Remarks by Achim Steiner at the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Council of Ministers Meeting Tue, Dec 13, 2011

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner with Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas (L), Secretary-General of the ACP Group of States, and Hon. Oryem Henry Okello (R), President of the ACP Council of Ministers

Brussels, 9 December 2011

Mr. Chairman,

Mr. Secretary General,

Mrs. Assistant Secretary General,

Honourable Ministers from the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions,

Thank you for inviting me to address this meeting of the ACP Council of Ministers.

An alliance of countries that brings a diversity of portfolios, economies, cultures and development tracks together under one umbrella.

My remarks today will focus on Rio+20-20 years after the Earth Summit that in many ways established the sustainable development track of the member states of the UN and has at turns been the font of inspiration but often practical frustration on the issue of implementation over the intervening years.

Let me initially say that UNEP is delighted to be assisting close to 80 African, Caribbean and Pacific, with capacity building for the implementation of the multilateral environmental agreements and their role in promoting environmental sustainability in ACP countries in the context of MDG-7.

This is the early beginnings of the first fruits between UNEP and ACP under this very welcome ACP States and European Commission support backed by the European Development Fund.

Thank you to the European Commission for this backing as part of your overall effort in respect to developing countries and UN institutions like UNEP.

It is perhaps interesting that MEAs are the first focus of this triangular partnership-because these treaties are part of the environmental governance architecture that has rapidly evolved over the past few decades in response to the various sustainability challenges that have emerged over this timeframe.

And they are part of the challenge but also the opportunity for reform and for scaling-up as the world heads towards Rio+20 scheduled for June next year.

I have joined you from Durban, South Africa, where sometime later today or in the early hours of tomorrow morning, nations meeting under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will deliver their outcome.

Let me say first that the Government of South Africa has done a remarkable job in terms of managing up a low expectation-when I left Durban it seemed that a Green Climate Fund would be established despite the pessimistic voices of only a few weeks ago.

And the Kyoto Protocol-due to come to the end of its first commitment period would have an extension courtesy of the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries.

But let us be honest to one another-what has come out of Durban will likely fail to match the scientific reality with the reality of the globe's emissions trajectories.

UNEP convened climate modeling groups before Durban to unravel the complexity of what all the commitments and pledges of nations actually amount to.

The good news is that if everybody does what they say they are going to do, then we are half way towards a level of emissions in 2020 consistent with keeping a global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius this century.

The bad news is that it is simply not enough. Indeed by some estimates what is likely to be agreed in Durban simply maintains a status quo-at best.

At worst, it takes the world a few steps forward and a few steps back-in other words, we remain on a trajectory that by some-perhaps many estimates-may lead to a 3.5 degree Celsius temperature rise rather than a 2 degree Celsius one.

The story of the climate change convention is the story of the international environmental governance of the past 40 years or more-a history that in many ways is linked with the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment of 1972 that established UNEP.

And the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 which established the climate, biodiversity and desertification conventions and a forum on forests.

The world has acted in the face of the scientific risk assessments that have been emerging, but the level of decisiveness and the level of ambition has all too often fallen short of the challenge.

The world is looking for consistency in terms of action, but is being put on a high risk of uncertainty and confusion and a roller coaster of indecision-not good for economies, employment and the environment and is short changing this and future generations in terms of handing over a healthy and productive planet.

Environmental integrity may perhaps have meant little in a world of a few hundred or a billion people -the population of 1900 was 1.5 billion.

But since the Earth Summit of 1992, we have added 1.5 billion to bring the population to now seven billion people-each with their own legitimate right to development.

The statisticians tell us that the population in 2050 may be over or well over nine billion.

Do we continue with business-as-usual-and not just on climate change?

Because business-as-usual is undercutting the very life support systems upon which we all depend-farmer to businessperson-UN Under-Secretary-General to ACP Minister!

Fisheries are collapsing, arable land is declining, and glaciers are melting challenging future water supplies in many parts of the world.

In an increasingly interconnected world, floods and droughts in one place define the food prices the next day and in a sense the rate of poverty and hunger.

Environmental change has in short become increasingly part of the determinant of economic and also social progress.

These are among the questions confronting world leaders and ministers at Rio+20.

Honorable Ministers, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In response to the economic and financial crisis that began in 2008, UNEP launched its Global Green New Deal/Green Economy Initiative.

Our Green Economy report, launched a few weeks ago and involving economists, modelers, social scientists and UN partners, concludes that investing two per cent of GDP annually in 10 key sectors can-with the right enabling policies-grow the global economy, generate jobs and also maintain environmental integrity.

But also reduce scarcities and shocks inherent in the current economic models.

An economy that challenges the myths and economic disconnects of the "here and now" that are partly fueling degradation.

One that re-directs the global, regional and local economy to operate more intelligently and provides a sustainable path for the trillions of dollars invested through, for example, pension funds.

Operate in a way that grows economies and generates much needed jobs especially for the young and disadvantaged, but in a way that keeps humanity's footprint within ecological boundaries.

That better manages natural resource scarcities by investing and re-investing in natural or nature-based assets like forests and freshwaters.

That corrects economic absurdities such as the US$600 billion fossil fuel subsidies and US$27.1 billion fisheries subsidies

That invests, reinvests and catalyzes the low-carbon, clean-tech industries that will ultimately define the 21st century but which accelerates faster that transition which is already well underway.

Because in a world where US$211 billion was invested in new renewable energies in 2010-with, in that year, developing countries taking the lion's share-it is no longer a question of economics but of up front-versus-lifetime costs.

The Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication is one of the two major themes of Rio+20.

The case for a programme of action for the Green Economy in ACP countries is manifest: Elements of a transition include establishing partnerships that facilitate delivery on the ground and strengthen South-South Cooperation; mobilizing financial resources, fostering a country-owned, people-centered policy framework, promoting good governance and building human and institutional capacities while reducing social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities. A programme of action to a Green Economy provides this option to ACP countries.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is especially well equipped to provide technical assistance in realizing this transition. UNEP has supported all 48 least developed countries through its program of work and via the Brussels Programme of Action adopted by the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries in 2001. The Green Economy policy roadmaps can help countries progress to a resource-efficient socially-equitable Green Economy

This is perhaps what one might term the bottom up approach-national action and regional action, that can operate at the level of a United States or a China, to a middle ranking European economy to a small island developing state and a least developed economy.

But the bottom-up approach, no matter how vigorous and how profound, needs a top to which to aim.

It also needs a level of coherence in our international governance structures to maximize delivery and support.

The second theme of Rio+20 is an institutional framework for sustainable development.

Let me focus on this for the remainder of my remarks, with a focus on International Environment Governance, or IEG.

Why? Because the landscape that has emerged in terms of the structures and institutions are, as mentioned, simply too fragmented, time-consuming and piecemeal in its present form to deliver a development path that echoes to the rights, aspirations and legitimate needs of the 21st century world.

And you as ACP ministers have, across your responsibilities and with counterparts across the globe, an opportunity to change this status quo over the next six to seven months.

Firstly the MEAs-there are now some 500 Multilateral Environment Agreements many with their own assemblies and governing bodies.

They have become an administrative burden for many developing countries stretching limited financial and human resources.

A summary of the number of meetings and decisions taken by Conferences of Parties of 18 major MEAs between the years 1992 - 2007 shows that 540 meetings were held at which 5,084 decisions were taken.

If one wishes to be direct, we have been merely dealing with symptom upon symptom, giving the impression that challenges have been addressed but in fact masking root causes and root solutions.

This approach has also prevented a more synergistic and effective approach from emerging.

So we have a management regime that to date is failing this generation's search for sustainable development, unless a more effective, stronger, coherent and focused governance system can be established.

This has prompted a debate as to whether the time is ripe for a global environment organization.

Many regional groupings have, in their submissions to the UN in advance of Rio+20, concluded that a strengthening of the existing institution-in other words UNEP-is certainly needed.

The key question engaging governments and wider society currently is how would a strengthened institution be configured, and what would it do that would prove to be transformative.

Let me share some elements under discussions and consideration.

  • Firstly, it would require the authority to allow ministers responsible for the environment to achieve some parity and equity with their economic and social counterparts.

UNEP has a Governing Council that meets annually, but the decisions taken by environment ministers are referred to New York where they can be agreed or quite literally dismissed as part of the General Assembly process.

In addition, it may surprise some to learn that UNEP's Governing Council does not have provision for universal membership of member states to date.

  • Equally, there is a need for an anchor institution to provide authoritative policy guidance to the MEAs in order to address fragmentation and build a far more strategic direction between all the distinct parts of the current environment corpus.

A more authoritative and strengthened body could also get to grips with the issue of financing. Currently, decisions over how funds allocated for the environment internationally are spent are often taken in parallel fora such as the Global Environment Facility.

Meanwhile, the lack of a central and anchoring policy framework is leading to increased costs, inefficient targeting of scarce financial resources and curtailed consequences for achieving sustainability.

  • Another glaring gap linked with the existing governance arrangements is implementation.

To put it simply the world invests significant time, skill and capacity in negotiating and agreeing treaties, targets and timetables but far less in actually making these agreements happen on the ground and where it matters.

Any strengthened structure must therefore address this disconnect by perhaps having a dedicated implementation arm able to support financially and build the capacity of developing and least developed countries to meet their commitments regionally and nationally.

  • Other important elements include building accountability into existing and future environmental agreements and decisions, backed up by peer review and review mechanisms. The African Union, the WTO and the Human Rights Council offer examples.

The effectiveness of systems of implementation can also benefit from partnerships with civil society and their knowledge, networks and independent scrutiny.

  • Finally science: Sound science underpins sound policy-making, but all too often that wealth of scientific knowledge available to governments is unfiltered or unfit for cooperative decision making.

A comprehensive science-policy interface spanning the full range of environmental challenges and sectors and capable of building scientific capacity in developing countries is another key link in this forward-looking governance debate.

Overall such reforms will also contribute to other goals such as those enshrined in principle 10 on improved access to information, public participation and access to justice in environment matters

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The institutional framework for sustainable development needs to be more than environment.

But without a strengthening of international environment governance whatever is potentially agreed in Rio+20 will only contribute to a persistence of the challenges, rather than the delivery of the opportunities and the imperative for a more intelligent and equitable 21st century development.

As leaders from the ACP group of countries I am sure that you too are looking to fresh ways of achieving developmental goals-and more importantly sustainable development goals.

Both the Green Economy and the reform proposals for an institutional framework represent risk-but this is not a moment in time to play safe or play to entrenched positions given what is at stake.

The world is looking for leadership and the world is looking for ambition and a resolution to the divisions of the modern world and answers to age-old questions that have become more urgent as each year passes by.

The public is not just looking to their elected leaders for clear, cooperative and conclusive ways forward, they are looking to institutions such as the UN and civil society organizations for clarity and a clear voice on the issues at hand.

Rio+20 can be yet another meeting in the long calendar of international events, or like Rio 1992, it could be something very special that will be discussed with satisfaction and with the certainty that the world came together and made a difference in the progress of humanity.

The twin themes of Rio+20 are not a substitute for sustainable development-not an alternative universe-they have at their core the elements and the desire to realize the visions of 1992 and the declarations and statements of the intervening years.

The ACP Council of Ministers is in many ways a very special and very forward looking architecture of policy making and governance.

One that can have a unique role to play in inspiring a world of new, fresh and young geopolitical structures to finally deal with some age old, but increasingly urgent challenges-that in their resolution can establish the kind of future we all want.

Thank you

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