David Cameron criticised for skipping Rio+20 Earth summit

PM sending wrong signal that sustainable development is not a priority for UK, say environment groups

The chair of an influential group of MPs lambasted David Cameron on Monday for not going to next week’s Rio+20 Earth summit, saying it sent a signal to the world that Britain does not see sustainability as a priority and that the PM is not showing global leadership.

“The secretary general of the UN has labelled the Rio+20 conference as one of the most important conferences in the history of the United Nations. The dates were even changed so as not to clash with the Diamond Jubilee to enable Commonwealth countries to attend”, said Joan Walley MP, chair of the environmental audit committee.

“In not attending, the prime minister is sending out a powerful signal that the UK government does not see sustainability as a priority”, said Walley.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg and environment secretary Caroline Spelman will go to the three day high level meeting of the summit at which 130 world leaders have pledged to go. Many other leaders of G20 countries including Barack Obama and Angela Merkel will also not attend.

The summit, which will be the largest ever organised by the UN, expects countries to take long-term decisions on the directions their economies should take to tackle environment and financial crises. They are expected to sign up to a set of new environmental initiatives, as well as to commit to using fewer resources.

“The prime minister should attend the Rio+20 conference and make an announcement to that effect as early as possible, to demonstrate the government’s commitment to the aims of the conference, within the UK and beyond,” said Walley.

Precedence for arriving unexpectedly at UN summits was set by George Bush senior in 1992 when, following pleas from Britain, the US president changed his mind and decided to go to the Rio Earth summit with just a few days’ notice.

Further criticism was levelled at Britain for not sending to Rio any ministers from the Department for International Development, the ministry which oversees aid and UK development policy.

“Over 130 heads of state are coming, the biggest number ever. It is a shame the UK prime minister is not one. One question that should be asked is why has DfID, boycotted Rio…It is the only developed country aid ministry not to attend”, said Felix Dodds, director of Stakeholder Forum, an international organisation working to advance sustainable development.

A DfID spokesperson said: “It is completely untrue to say we are boycotting the conference. Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, is playing an integral part in the preparations, including a preparatory meeting attended by the Stakeholder Forum. High-level officials from DfID will also be supporting the Deputy Prime Minister who is leading the UK delegation in Rio.”

“Globally, there has been inadequate progress on sustainable development since the 1992 Rio Earth summit. Some ‘planetary boundaries’ having been breached, and others approaching, make the task more urgent than ever”, said the commitee which includes MPs such as Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and Conservative Zac Goldsmith.

“Countries risk ‘sleep walking’ into an even worse environmental crisis if world leaders fail find a greener and cleaner way of developing our economies. It is down to us to find these solutions and to insist that our governments do so too”, said Walley.

• This article was amended on 11th June. It originally stated that no representative of DfID would attend Rio and that the department had not been involved in international preparatory meetings. In fact, DfID civil servants will be part of the UK delegation. That is incorrect and has been changed.

Original article published at www.guardian.co.uk

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