Integrating the Rio conventions in development co-operation

Policy statement by the Development Assistance Committee High-level Meeting, 12 May 2002*

Addressing global environmental issues is key to sustainable poverty reduction. 

Nearly a billion households, particularly the rural poor, rely directly on natural resources for their livelihoods. But global environmental threats are undermining this resource base. Biodiversity loss is proceeding at a rapid rate in many countries, as is the build-up of toxic chemicals. Desertification and drought are problems of global dimensions, affecting all regions. Greenhouse gas emissions pose risks to the world’s climate and developing countries are likely to be the most vulnerable to the impacts. Three UN conventions, on climate change, biological diversity and desertification – closely associated with the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 – address these threats, which could undermine collective efforts to eradicate poverty and foster sustainable development worldwide.

We recognise that OECD countries bear a special responsibility for leadership on sustainable development worldwide, historically and because of the weight they continue to have in the global economy and environment. We also recognise the need to help developing countries address sustainable development issues as well as the need for further work on global and “mixed” public goods. These issues include those related to a clean atmosphere and the control of infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. Tackling these complex challenges will require better coherence in a wide range of policy areas, such as energy, trade, health, agriculture, investment and development co-operation.

Global environmental threats hurt the poor most –

Although all countries are affected, the poorest are the most threatened because they have fewer resources to address the root causes of environmental threats and adapt to their impacts, and because their populations are highly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. Sustainable poverty reduction, a central priority on the development agenda, is therefore closely linked to sound environmental management at the local, national, regional and global levels.

We are concerned about the high vulnerability of many of the poorest countries to desertification and biodiversity loss and to the impacts of climate change. These environmental threats impact on rural livelihoods, food security and health, while exacerbating natural disasters such as floods and droughts. This vulnerability risks intensifying competition and conflict over already strained land and water resources and undermining efforts to reduce poverty. For many countries, these represent near-term threats requiring urgent responses.

– and must be dealt with as part of the development agenda.

Integrating environmental concerns in poverty reduction strategies and other national planning processes is a priority. Global environmental threats, and issues of global importance such as desertification and drought, present us with particular challenges in this respect. Their causes and consequences respect no national boundaries, but they call for responses at the international, regional, national and local levels. Addressing the causes and impacts of biodiversity loss, climate change and desertification require measures in sectors such as agriculture, forestry and energy. Development co-operation agencies, which provide assistance in many of these areas, can play an important role in assisting with capacity building in developing countries to improve the integration of these critical issues in national planning and policy-making mechanisms.

We are already working towards this objective in a number of forums, including through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), but this is not enough. The Rio conventions reflect the commitment of all countries to preserve the global environment, on the basis of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. They also clearly recognise that meeting national development needs and responding to global environmental threats must go hand in hand. Thus, they are about sustainable development, not just about the environment.

Too often, global environmental issues have been considered as a “stand-alone agenda” of limited concern to national or local development priorities. In many countries, for example, environment ministries have been assigned the prime responsibility for implementing the conventions, without co-ordination at a government-wide level to implement the necessary response measures in key sectors such as agriculture, energy, transport, and beyond.

It is urgent to recognise this shortcoming and take necessary corrective action, focusing on national development strategies which respond simultaneously to social, economic and environmental concerns.

There are many opportunities for “win-win” approaches. Tackling environmental degradation should go hand in hand with improving economic and social welfare. Improving food security and livelihoods for rural population requires combating desertification, conserving biodiversity and reducing vulnerability to climate change. Safeguarding the livelihoods of poor landless peasants, pastoralists or forest dwellers requires protecting the ecosystems on which they rely for food and shelter. Improving access to efficient fuels and cookstoves improves the health and safety of women and children, reduces the burden of fuelwood collection chores, and also helps reduce pressures on forests.


In our capitals, we will develop our agencies’ capacity to recognise critical poverty reduction and global environmental linkages and formulate appropriate responses. A sound understanding of poverty-environment linkages, and the threats arising from global environmental degradation, is necessary for the formulation of sound policies. We are committed to integrate these issues in our policies and country support strategies. We will also work to ensure that understanding of these issues is shared throughout our agencies, and not confined to the environmental specialists.

We will also intensify our relationships with other ministries and agencies involved in global environmental issues. This will help to formulate coherent approaches. Our active participation in international negotiations on global environmental issues and in the formulation of national positions gives us direct opportunities to ensure that the agreements made, and the mechanisms established to support them, complement our efforts to sustainably reduce poverty and reflect our experience in the field.

We will help our developing country partners meet their commitments and take advantage of the new opportunities arising from global environmental agreements. This includes helping our partners avail themselves of incentives provided by emerging market-based mechanisms to achieve global environmental goals.

In this context, there will be a heavy focus on support for capacity development, in the public and private sectors and civil society, making full use of available capacity. The Rio conventions identify a wide variety of fields where capacity development is needed – for example, for compliance with reporting obligations; for scientific monitoring and technology assessment; for policy formulation; and for effective participation in international negotiations on environmental conventions. The GEF, the Global Mechanism of the Desertification Convention and, in the context of climate change, the new funds established in Marrakesh, are all valuable instruments in this connection. Additional support will be provided through our bilateral programmes and through multilateral development banks. We will also support pilot-scale projects in order to experiment with new emerging approaches, and to demonstrate their feasibility, thereby helping create a critical mass of concrete experience.

Poverty Reduction Strategies

We will also help our partners to integrate global environmental issues in Poverty Reduction Strategies. Country-led planning frameworks such as Poverty Reduction Strategies or National Agendas 21 provide unique opportunities to integrate issues of environmental sustainability in poverty reduction efforts. This will imply integrating the national action plans formulated under the global environmental conventions in relevant national, or sub-national, or even regional-level planning processes.

We will highlight the importance of global environmental issues and their links with development objectives, by systematically putting these issues on the agenda of our regular dialogues with senior policymakers from partner countries, in the context of aid programming.

We are already supporting efforts in a number of areas which link closely with one or several issues addressed by the Rio Conventions. We will ensure that these ongoing initiatives recognise and take maximum advantage of opportunities for win-win approaches.

This article is adapted from the policy statement by the Development Assistance Committee High-level Meeting, 16 May 2002. The full statement can be seen in the new OECD publication, DAC Guidelines – Integrating the Rio Conventions into Development Co-operation, available at

The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) is the principal body through which the OECD deals with issues related to co-operation with developing countries. Its 23 members are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Commission of the European Communities. These countries account for some 95% of the world’s Official Development Assistance.

*This article is adapted from the DAC statement. The full statement can be seen in the new OECD publication, DAC Guidelines - Integrating the Rio Conventions into Development Co-operation, available at 

©OECD Observer No. 233, August 2002

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