UK Politics

Nick Clegg promises to 'lead world' on measuring prosperity

Nick Clegg
Image caption Nick Clegg said he was not "fetishistic" about subsidies for wind farms

Nick Clegg has said he will "be leading the debate globally" on the way nations measure prosperity, as he attends at summit on protecting the environment.

The deputy prime minister, going to Rio, Brazil, said growth should not be looked at in a "narrowly economic way".

The UK government is promising to add measurements of natural resources to GDP figures by 2020.

The Rio gathering comes 20 years after the Earth Summit in the city agreed targets to prevent global warming.

Rio+20 is expected to result in an agreement to put the world's economies on a more sustainable footing, but environmental groups warn that its recommendations are too weak and will not do enough to tackle poverty.

More than 100 world leaders are to attend, including presidents and prime ministers from the large emerging economies, including China, India, Indonesia and South Africa.

'GDP-plus'

But US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who are in Mexico at the G20 summit of leading economies, will not be there.

Mr Clegg told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I don't think you should measure our commitment simply by who's at a particular summit. At this summit I will be leading the debate globally on ways of measuring nations' prosperity, what I call GDP-plus, so that we don't just measure growth in a narrow economic sense, but also look at the natural resources available to economies.

"We are moving as a country to measuring our own prosperity in those terms from 2020 onwards and I will be working at the summit with the World Bank and others to encourage others to do it."

Mr Clegg added that the UK would be the "first country in the world anywhere" to force large businesses to report on their greenhouse gas emissions.

However, he admitted that he was "entirely realistic" that persuading 170 countries to move "in exactly the same direction is a painstaking business".

Environmental issues have caused some ructions within the coalition government between Mr Clegg's Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.

The deputy prime minister, a supporter of wind farms on land and sea, said he was not "fetishistic" about the need for subsidies and that if it was possible for the private sector to run business profitably, "then all the better".

But the evidence suggested renewable energy needed support in its "early years", he added. Opponents say the technologies are expensive an ineffective.

The draft Rio+20 agreement "reaffirms" commitments nations have made previously, BBC environmental correspondent Richard Black said.

Activists mounted a Twitter campaign on Monday to persuade governments to commit to ending fossil fuel subsidies.

However the final text reiterates previous commitments to phase them out if they are "harmful and inefficient".

  • What is the Rio summit about?
Population chatrt
  • The Rio summit will focus on efforts to reduce poverty, while protecting the environment. This task is made harder as the world's population is expected to rise steeply in the years ahead.
  • The planet's population could be 15 billion people by 2100. Wealth is also expected to rise but its effect on the environment is unclear.
  • In the past, more people, with more wealth has meant increased consumption.
  • Since the last Rio summit in 1992, the
    number of people on Earth has gone up by
  • 22%
  • Seafood consumption has gone up by
    32%
  • Meat by
    26%
  • The average person eats 43 kg of meat a year. In 1992 it was 34 kg.
  • Source: UNEP, 2011. Figures relate to 2007
  • While food consumption is rising, there are still large numbers of people who are undernourished.
  • It is one of the UN's many development goals to halve the number of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.
  • How able is the planet to meet increasing demand?
  • In 1960, a little over half the planet's land, forests and
    fisheries were needed to meet human consumption.
  • By the late 1970s, consumption was equal to one planet.
  • By the first years of this century, one-and-a-half planets
    were needed to meet consumption.

    This deficit can only be met by the depletion of renewable
    resources and increased pollution.
Global resource consumption
  • Consumption isn't equal. North Americans and Europeans consume far more resources than are available solely within their borders.
Living planet index
  • As human populations increase, the number and diversity of birds
    and animals is falling.
  • Decreasing biodiversity undermines the planet's ability to sustain humanity. Its reductions typically affect the poorest the most. These issues are right at the heart of the Rio talks.
Chart showing stress on each system
  • Some argue that the planet has limits to the stress its different systems can undergo, beyond which a stable future cannot be guaranteed.
  • This graphic from the scientist and sustainability expert Johan Rockström suggests those limits have already been broken for climate change, biodiversity and the nitrogen cycle.

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