Progressio supporters campaigned hard ahead of the recent Rio+20 conference - but what's the right thing to do now? Progressio's Environment Policy Officer Lis Martin wants to know what you think:

I am excited.

Both the process and the outcome of Rio+20 (the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) had highs and lows, and the blogosphere has since been awash with analyses of it. As we reported at the time, the outcome of the conference was a small plug for a large hole. It lacked ambition, and failed to make concrete commitments as to how countries would respond to the myriad of developmental and environmental challenges, be it water scarcity, food insecurity and climate change. Yet there were some small steps in the right direction.

Last week we received a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg thanking NGOs for the role that they played in delivering the outcomes that Rio+20 did manage to secure. He writes that, ‘I believe what was agreed at Rio+20 gives us all the right components; what we need now is enough political will and determination from governments, the corporate world and third sector to build those components into a system capable of delivering the inclusive, sustainable [and, in Progressio’s opinion, equitable] growth we all seek.’

As NGOs take stock after Rio+20, the question for Progressio is, ‘where do we go from here?’ There are many opportunities. As the Environment Policy Officer, I’ll be using the summer to explore the options and to consult with our partner staff to ensure that our advocacy strategy for the year ahead reflects their work and seeks to bring about change that benefits and empowers the communities that we work with.

Looking ahead, 2013 is poised to be an eventful year (not that 2012 has been lacking in activity!) Next year will see the UK host the G8 in June. Ireland will hold the EU presidency from January to June. There will be a sector-wide campaign throughout the year focusing on food security (watch this space). The UN will hold a Millennium Development Goal Review Summit, critical to defining the vision for the post-2015 development framework, and made all the more significant by the agreement at Rio+20 to establish a universally applicable set of Sustainable Development Goals. And on that note, Prime Minister David Cameron is set to co-chair the UN process to devise a new framework for international development after 2015.

Following the first stage in our Waterproof campaign, Progressio will continue to highlight the need for fair and sustainable access to water for the lives and livelihoods of poor and marginalised people, especially women. There is much more that needs to be done to ensure that water is used efficiently, equitably and without contributing to environmental degradation.

So what are our options? There are many issues which Progressio could concentrate its advocacy efforts on:

• Sustainable Development Goals: The content of the goals have yet to be agreed. Ahead of Rio+20 we argued that sustainable and equitable water management must be a goal itself and be ‘mainstreamed’ into other goals. Furthermore, poor communities must be consulted in the development of the goals. Governments at Rio+20 agreed that there would be consultation with all ‘relevant stakeholders’. The voices of those at the sharp end of poverty are critical to developing a set of Goals that promote equity and inclusivity.

• Water Resource Management: At Rio+20 governments recognised the need to improve the implementation of integrated water resource management. But there was no commitment to ensure that poor people, especially women, are able to participate in the decision-making around how water is used. As water becomes an increasingly scarce resource and competition over water grows, the poorest and most marginalised are at a particular disadvantage. Mechanisms must exist to ensure that water is sustainable and equitably governed.

• Food: Water resources underpin food production. Progressio has already highlighted the water related impacts of asparagus production grown for the export market in Peru. The ‘invisible’, ‘virtual’ or ‘embedded’ water within food produced for our consumption in the UK has often been sourced elsewhere – but at what cost to those communities? We know that the majority of the world’s rural poor depend on small scale farming for their food. When people are deprived of land, in what are commonly termed ‘land grabs’, they are also denied access to water.

• Energy: Equally, water resources are critical to energy production. The renewed focus on hydropower does not always benefit those most in need of access to energy. The ever-increasing demand for land to grow biofuels requires large amounts of water, which depletes the availability of water for other activities, such as drinking and agriculture.

• Business: Businesses have a responsibility to use water carefully. Sustainable water resource management and consultation with local communities must come under the umbrella of ‘corporate social responsibility’. At present, businesses do not have to account for the amount of water that they use. ‘Sustainable Consumption and Production’ has become a buzz term and whilst it is vital for environmental reasons, businesses must consider the social impacts of their production. Should businesses, for example, be compelled to declare their ‘water footprint’ and should there be a standard, like the Fair Trade qualification, for companies and products that have used water efficiently and considerately?

Clearly Progressio cannot do everything (though some of us would love to try!)

I would welcome your thoughts on how and where Progressio should seek to bolster the will and ambition of governments and businesses to deliver the future we want to see. This is a journey that we will certainly need to take together...