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We Changed the World In Our Own Small Way - One NGO's Influence on the Rio Agreement

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The BioRegional delegation in Rio had a little celebration when the final version of the UN Rio+20 outcome document was published this week and we could see our influence in several places. We had been reflecting on the difficulty of assessing the impact we have had in the process, as things are never written in the exact way that they are spoken about during the negotiations. But later on that day a delegate told us that one element of the text about broader measures of progress to complement GDP, or natural capital accounting as many interpret this (Paragraph 38), was included as a direct result of the side event we had held on the subject in New York in May as part of the second round of the informal UN negotiations.

Valuing natural capital is a fundamental part of sustainability, but it has been a touchy subject in the UN as some delegates say you cannot put a price on nature. The event we put on in May, which Freya Seath, International Policy Advisor at BioRegional, worked so hard to make a success of, included the UN Statistical Department who explained the new System of Environmental Economic Accounts (SEEA), which they have been developing for twenty years (!), and the World Bank who are helping nations to implement it. We of course explained how BioRegional has for many years used capital accounting in the form of ecological footprinting to inform decision making for our One Planet Living programme of partnership real-life sustainable communities, regions and business. Our One Planet Living vision is for a world where people everywhere enjoy a high quality of life within the productive capacity of the planet and leave space for wildlife and wilderness. We show this in action by developing One Planet Living projects and promoting the approach. As we concluded our event, one government delegate commented that our event "gives us a sense of possibility".

The UK government will be using the SEEA system from 2020 onwards and Caroline Spelman, UK Secretary of State for Environment has championed it in the negotiations. At a UK government side event on Wednesday our Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that 57 countries have committed to value natural capital in this way - that is 30% of UN member states!

BioRegional were also early champions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are now seen as one of the key outcomes of Rio+20 (Paragraphs 246-251). SDGs could be used in a similar fashion to our ten one planet living principles which we use to guide our own practical projects - they range from health and happiness to sustainable transport. Over the last year we have held several packed side events at the UN where we gave a platform to the Government of Colombia and others to make their case, while explaining how we use the ten principles. Because of worries about detracting from the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, governments have agreed that the SDGs should be developed in a process which will pick up from the MDGs after 2015 - referred to as the Post-2015 process. The principles we proposed for the goals are largely included in the outcome document: people-centred, action oriented and simple! We will make sure to feed in our practical experience to help shape the goals and the implementation approach for the Post-2015 process.

The SDGs and natural capital accounting are for us two of the key ingredients in enabling the world to achieve sustainability or 'one planet living', so we are pleased that they have been included in the Rio+20 Agreement. BioRegional made a voluntary commitment for Rio+20 to work with five countries to implement the Rio+20 outcomes and we have been speaking with various national governments, including the UK government representatives, about how we might move this forward.

Other highlights for us include the ten year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, which the UN will agree to adopt at Rio+20 and deliver through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (Paragraphs 224-226). In 2011, BioRegional put forward the one planet living approach and it was shortlisted as one of the 33 possible programmes. We hope one planet living will be included, as this would really help us fulfil our goals of scaling up one planet living and providing sustainability training for people around the world.

Finally, as I replied to questionnaires sent out by the UN last year as to why we thought the world had not been able to achieve sustainable development, it seemed obvious that corruption was a big factor. We pushed forward the work of Global Financial Integrity and their work to close illicit financial flows. I spoke to delegates about this important issue and am very pleased to see a mention of it in the final version of the text (Paragraphs 266 and 228).

As I celebrated together with the BioRegional delegation, we agreed that we had changed the world in our own small way. It has been a big effort for us to be included in the Rio+20 process, but this has made it feel worthwhile. We have built some great relationships through the UN, which we hope will help us to deliver some concrete outcomes from Rio+20 in coming years.

You can see more about BioRegional's involvement in the Rio+20 process in our blogs and Outreach magazine articles including this one from the events we held in May about natural capital accounting and SDGs.