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Wales at Rio+20 – a small country can make a big difference

 

All of the focus on Rio+20 is on big problems, big solutions. How on Earth can Wales – with a population of 3 million – make a difference? I’m convinced it can – not by acting alone but by leading by example with its forthcoming Sustainable Development law.

Welsh Environment and Sustainable Development Minister John Griffiths (top left) joined the launch of WWF Cymru’s report and film in the Welsh Assembly, before heading to Rio+20 © Peter Williams / WWF-CymruWelsh Environment and Sustainable Development Minister John Griffiths (top left) joined the launch of WWF Cymru’s report and film in the Welsh Assembly, before heading to Rio+20 © Peter Williams / WWF-Cymru

Wales, as the first industrialised nation in the world, has begun to take sustainable development on board since the 1992 summit and is almost unique in the way in which sustainability is being put at the heart of government.

In WWF Cymru, the Welsh arm of WWF,  we’ve commissioned research to find out what impact the previous summits have had. We’ve spoken to a wide range of people – from young people who went to Johannesburg in 2002 when they were still at school, to the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan.

The film and report paint a picture of a country where the Earth Summits had a big influence on people and organisations, who have been working to put sustainability into practice over the past two decades. It’s clear that the previous summits sparked a huge amount of enthusiasm for sustainability and I really hope that Rio+20 can reignite that passion for change.

Watch our film to find out what difference the summits have made

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We can trace a ‘golden thread’ of sustainability in Wales back to Rio in 1992 – through the work of local councils on Agenda 21, Wales becoming the first Fair Trade nation and assembly members unanimously backing a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Since 1992 we’ve come a long way. Who’d have thought in 1992 that today we’d be recycling half or our waste, or be the first part of Britain to introduce a 5p levy on single use carrier bags?

I’m sure that without the Earth Summits, we wouldn’t be where we are today in terms of sustainability. Without them, I don’t believe the Welsh government would have its duty to create a Sustainable Development Scheme.

Also, when the UK government shut down the Sustainable Development Commission last year, it was the Welsh government that decided to continue its legacy through a Sustainable Development Bill. With this bill, it also wants to put sustainable development at the heart of everything it and the whole public sector in Wales do. Again, I don’t think this would have happened without the Earth Summits.

The current proposals for the Sustainable Development Bill fall short of what’s needed, but there is still time to put that right. I hope that Rio+20 will inspire the minister responsible, John Griffiths, to prove the Welsh government’s ongoing commitment to sustainability and deliver a strong bill when he comes back from Brazil.

Now that would really put this small nation on the map as a world leader.

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