Awards and Events                
      UNEP at Work                
Unique Opportunity

Helle Thorning-Schmidt

Prime Minister of Denmark

Twenty years ago the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro placed sustainable development on the international agenda. Now the world convenes again at the Rio+20 Conference in the same city to bring sustainability into a new era.

The world population passed 7 billion last year. By 2050 we expect that count to rise to 9 billion people. In the course of the next 20 years, it is estimated, the global demand for resources will grow 40-60 per cent. The pressure on our global natural resources and ecosystems will be enormous. If we do nothing, the basis of our economy will begin to erode. At the same time climate change and environmental degradation will present challenges to people everywhere on our planet.

The EU and its member states see the Rio+20 Conference as a unique opportunity to secure renewed political commitment to sustainable development and to achieve concrete and ambitious results. The EU has been proactive in advancing an ambitious agenda for Rio+20.

The EU has proposed a green economy roadmap as an operational outcome in Rio. This should include deadlines for specific goals, objectives and actions as a significant contribution to sustainable development and poverty eradication, covering a broad range of areas such as energy, water, agriculture, oceans, cities and chemicals. Cross-cutting issues such as eliminating harmful subsidies, green tax reforms and innovative finance should also be addressed. A green economy roadmap will be a set of routes to sustainable development, where some pathways are in common, but where countries take individual tracks in accordance with their particular needs and circumstances. Individual countries will receive coordinated advice and technical assistance from the UN system and international financial institutions to help them carry out their tailor-made plans for greening the economy. We see this proposal as holding serious potential for advancing the global transition towards green economy.

But governments cannot advance a global green transition on their own. It requires dedicated involvement and commitment from all stakeholders. The EU emphasises that private sector and civil society play key roles in delivering green growth and promoting sustainable consumption and production through investments, public-private partnerships and research and innovation.

Substantial participation from civil society and the private sector is also expected in Rio. These groups will make important contributions at the Conference and facilitate new insights, new inspiration and new partnerships among all stakeholders. The Brazilian hosts have set up nine roundtables with prominent representatives from the business world, the scientific community and NGOs, tasked to come up with recommendations for the highlevel segment in areas such as food security, sustainable development for poverty eradication and energy.

We also need a new way to measure economic growth that fully takes into account the use of our planet’s resources and which integrates economic, social and environmental dimensions in a balanced manner. If we cut down all our forests and catch all our fish we may see immediate economic growth, but at the same time we will be undermining our future growth potential. This is why the EU believes that we must agree to develop indicators complementing GDP, which integrate all dimensions of sustainability in a balanced manner. We need a measure that gives us a true illustration of progress. We need to know if we are on the right track towards sustainability.

In order to establish global sustainability goals and tackle future challenges we need a strong international governance structure. Reforming the institutional framework for sustainable development is necessary and a high priority for the EU in Rio. The EU has suggested upgrading the status of the United Nations Environment Programme. This will enable the UN system to respond more effectively to environmental needs in the context of sustainable development.

Denmark has demonstrated that economic growth does not necessarily lead to an increasing use of resources. During the past three decades the Danish economy has grown significantly while energy consumption has remained virtually constant. Since the 1980s the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption has been steadily rising and now amounts to approximately 22 per cent. Recently, we approved a new national energy strategy which entails a 34 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (measured in 1990-levels) and provides for the construction of major new wind farms whose combined effect will be equivalent to the energy consumption of 1½ million Danish homes. Our goal is that Denmark’s energy consumption will be 100 per cent renewable by 2050.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has put forward an initiative to achieve “Sustainable Energy for All” by 2030. It is an ambitious plan with concrete goals for renewable energy, energy efficiency and access to energy. I hope that other countries, private companies and civil society organizations will find inspiration from Denmark’s example in this area and commit to the Secretary-General’s initiative in Rio. And commitment is needed if we are to secure a global transition to a green economy — a transition that all countries stand to gain from, regardless of their level of development.

We do not want a world where competition for scarce resources creates strife and conflict among countries or in countries. We want a world where we create and share economic growth based on sustainability principles and on harnessing the opportunities inherent in a future of ever more scarce resources — for our own sake and for the sake of future generations.

Download PDF