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Wales seeking Rio+20 sustainability impact

June 8, 2012 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

CARDIFF, Wales, June 8 (UPI) -- The regional government of Wales said this week it's going to work with EU president Denmark to push a strong sustainability agenda at an upcoming U.N. summit.

Welsh Environment Minister John Griffiths said in Cardiff his meeting this week with Danish counterpart Ida Auken would help them plan strategy for the June 20-22 U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, also known as Rio+20.

Griffiths touted his country's efforts to legislate sustainability standards, including the recently introduced Sustainable Development Bill, which would place legal requirements local governments to use such principles.

"I will be exploring opportunities with Ms. Auken for countries like Denmark and Wales to ensure Rio+20's ambitions result in actions to help organizations and communities become more sustainable," the Welsh minister said.

The Rio+20 Summit will bring together heads of state and other world leaders to work on an agenda that includes "decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness," the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs stated.

It comes against a backdrop of stalled negotiations in the run-up to the event, during which governments have been unable to find common ground on such issues as cutting subsidies for fossil fuels, regulating high-seas fishing and compelling businesses to assess their environmental footprints, the BBC reported.

Griffiths, however, predicted Wales will be among the most active participants in the conference.

"Sustainability is at the very heart of the Welsh government," he said. "When we are faced with difficult choices we will go for the option that delivers the best long term results for the people of Wales.

"This means things like investing in high quality, early education now to prevent social hardship later on or helping Welsh householders and businesses to become more energy efficient so they can save money whilst also preparing for future energy price rises."

The minister said he and Auken would "share best practice" on sustainable development matters, adding he would also meet with Lone Loklindt, chairman of the Danish Parliament's Environment Committee, as well as with representatives from the European Environment Agency.

The Welsh government last month introduced its draft sustainability bill, which seeks to change voluntary efforts by public bodies to legal ones. It provides for an "independent Welsh body to provide advice and guidance on sustainable development."

The new body "could also challenge public service deliverers on how they are meeting their duty."

But while environmentalists say they agree with the goal of demanding sustainability practices from governments, the draft bill lacks a clear legal definition of what "sustainable development" really is and how to measure it.

"We're especially concerned that it seems the Welsh government is not going to place a stronger legal duty on its own ministers and officials," said Anne Meikle, head of WWF Cymru.

"Such a duty is essential, in our view, to ensure that Wales becomes a greener nation. Ministers must practice what they preach and without a stronger duty I fear we'll see a patchy approach to sustainable development with some government departments not pulling their weight."

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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