of the U.K. upper chamber and president of Globe. “We need a new structure which will enable us to ensure that natural capital becomes part of the accounting system, part of the measurement system of every nation on Earth.”
Twenty years after the first Rio conference, known as the Earth Summit, there’s a “very grim story” to tell about the global environment, with 80 percent of fish stocks exhausted or on the brink of exhaustion, an area of primary forest the size of Germany lost since 2000, and 110 countries facing water shortages, said Zac Goldsmith, a U.K. lawmaker and member of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee.
“All the main indicators are pointing in the wrong direction,” Goldsmith said. “It doesn’t matter which part of the story we’re looking at.”
The Rio conference runs from June 20 to June 22. Globe, which brings together lawmakers from more than 50 countries, will hold a separate meeting in the Brazilian city from June 15 to 17 at which it intends to agree on a protocol to set up a mechanism that scrutinizes progress toward commitments made at the Earth Summit in 1992, at Rio+20, and within the UN conventions on biodiversity, climate change and desertification.
“Around the world instruments of scrutiny and control have proved inefficient to halt the destruction of natural resources,” Brazilian Senator Rodrigo Rollemberg said. “We must recognize the importance of national parliaments in putting pressure on governments. We want to create a permanent process that engages the parliaments of the world.”
British lawmaker Barry Gardiner, a former minister and special envoy on climate change for the opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, said he had experience in government of using “natural capital accounting” when he persuaded the Treasury to fork out 6 million pounds ($9.5 million) to investigate bee diseases. Gardiner cited a study that showed the loss of pollinators had depleted agricultural production, reducing revenues to the government by 200 million pounds.
“It’s absolutely essential that governments begin the process of understanding that unless you value natural capital, you’re getting your sums wrong,” said Gardiner.
Gummer, also known as Lord Deben, said Hurricane Katrina was an example of where natural capital hadn’t been taken into account, leading to billions of dollars in costs after the straightening of the river channel of the lower Mississippi and the removal of swamp land deprived New Orleans of some of its natural flood defenses.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said last week that greenhouse gas output will rise 50 percent, annual deaths from particulate air pollution may double to 3.6 million people and 2.3 billion more people will live in water- stressed areas in 2050 under the current growth trajectory. In a report prepared as an input to Rio+20, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria predicted “colossal” costs of inaction.
Globe said it plans to convene a meeting of its members every two years in Rio de Janeiro in order to monitor progress by governments around the world in protecting the environment, and to share experiences of different nations in passing environmental legislation.
“It’s important that this is done every two years and not every 20,” Brazilian Senator Serys Marly Slhessarenko said. “We can’t afford to sit down in 20 years time and realize that we haven’t achieved what we said we’re going to do.”
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