Speech by Achim Steiner at German Bundestag on Pathways to Sustainable Development Wed, Mar 21, 2012

A public symposium organized by the Study Commission on Growth, Prosperity and Quality of Life.

Ms. Daniela Kolbe, Member of Parliament and Chairperson of the Study Commission, Prof. Dr. Norbert Lammert, Member and President of the German Parliament, Members of Parliament, Ladies and gentlemen, Distinguished delegates,

As the world heads towards Rio+20 in June this year-20 years after the Earth Summit of 1992 that laid the course for contemporary sustainable development, the discourse around the quality of development and the meaning of growth have never been more animated.

The economic and financial crisis that emerged in 2008; the ever present food and fuel crises; the issue of youth unemployment and the trajectory of environmental degradation requires and requests ways and means of actually implementing sustainable development in a very real sense.

And taking the visionary concepts and the ideas of two decades ago and translating them from theory and patchy success, to their logical and decisive conclusion.

Citizens are looking to governments, to business and to the UN itself for answers and for a compass-they are not convinced we have them, but they are looking nevertheless.

If the existing institutions, locally, nationally, regionally and globally fail to find answers and chart meaningful directions then people will increasingly find them on their own.

The work of the Study Commission reflects those challenges and those opportunities.

I would like to thank you for inviting me here today and to listen to the ideas and inspirational suggestions of your distinguished speakers.

They have underlined that we live in a world awash with creative and transformational ideas and actions.

But that they need knitting together into a well focused whole-a Bayeux tapestry if you will, where the threads are finally pulled together towards a future that can allow seven billion people rising to over nine billion by 2050, prosper and thrive.

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

Ladies and gentlemen,

Green Economy-Where are We Three Months Before Rio+20?

When UNEP launched its work on a Green Economy in 2008, we could not have foreseen how it might resonate-how despite or perhaps because of the shocks of the financial and economic crisis, far from being closed and defensive, many in the North and the South were open to a new idea.

Indeed as we meet here today the pathways and policies towards an economy that delivers economic progress and generates decent employment, but without pushing humanity through planetary boundaries has gained almost universal acceptance.

There remain sceptics - some perceive the concepts and pathways as 'commoditizing' nature while other are still convinced that it carries risks of eco barriers to trade.

Some initially perceived a Green Economy as perhaps some kind of Emperor's green new clothes or an alternative Universe.

But my sense, based on UNEP's gathering of world environment ministers in Nairobi in February, is that the debate is generally maturing beyond ideology and into managing legitimate concerns and ensuring the social outcomes-including poverty eradication-are maximized.

While some countries and civil society groups perhaps perceived a Green Economy as a reform or retrofitting of industrialized economies, there is widespread understanding that it can echo to all economies at different stages in their development-and may be even more relevant to developing economies than developed.

A point evidenced by the fact that all 54 of Africa's states are backing a Green Economy as part of their submissions going into Rio+20.

Many, indeed I would suggest the overwhelming number of countries, now perceive it as a way of implementing sustainable development and the aims of 1992, rather than an alternative path.

UNEP's complete Green Economy Report -pathways to sustainable development and poverty eradication was released late in 2011.

The report estimates that initiating a transition will require a global investment of two per cent of global GDP up to 2050 into ten key sectors ranging from energy supply and sustainable transport to fisheries, forests and sustainable agriculture.

Let me perhaps mention two - energy supply and fisheries - as they underline different challenges, policies and opportunities.

The report suggests that 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.

  • 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 $760 billion a year between 2010 and 2050.

Fisheries subsidies estimated at around $27 billion a year have generated excess fishing capacity by a factor of two relative to the ability of fish to reproduce.

The report suggests that investing in strengthened fisheries management, including the establishment of Marine Protected Areas and the decommissioning and reduction of fleet capacity, as well as retraining, can rebuild the planet's fish resources.

  • Such an investment backed by policy measures will result in an increase in catches from the current 80 million tones to 90 million tones in 2050, although between now and 2020 there would initially be a fall.
  • "The present value of benefits from greening the fishing sector is estimated to be three to five times the necessary investment," says the report.
  • Focusing cuts in capacity on a small number of large-scale fishers over small-scale artisanal fleets can minimize jobs losses in the short to medium term.
  • Jobs in fisheries are expected to grow again by 2050 as depleted stocks recover.

  • As the fisheries analysis underlines, there may be pain for some sections of society especially if such a transition is not carefully and sensitively managed and alternative training and livelihoods found.

  • But the alternative-a business as usual path offers only pain and a zero sum game for millions either directly or indirectly dependent on fish for livelihoods and protein.

There are clear signs that many countries are already heading onto more creative and intelligent paths at least in some sectors and areas of their economies.

Germany first introduced feed-in tariffs for renewable energies in the early 90s with a clear commitment to promote the development of renewable energy domestically. As the feed-in tariffs enter into a stage of consolidation in Germany, many countries adopted similar approaches. By early 2011, 61 countries and 26 states or provinces have implemented feed-in-tariffs, including 16 developing countries.

In 2010, new global investment in renewables reached over $210 billion-more than in new fossil fuels according UNEP's Sustainable Energy Finance Initiative report compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Kenya, where UNEP's headquarters is based in Nairobi, introduced feed-in tariffs in 2008 to expand renewable energy power generation in the country. This will incentivize an estimated additional energy generation capacity of 1300 Megawatts (MW) alone in geothermal - thereby doubling Kenya's total present capacity.

Kenya's strategy is not just about increased energy generation but also about increasing access to energy in rural areas, providing an important starting point for lifting people out of poverty and diversifying livelihoods.

Uganda is among many countries rapidly expanding its organic agriculture production with farmers in some cases earning three times on the export markets than from conventionally grown crops and in some cases seeing yields up 100 per cent.

Other studies show similar trends and opportunities from such pathways: A recent study commissioned by a coalition of Environmental Groups estimates that shifting 15% of the EU budget to renewable energies, energy saving in buildings, management of the Natura 2000 network and sustainable transport would yield three times more jobs than with current investments.

When only comparing with Common Agriculture Policy spending, for example, investment in the Natura 2000 network can create 5 times more jobs per &euro.

Public spending may be essential in jumpstarting such investments but there is also ample room for private sector involvement with enabling public policies and institutions.

The question facing world leaders, ministers, business and civil society heading for Rio+20, is what kind of big cooperative agreements could propel, scale-up and accelerate such a transition so that the pace of positive sustainable change begins to outstrip so many negative indicators on the sustainability dial?

There are clearly some obvious candidates that represent absurdities-or gross misallocations of capital - in our global economic systems.

I mentioned fisheries subsidies of over $27 billion, only $8 billion of which are considered 'good' support mechanisms with the rest contributing to fisheries declines.

But what about others such as fertilizers and pesticide subsidies, and what about those amounting to between $400 billion and over $600 billion for fossil fuels?

Subsidies whose size contrasts with those for renewables amounting to somewhere over $70 billion a year.

In Rio countries could press forward on this issue-some already have: Indonesia, Iran and Ghana with generally positive economic, social and environmental benefits.

Nigeria's attempts have so far roused civil unrest, underlining that how the phase-out is managed is as much key to the outcome as the action itself.

Dealing with subsidies is a good, short-term measure-dealing with distortions and liberating investment into other Green Economy sectors such as recycling or sustainable transport or schools, hospitals and social enterprises.But Rio+20 needs to be about more than subsidies, it needs to deal with fundamental barriers.

In respect to greater uptake of renewable energy sources on a Continent like Africa, the challenges are no longer cost and technology, but rather one of financing and infrastructure. Obstacles that need to be removed - according to a recent study from UNEP's Finance Initiative - are the up-front costs, difficult grid access and risks - political, regulatory and commercial - present in many sub-Saharan countries.

While complex, these risks can be abated and their impact lessened by the use of risk-mitigation instruments already available.

Rio+20 also needs to deal with the fundamentals of an overall, new and transformational indicator of wealth.

Hence the very animated debate and emerging action towards an indicator or indicators that goes beyond the narrowness and bluntness of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

As mentioned by the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi commission - and the speakers in today's event - measuring well-being would require a shift to metrics that incorporate non-economic markets based aspects of well-being, including sustainability issues.

The blind pursuit of GDP growth -

  • Growth that fails to reflect in its ledgers of profit and loss resource depletion and environmental degradation,
  • Growth that fails to distinguish socially desirable goods and services from those that are undesirable (dirty fossil fuels),
  • Growth that is unable to capture many of the crucial variables for human welfare which take place outside of the market sphere (as social networks or ecosystem services)

.... Comes at a tremendous cost to society.

GDP does not provide the signal that:

  • Over the last 25 years, while the world economy has more than doubled, 60% of the world's ecosystem services covered by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment are found degraded or used unsustainably.

  • Each year, 13 million ha of the world's forests - the size of Greece - disappear.
  • According to UNEP's Year Book 2012, 24 per cent of the global land area has already suffered declines in health and productivity over the past quarter century as a result of unsustainable land-use.
  • Some kinds of conventional and intensive agriculture are triggering soil erosion rates some 100 times greater than the rates at which nature can form soil in the first place.
  • By 2030, without changes in the way land is managed, over 20 per cent of terrestrial habitats such as forests, peat lands and grasslands in developing countries alone could be converted to cropland-aggravating losses of vital ecosystem services and biodiversity.

  •  Global warming, for example, could trigger increasing numbers of displaced people and make whole countries inhabitable including the low lying island of the Maldives and Kiribati.

UNEP it its submission to the outcome document has called for a  'Committing to the development of an internationally-agreed accounting framework and metrics to complement GDP for better measurement for progress towards sustainable development' and pointed to building blocks that already exist and could be synthesized and integrated into national accounting frameworks.

It will now take the political will of world leaders to take this forward.

A number of initiatives are leading the way to new measurements, in which UNEP as well as many of you here today are involved:

  • The work on Inclusive Wealth, whichis based on the World Bank's Adjusted Net Saving indicator, is developing a more inclusive indicator of national wealth, covering not only produced capital, human capital, and natural capital, but also critical ecosystems. Results are expected before Rio.

Such initiatives are also being informed by the findings and the ways of measuring wealth outlined in The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) - a broad partnership that emerged from the G8 in Potsdam and eventually hosted by UNEP.

  • The EU effort to go "Beyond GDP" - launched in November 2007 aiming to come up with a broader set of macro-level indexes other than GDP and provide information on how economic growth affects its own foundation (stock of all assets).

  • The accounting of Environmental Goods and Services Sector (EGSS) in select countries. OECD and Eurostat have pioneered the development of a statistical framework for measuring the EGSS.

  • This framework is now part of the UN's SEEA (System of Environmental-Economic Accounting), which is becoming an international statistical standard.

  • OECD's initiative on measuring progress of societies.

The work of the UNEP-hosted International Resource Panel is also providing analysis on how to decouple economic growth from resource use amid concern that resource use could triple by 2050 without that decoupling:

  • In short the aim is to delink economic growth and well being from physical growth as another supportive element of a transition to a Green Economy.

  • The analysis and pathways encompassing the Green Economy work indicates that this is not some pipe dream but a running possibility.

  • A transition to a Green Economy is characterized by a significant decoupling from environmental impacts with the global ecological footprint to biocapacity ratio projected to decline from a current level of 1.5 to less than 1.2 by 2050 - much closer to a sustainable threshold value of 1 - as opposed to rising beyond a level of 2 under 'business as usual'. 

The German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess) underlines how a growing number of countries are starting to take decoupling seriously.

  • It has a comprehensive set of policies and measures - covering the entire value chain and bringing together different actors of the economy under a common set of goals.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have mentioned, only in passing, Rio+20's other overarching theme - an institutional framework for sustainable development.

It is aimed at reforming and refocusing the institutions and the bodies charged with delivering sustainable development in order to better equip them for a new century including how best to focus and maximize investment flows.

One topic within the overall issue is environmental governance including whether world needs an UN organization or a world organization for the environment.

It is perhaps beyond these remarks to delve into the whys and the wherefores-but perhaps one driving force is the concern that the ministers responsible for the environment remain marginalized in respect to their counterparts in ministries of finance and development to those for foreign affairs and say health. We need to strengthen the environmental governance dimension of our activities, including at the global level to achieve a more balanced public policy discourse.

In short, a Green Economy or whatever sustainable economy is eventually secured needs a top to which to aim.

Honourable delegates,

Did the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 fail? No: it laid the foundations upon which a new generation leaders must build.

The directions and compass forged in 1992 however need to reflect a world markedly different from that of the late 20th century-economically, politically, socially and environmentally.

We also need to implement what was agreed rather than leave it to the vagaries of short-term market forces that currently are benefiting too few at the expense of too many.

The encouraging signals are that many parts of the world are actively looking and engaging on finding ways to a sustainable economy and social progress-the Chinese may call it an 'ecological civilization' and Bhutan, the 'gross national happiness' index.

Many are calling it the Green Economy-the actual term matters little.

What is clear is that there is a desire for a new kind of progress and the kind of economic and social analysis that has been incubating for decades-often on the back burners or in the halls of academia or the think tanks of NGOs and institutes- is coming to the fore.

As are the extraordinary number and range of remarkable projects and policies being tried and tested in both developing and developed countries and which, in some cases may be starting to achieve critical mass.

An understanding in some quarters too that in a world of many, how an economy manages scarcities will in many ways define they and their citizens' futures.

Whether sufficient world leaders will seize the moment and take the opportunity of a world looking for a new compass-one that is cooperative rather than competitive, one that can allow all human beings to fulfil their potential, remains an open question for Rio+20.

But whether it happens in 2012 or in a few years' time, happen it must-either by default or by design-that is what the science of what is happening to our world makes clear .

Seven billion people are not going to wait forever for the Future they Want -they are looking to national and international institutions to show leadership now.

Rio+20 represents a moment in time when those who wish to be the architects have the opportunity to show that leadership in support of truly sustainable and progressive 21st century.

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