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Rio+20 countries commit to waste reduction

World governments have called for more waste reduction, reuse and recycling, and an increase in energy recovery from waste.

The message was outlined in the 53-page declaration of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, The Future We Want,

It said the move to a green economy will make efficient resource management and waste reduction easier.

The document was welcomed by the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) which said the declaration made “clear commitments to support sustainable management of waste”.  

ISWA said it welcomed that “waste is deemed to be an emergency on an international scale, and that policy makers acknowledge that adequate long-term funding is a key element for the sound management of waste, which then again is a key prerequisite for sustainable development.”

The declaration, which was signed by 193 countries, said governments recognised the “importance of adopting a life-cycle approach” and of implementing policies for “resource efficiency and environmentally sound waste management”.

The final document from the meeting, held twenty years on from the original Rio Earth Summit, called for more use of public-private partnerships to enhance waste reduction and management capacity and technology. It also expressed “deep concern” that many countries around the world lack the capacity for sound waste management.

The declaration has been widely slammed by politicians and environmental groups who say it lacks tangible commitments. They have said the document’s pledges to introduce green economy policies are not backed up with specific targets, reflecting the political tensions between rich and developing countries.

EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said the declaration was “too much ‘reaffirm this’, ‘reaffirm that’, instead of ‘we commit’ or ‘we decide’”.

Friends of the Earth’s director of policy and campaigns Craig Bennett said: “World leaders in Rio have responded to the tide of global destruction that’s fast approaching by sticking their heads firmly in the sand. These talks have been completely undermined by a dangerous lack of ambition, urgency and political will - and weak politicians too afraid to push for anything tougher.”

He called on the British government to “turn the vague ideas in the Rio deal into ambitious commitments at home” including enabling the Green Investment Bank to borrow and lend money from next year “in order to kick start a clean economy” and create jobs.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who led the UK delegation, told the final plenary of the summit: “I would like to think that the ideas we have promoted here – governments, civil society, consumers and business working together and concepts like the green economy and natural capital – will be central to the way we all behave.

“We need to turn words into action. We need to work together to change behaviours, to change all our mindsets and put our world on a more sustainable footing.”

Defra said key points from the summit for the UK include:

  • Agreement to establish Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations General Assembly will appoint a group of representatives from 30 countries by September to develop the goals.
  • Recognition of the importance of the green economy as a way to help nations to grow sustainably.
  • A call from all nations at Rio+20 for businesses to adopt ways of reporting on their sustainability performance.
  • Recognition of the importance of including the value of natural capital and social wellbeing into decision making.

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