Achim Steiner's Statement at the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries

Delivered by Bakary Kante, Director, Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, UNEP

Istanbul, 9-13 May 2011 - Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We meet nearly 12 months before the UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012-which will be 20 years after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992.

Those intervening years have witnessed quite remarkable but also sobering changes economically, socially and environmentally in many parts of the globe.

Geopolitically, the world is also markedly changed with the rising influence of economies such as that of China, the summit's host country Brazil alongside India and South Africa.

The growth in global GDP has lifted millions out of poverty-but science is underlining that the path of economic growth since Rio 1992, and indeed before it, is coming with a price tag.

A cost that is increasingly born by the poor and the vulnerable on this planet including in many of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

From climate change, to the loss of biodiversity and from rising land degradation to increasing scarcity of freshwaters, environmental change is translating into escalating social and economic impacts and scarcities.

We know that we need to grow our economies in order to lift more people out of poverty and find decent jobs for the 1.3 billion young people underemployed or unemployed-especially in the developing and in particular in the Least Developed Countries.

But that growth needs to become far more intelligent on a planet of around seven billion people, rising to nine or ten billion in 2050.

If not, the risks, shocks and unpredictability of food, fuel and other commodity prices witnessed over the past two to three years are likely to become ever more extreme and socially challenging.

The two major themes of the Rio+20 Conference next year are a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and an international framework for sustainable development.

In respect to the first theme, UNEP a few months ago presented its report Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication.

It outlined what investing two per cent of annual global GDP might achieve across ten sectors if backed by the right creative and forward-looking public policies.

The conclusion, involving experts and economists from around the globe, is that it is possible to catalyze growth and employment while keeping humanity's footprint within ecological boundaries.

In other words the transition to a green economy can produce positive social and environmental outcomes if the appropriate enabling policies are in place.

The report also makes it clear that this is as much a developing as a developed country agenda and one as relevant to a more market or more state-led economy.

A separate but related initiative-known as The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity and hosted by UNEP-found that not only are we losing up to $4.5 trillion in natural or nature-based capital annually.

But that the goods and services that forests and freshwater systems, to coral reefs and soils provide can represent close to 90 per cent of the GDP of the poor.

Indeed when you look at the conclusions of these two streams of work, both aimed at informing and delivering catalytic change in Rio next year, one is struck by the fact that it is the developing economies and perhaps more importantly the LDCs which have most to gain via such transformations.

Why? Because many LDCs are rich in the kinds of natural resources which other economies have damaged or degraded or simply used up-resources that will become increasingly sought after in a resource-constrained world.

A transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy is in part aimed at sustainable management of those resources and in better valuing their economic importance for inclusive growth and development, and in national but also global markets.

Meanwhile many LDCs are in the early stages of industrialization and energy access-a Green Economy would reward countries and the products and services they generate which have lower environmental impacts.

Policies, including overseas development assistance, which promote clean and renewable energy systems and production processes for example, would in turn allow LDCs to leapfrog a dirty development path.

In doing so, such countries can avoid the multi billion dollar costs of cleaning up and restoring ecosystems and 'natural capital' likely to be lost under the kinds of development paths of the past.

These are some of the key points underscored in a joint report by UNEP, the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development launched this week which also feeds into the wider Green Economy work and analysis.

Numerous examples highlight progress being achieved in a range of economic sectors, from energy to agriculture, through government, private sector and civil society initiatives.

  • Despite being an LDC far from its major export markets, a country such as Uganda thrived to more than quadruple its exports of organic agricultural products between 2003 and 2008, tapping into a global market of US$ 60 billion. Farm gate prices of organic pineapple, ginger and vanilla were 300%, 185%, and 150% higher, respectively, than conventional products in 2006, making sustainable forms of production highly profitable for producers and local communities.

  • Nepal's approach to Community Forest Management contributed to reversing a trend of decline in forest cover of 1.9% per year during the 1990s, into an annual increase of 1.35% over the period 2000 to 2005, in addition to generating employment and income from forest protection, gains from tree felling, log extraction, and non timber forest products.

  • In Laos, a National Ecotourism Strategy Action Plan based on the sustainable use of the natural and cultural resources and the delivery of measurable socio-economic benefits to local communities has turned ecotourism into a thriving economic activity accounting for about half of total tourism revenue. Overall, the number of international arrivals in Laos has jumped from 1 million in 2005 to over 2 million in 2009.

  • In Mali, farmers supported through field training have been shown to have significantly reduced the use of imported pesticides and at the same time expanded the use of organic fertilizers and improved soil amendments. This resulted in increased production while reducing inputs costs.

  • The successful Grameen Shakti Programme in Bangladesh highlights the importance of adapted clean energy solutions and suitable approaches to financing low income communities. Grameen Shakti (or Grameen Energy in English) provides soft credits through different financial packages to make solar home systems (SHSs) available and affordable to rural populations. By the end of 2009, more than 320,000 Solar Home Systems had been installed, in addition to biogas plants and improved cooking stoves. Grameen Shakti aims to install over 1 million Solar Home Systems by 2015.

  • The potential for energy and resource efficiency is large in LDCs, with important gains possible through energy saving. In a country such as Senegal, a net energy importer, a 100% replacement of installed incandescent lamps with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLi) at an estimated cost of US$ 52 million, would lead to annual energy savings of 73% and cost savings of nearly US$ 30 million per year.

  • Opportunities to leapfrog are being seized where they exist by many LDCs. For example, in the aluminum sector, African Aluminum smelters are found to among the most energy-efficient in the world mainly because new production facilities employ the latest technologies in the field.

Ladies and gentlemen, your meeting here in Turkey can shape the engagement of LDCs in terms of Rio+20 and beyond.

  • The new Istanbul LDC Programme of Action, building on the Brussels programme of action 2001 to 2010, can be a critical tool in a direction where LDCs are assisted onto a "Fast Runway" for sustainable development.

UNEP is committed and ready to further work with LDCs to strengthen their ability to adapt to challenges such as climate change.

But also in support of the kinds of international and national financing arrangements, capacities, enabling legal frameworks, forward-looking public policies and analysis that can trigger a green economy transition.

Many LDCs have already signaled strong political ownership and leadership with regards to embracing the Green Economy as exemplified in several declarations and resolutions.

Istanbul 2011, en route to Rio+20, are opportunities to translate this leadership into action on the ground.

The experience, expertise and creativity of LDCs need to be an important voice and imperative for the world when it meets in Rio, 20 years after the Earth Summit.

Rio+20 is a chance to take the three strands of sustainable development and finally weave them into a reinforcing web of prosperity for the many, not for the few.

The very factors that may have, in the past held, back development in many LDCs are emerging as powerful catalysts for a very different future.

One in which broader notions of wealth, social progress and environmental stability set the stage and reality for that sustainable development path glimpsed by a previous generation of leaders and finally realized by the current ones.

I wish you all the best for your meeting here in Turkey

Thank you


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