Road to RIO 2012: The Imperative to Act in a Dramatically Changed World
21 February 2011
Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to the 26th Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF).
Nearly 20 years on, we are again travelling the Road to Rio.
The twin themes here echo to the agenda next year in Brazil.
The Green Economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and an International Framework for Sustainable Development, including International Environment Governance (IEG).
Thus this week's meeting of the ministers responsible for the environment takes on special meaning and a special responsibility.
It is no longer a question of if we should act, or that it would even be sensible to act, we live an age of the imperative to act.
Your deliberations and decisions taken here are key - key to shaping, scripting and sharpening the issues to be considered at the numerous preparatory meetings taking place across the globe in 2011 towards the UN Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20.
These meetings and discussions will require intellectual and analytical engagement to ensure that when nations meet in Brazil next year, a success is registered in transformational terms rather than an endorsement of the status-quo.
That engagement will benefit from the dialogue and directions transmitted from Nairobi this week.
Rio+20 represents a real opportunity to mature and to evolve the sustainable development landscape from a 20th century of potential threats to meet a 21st century of real and all too tangible challenges - economic, environmental and social.
The decisions taken over this year and next are also likely to define in whole or in part the future of UNEP within the UN system and beyond.
In doing so, it will define not only the direction of sustainable development for many years to come, but the scope and contribution of environment ministers to sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
So this GC/GMEF - this early milestone on the Road to Rio - is no small or routine matter.
It should and must echo to the realities of the here and now and the emerging issues of today and tomorrow - firmly grounded in science, but science that is allowed to fully graduate to decisively inform and shape national and international policy choices.
In 1992, many of the sustainability challenges were still glimpsed as future concerns.
In those days it was still prudent to act in advance of likely possibilities - it was a world of the precautionary approach.
Today we live in the age of the imperative to act because so many of those scenarios have - or are fast becoming - realities.
These realities do not so much imply a failure of Rio 1992.
But they point to a need to mature and evolve the policies and institutions responsible - nationally and internationally - to keep pace with a fast changing world.
As a result we are rapidly reaching the real risk of tipping points and irreversible changes to ecosystems and life support services - services that underpin economies, employment and the possibility of life on this planet in the first place.
The policy statement looks down this Road to Rio and spotlights what is at stake, alongside the opportunities for aligning the three pillars of sustainable development into a mutually, re-enforcing whole.
In a way envisaged by the architects of Rio 1992, but also in a way that builds upon those foundations in a world where environmental change is no longer a notable or rare phenomenon.
But is a phenomenon increasingly undermining the economic and social pillars of sustainable development and making countries, communities and companies ever more vulnerable to the kinds of shocks and crises that swept the world in 2008.
A phenomenon that is perpetuating and aggravating inequalities for this generation and is likely, if unaddressed, to deepen inequity for those generations to come.
The tragic floods last year in Pakistan and Colombia, and more recently in Australia, and the heat waves in Russia are just some of the latest manifestations of a rising tide of extreme weather events that no longer impact just within national borders.
In the past, such events were seen as 'local tragedies' triggering national and international relief efforts.
Today however, we can see how such events can impact both locally but also globally, affecting ever more lives by dramatically moving food markets and supply chains world-wide.
Such is our mutual inter-connectedness; the increasingly fine balance between plenty and scarcity and a fundamental reliance on the environmental security or vulnerability of places and people hundreds or thousand of kilometers away.
In this policy statement I would also like to reflect on not only the prospects for Rio but on the way UNEP - with your support and leadership - has been laying the paving stones towards and up to Rio+20 in 2012.
How part of that road is being given direction and meaning through the analysis and opportunities inherent in the Green Economy and how the determination to move along such a pathway to sustainable development could be accelerated and scaled up at Rio+20
Provide some reflections on where we are with International Environment Governance in the context of the Rio meeting and where this debate can be evolved and matured