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Speech by Achim Steiner: Green Economy Towards Rio+20

Seizing the Opportunities for a Sustainable 21st Century

20th Anniversary Open Forum of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED)

Beijing, 17 November 2011 - Chair Minister Zhou Shengxian; Vice Premier Li Keqiang; Sir Crispin Tickell,;Maurice Strong,

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We meet here in Beijing amid anniversaries and key events in the calendar of international cooperation.

We meet at a moment of celebration but also of reflection and the urgent need for all countries to catalyze a defining and definitive response to the sustainability challenges facing now seven billion people.

This year CCICED marks its 20th anniversary, or perhaps you might say China Council+20.

Congratulations to those who had the vision and the leadership to seize the opportunity by establishing this important forum and for those who have led and carried the torch for two decades.

Your anniversary comes in advance of Rio+20-two decades after the Earth Summit of 1992, that in many ways set the course of contemporary sustainable development - when world leaders will gather again in Brazil next June.

Two decades after the establishment of treaties on biodiversity and climate change and agreements on a forum for forests and the landmark Agenda 21-think global, act local.

UNEP itself has a birthday-in 2012 we will be 40 years-old after being one of the key outcomes of the Stockholm Conference on Human Development of 1972.

I am delighted that we have Maurice Strong with us today-the first Executive Director of UNEP, a pivotal person in both the Stockholm and the Rio negotiations and I know a great friend of China and member states across the globe.

And of course there are other birthdays-at the end of last month the seventh billionth person was born.

In 1992 the world population stood at 5.5 billion-1.5 billion people in just 19 years.

That is equivalent to the total global population in 1900.

Your Excellencies, Honorable Delegates,

It is not just the population numbers that have changed markedly.

The world of the here and now is light years from the world of the late 20th century-geopolitically, socially, economically and environmentally.

The challenges postulated in Stockholm and glimpsed in Rio are today fast becoming a reality.

China's double digit growth of recent years has lifted millions out of poverty and triggered a renaissance in the Chinese economy that has been astonishing and outstanding.

But the Chinese leadership and people know that it has come at a cost that may challenge social progress, social equity and the Right to Development in the coming years unless addressed.

The Xiang Jiang River, for example, accounts for around 70 per cent of the GDP of Hunan Province-yet the river is seriously polluted with heavy metals.

This is not just an issue for China-right across the world too many of the indicators of sustainable development are heading towards, or into the red, from fisheries to freshwater scarcities and from pollution that is filling the atmosphere; the land and the seas.

The good news is that through domestic and international for a, such as the CCICED, China and indeed countries everywhere are acting, setting goals and establishing aims in order to transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy.

President Hu Jintao, speaking at the First Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting on forests here in Beijing in September, underlined the importance of these key ecosystems describing them as "the first priority on China's agenda to promote the ecological civilization and fight against climate change".

China's total forest area is now just under 200 million hectares with ambitious targets for 2020.

China's plans for green industrial development during the 12th Five-Year Plan and its scale and speed of investment in, for example, renewable energy are among other key transformations.

In respect to Hunan Province, the Green Xiang Jiang Declaration issued last month, underlines a commitment to put the river at the centre of future social progress through a transition to a Green Economy.

"When we talk about Green Xiang Jiang-there are two critical standards in the Green Economy, one is livelihood improvement and another is the social stability and harmony," said Long Yongtu, Secretary-General of the Boao Forum for Asia.

It underlines that a transition to a Green Economy is the responsibility of not only central, but also local and regional governments as well as the private sector and civil society-a central consideration for Rio+20 and a litmus test of leadership at all levels.

Excellencies, Honourable Delegates,

Given these dynamic Green Economy directions emerging in China-and in the Republic of Korea to Brazil and Mexico and Germany to Rwanda and the United Arab Emirates-one may be forgiven for wondering why Rio+20 next year is needed.

The fact is that no matter how far and how fast some countries appear to be moving into the sustainability space, it may prove too little too late.

Without a comprehensive concept of how to fast track and fast forward 'quality' as well as 'quantity' economic growth-and in a way that keeps humanity's footprint within ecological or planetary boundaries-the world is unlikely to achieve the level of social progress able to serve not just seven billion people.

But a world where in around 40 years' time there could be nine or ten billion people.

So what are the prospects for Rio+20?

Rio+20's two themes are a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and an institutional framework for sustainable development.

Yesterday, UNEP launched here in Beijing the full Green Economy report which underlines that if the world invested two per cent of GDP in ten key sectors and backed by the right enabling policies, economies can grow but without the shocks and risks inherent in the current economic model.

The report, compiled in collaboration with economists and a multitude of partners, comprehensively challenges the myth of a tradeoff between environmental investments and economic growth and instead points to a current "gross misallocation of capital".

The report sees a Green Economy as not only relevant to more developed economies but as a key catalyst for growth and poverty eradication in developing ones too, where in some cases close to 90 per cent of the GDP of the poor is linked to nature or natural capital such as forests and freshwaters.

It is beyond these remarks to go into all the details, but let me perhaps cite the energy sector.

Investing about one and a quarter per cent of global GDP each year in energy efficiency and renewable energies could cut global primary energy demand by nine per cent in 2020 and close to 40 per cent by 2050, says the report.

  • Employment levels in the energy sector would be one-fifth higher than under a business-as-usual scenario as renewable energies take close to 30 per cent of the share of primary global energy demand by mid century.

  • Savings on capital and fuel costs in power generation would, under a Green Economy scenario, be on average US$760 billion a year between 2010 and 2050.

How can Rio+20 support this analysis?

Several 'big ticket' items are being examined and proposed by countries, companies and civil society including:

  • Phasing-down or phasing-out the over US$600 billion-worth of annual fossil fuel subsidizes;

  • Accelerating green procurement by governments-by some estimates if government spending is over 20 per cent in an economy, it could if directed into environmentally-friendly products and services, tipping the rest of the economy into the sustainability space;

One of the key roles of any new institutional framework for sustainable development needs to be not only a decisive way of implementing what has been agreed at conferences and Summits of the past 20 to 40 years but also a rigorous monitoring and measure of success; nationally and globally.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is an indicator of economic transactions and activity; it is in many dimensions silent on human well-being and social equity, it no longer reflects the science, the knowledge and the needs of a more complex world.

The elements of a new indicator are being vigorously discussed and debated and there are indeed many building blocks that can assist in the construction of a more inclusive and wide-ranging indicator.

For example, the Human Development Index; the ILO's Decent Work indicator and the UN System of Integrated Environmental-Economic Accounting which in 2012 will have established an international standard in this area.

The UN, including UNEP is also working closely with the OECD on its Measuring Progress of Societies initiative.

There are also other more fundamental proposals being discussed in the run up to Rio+20 designed to achieve better coordination and effectiveness of the global and regional institutions charged with catalyzing and assisting in the implementation of sustainable development.

These range from reforming the ECOSOC; establishing a Sustainable Development Council along the lines of the Human Rights Council to establishing a Global Economic Coordination Council and a UN or World Environment Organization.

The financial and economic crisis has also spotlighted the issue of financial flows, speculation and the deregulation of the banking sector versus the regulation of the international trade regime under the World Trade Organization.

Excellencies, Honorable Delegates,

The world is passing through a moment in time where we are at one of those proverbial crossroads where some tough and transformative choices need to be made.

One recent writer has termed it a 'system re-set'.

There is in short a lot at stake in the next seven months as we head to Rio+20-the very fact that the Summit is happening has, I would suggest, already achieved a lot in terms of intellectual debate and a suite of inspiring and forward-looking options for reforming and realizing sustainable development.

I am not a clairvoyant-I cannot see the future. But Rio+20 will in the end stands or falls on the issue of leadership and the engagement of leaders at the highest level to seize the opportunity for a sustainable 21st century.

That leadership was demonstrated at the Rio Earth Summit when more than 100 Presidents and Prime Ministers, including Li Peng, China's then Premier, signed up to those key treaties, agreements and principles.

China's role in the world is more influential than ever-it is also emerging as an engine for not just economic growth, but is exploring and demonstrating in many areas the potential for Green Economic Growth.

In doing so China along with other rapidly developing economies including Brazil, India and South Africa has a potentially pivotal role in assisting to forge outcomes next June that can be as historic for humanity as those of 1992.

Ones that will be remembered by future generations as representing a time when today's world leaders took up the challenge, decided upon the means of implementation and seized the opportunity for a sustainable 21st century so that the ideas and ideals of nearly 20 years ago are finally fulfilled.

Full Release

Transition to a Green Economy is the responsibility of not only central, but also local and regional governments as well as the private sector and civil society