Keynote Address by Achim Steiner at the 14th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit Thu, Feb 6, 2014

Attaining Energy, Water and Food Security for All: Plenary Session on Rethinking Development

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director addresses the 14th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit

6 February 2014, New Delhi - Dr Ajay Mathur, Chair of the session, Director-General, Bureau of Energy Efficiency, India

Dr Kandeh K Yumkella, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All & Chief Executive Officer of the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative

Fellow Panelists, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to speak to you this afternoon at this distinguished gathering.

Over the past thirteen years, the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit has emerged as a pioneering platform to share ideas and enhance understanding of global sustainability.

And this year, as the world works toward a Post-2015 agenda, the Delhi summit provides an opportune moment to rethink development and to weigh the options, opportunities and challenges ahead.

Rethinking Sustainability

In 2000, UN Member States agreed on a bold vision for the future that reaffirmed the fundamental values of freedom, equality, tolerance, respect for the planet and shared responsibility.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) gave expression to the vision that: through a combination of targets, investment, collective action and political will, countries and societies working together could end poverty and achieve sustainable development.

It is true that in the last decade or so, the very concept (and our experience) of sustainable development has evolved - sculpted by successes, failures, lessons learnt and knowledge gained.

The Post-2015 SDGs need to be an embodiment of that evolution.

At Rio+20, the international community agreed to work on a new set of universal sustainable development goals (SDGs) to address environmental, social and economic sustainability in a way that is more cohesive, focused and measureable.

A well-designed Post-2015 agenda - which factors in the interrelations between the pillars of sustainability - has the potential to empower the least developed and developing countries to leapfrog some of the stages of development, armed with collective knowledge and know-how.

Focusing investment and policy reforms on interlinked challenges and opportunities can have significant positive impacts on broader development aspirations.

Attaining energy, water, food security for all

Speaking to the theme of this year's Summit: Energy, Water, Food Security for all, I would like to address the relevance of these themes to the Post-2015 agenda from a Green Economy perspective.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Moving the world's 1.2 billion poorest to a life of dignity for all will require financing, innovation, technology transfer and capacity building, along with effective governance and mutually beneficial partnerships at the local, national, regional and global levels.

This will depend on the equitable access to basic goods and services.

It will also depend on our ability to build natural and social resilience to withstand a changing environment and on strengthening the natural resource base that underpins development.

But unsustainable growth paths continue to put pressure on an already stretched environment.

Addressing the Energy Challenge

Sustainable energy is key to achieving sustainable development. Clean, efficient and reliable energy options are indispensable for a sustainable future for all with multiple co-benefits for development, human health, environment and climate change.

In today's fast-developing world:

  • Over 1.2 billion people - almost the population of India - don't have access to electricity.

  • 2.8 billion rely on wood or other biomass to cook and heat their homes, causing millions of deaths each year as a result of indoor air pollution.

  • About 80 per cent of those without access to modern energy live in rural areas.

  • Although 1.7 billion people gained access to electricity between 1990 and 2010, this is only slightly ahead of population growth of 1.6 billion over the same period.

Energy from renewable resources: bioenergy, geothermal, hydro, ocean, solar, wind - is local, clean, inexhaustible and free. In 2012, more than half of total new electricity generating capacity came from renewable sources.

By 2030, the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix will need to grow to 36 per cent, up from 18 per cent in 2010.

Energy efficiency improves energy security, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and increases productivity.

Between 1990 and 2010, improvements in energy efficiency have cut over 25 per cent from cumulative global energy demand.

Meanwhile, energy efficiency rates should double by 2035, otherwise energy-related CO2 emissions will increase by around 20 per cent, according to World Bank estimates.

In this context, I would like to highlight one important example:

If a global transition to efficient lighting occurred, CO2 emissions could be significantly reduced. This is because electricity for lighting accounts for approximately 15 per cent of global power consumption and 5 per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Through the en.lighten initiative, UNEP and the GEF help countries accelerate market transformation to efficient lighting technologies.

This transformation would yield annual cost savings of over US$140 billion and would can achieve annual CO2 reductions of 580 million tones - more than the emissions of the entire United Kingdom.

A country such as India, for example, could cut its lighting electricity consumption by over 35 percent, which is equivalent to avoiding the construction of 11 large coal-fired power plants and taking over 10 million cars off the road. Annual savings would be over USD $2 billion.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The decisions we take today on how we produce, consume, and distribute energy will profoundly influence our ability to eradicate poverty, support sustainable development opportunities and respond effectively to climate change.

Addressing these challenges is beyond the sole reach of governments, it will take the active engagement of all sectors of society including local communities, civil society and the private sector.


The mismanagement of water, this most vital of resources, is not only constraining development potential, but it is threatening the survival of life on earth.

Currently, more than 2 billion people live in countries with absolute water scarcity. The number is expected to rise to 4.6 billion by 2080.

Feeding a planet of 9 billion by 2050 will require approximately 50 per cent more water by 2050.

The World Bank says that in a 4°Celsius warmer world, water stress will increase even further. The roughly 1 billion people living in monsoonal basins and the 500 million people living in deltas are especially vulnerable.

Poorer countries, which contributed the least to climate change, will be the ones most affected.

Research suggests that with current practices, the world will face a 40 per cent global shortfall between forecast demand and available water supplies by 2030.

But on a brighter note, studies show that governments are already taking steps to improve the management of water resources.

In a survey of 130 countries carries out by UNEP and partners, it was reported that over 80 per cent of countries have reformed their water laws in the past twenty years as a response to growing pressures on water resources from expanding populations, urbanization and climate change.

In many cases, such water reforms produces significant impacts on development, including improvements to drinking water access, human health and water efficiency in agriculture.

But global progress has been slower where irrigation, rainwater harvesting and investment in freshwater ecosystem services are concerned.

Food Security

By 2050 the Earth will need to feed 9 billion people with the same amount of land, water and natural resources. This means that agricultural production alone must increase by 70 per cent, according to World Bank figures.

A 70 per cent expansion in agricultural production cannot follow a business as usual scenario and still be sustainable. Agriculture already accounts for more than two thirds of the world's freshwater use and is a contributor to deforestation.

Healthy Ecosystems underpin sustained and sufficient food production. Biodiversity and ecosystems deliver crucial services to humankind, estimated to be worth close to USD $72 trillion annually.

In order to ensure that food production is increased to meet the demands of the additional 2.6 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2050, it is important that food producing ecosystems are protected and degraded ecosystems are restored.

Meanwhile, about one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems

This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million hungry in today's world.

The global food system has profound implications for the environment, and producing more food than is consumed only exacerbates the pressures.

Sustainable Production and Consumption

It is crystal clear that to bring about the vision of a truly sustainable world, we need to transform the way we produce and consume our natural resources.

Sustainable production and consumption can yield interlinked economic, social and health benefits, including greater access to markets, social innovation, job creation and empowerment.

Sustainable consumption is not necessarily about consuming less. It is about consuming better - in an intelligent and environmentally sustainable way.

Living within the capacity of earth's support system

Ladies and gentlemen,

The well-being of humanity and the functioning of the economy and society ultimately depend upon the responsible management of the planet's finite natural resources.

Living within the Earth's safe operating space safeguards humanity from crossing ecological or social thresholds that could undermine or even reverse development gains.

Improving natural capital, social capital and the built environment is about creating space to reduce future liabilities and provide for the needs of today and future generations through sustained long-term development.

To achieve sustainable development without crossing ecological thresholds, countries will need to transition to a low carbon economy, to adopt sustainable consumption and production patters, to become more resource efficient and to decouple economic growth from the over-exploitation of natural resources.

Enabling the transition to an inclusive Green Economy

In the wake of the global financial crisis, there is growing recognition that the financial system must be not only sound and stable, but also sustainable in the way it enables the transition to a low-carbon, green economy.

World Economic Forum estimates suggest that globally, investment in infrastructure of an estimated USD $6 trillion annually to 2030 is needed to deliver a low-carbon economy.

Of this, nearly US$1 trillion is over and above the business-as-usual trajectory. Such evidence shows that when investments are targeted towards greening key economic sectors, they can produce multiple benefits for the economy, environment and society.

I launched in Davos last month an Inquiry into policy options for guiding the global financial system to invest in the transition to a green economy.

The Inquiry aims to engage, inform and guide policy makers, financial market actors and other stakeholders concerned with the health of the financial system and its potential for shaping the future economy.

The Inquiry extends UNEP's ground-breaking work on the green economy, and draws on the commitment and wealth of practical expertise of the 200 financial institutional members of the UNEP Finance Initiative (UNEPFI).

Monitoring progress: Beyond GDP

Ladies and gentlemen,

The monitoring process for the MDGs taught us important lessons on how to maintain focus on internationally agreed development goals and targets, while keeping the world informed of achievements, challenges and emerging issues.

Strong monitoring and accountability will be crucial for the implementation of the Post-2015 agenda.

A meaningful SDGs framework will embrace the need to move beyond GDP to a more comprehensive accounting of wealth.

Measures of quality of life, social protection, security and natural capital valuation must be taken into account.

So, I say it is time to call time on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of prosperity in the 21st century.

GDP is far too silent on key measures of human well-being, namely, social issues and the state of a nation's natural resources.

In the lead up to Rio+20 UNEP worked with partners, including the UN University, to introduce the Inclusive Wealth Indicator (IWI) as one alternative measure of sustainable development.

Wealth accounting, the concept behind the IWI, draws up a balance sheet for nations and shows countries where their wealth lies.

By taking into account a wide array of capital assets a nation has at its disposal to secure society's well-being, it presents a more comprehensive picture and informs policy makers on the importance of maintaining their nation's capital base for future generations.

The IWI is among a range of potential replacements which world leaders can consider as a way of bringing great precision to assessing wealth generation in order to realize sustainable development and eradicate poverty.

It is a crucial first step in changing the global economic paradigm by forcing us to reassess our needs and goals as a global society.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The needs of the world, encompassed in the Post-2015 agenda, require a more integrated approach that tackles sustainable development targets coherently and comprehensively.

The time has come for the world to agree on an integrated set of SDGs that embed the relevant targets and indicators of the MDGs with environmental goals and key international commitments.

As an international community, we will then need to go further toward balancing the economic, social and environmental dimensions in a way that is inspirational, inclusive and universal.

Thank you.

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