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Address by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director at the First Official Meeting of Ministers of Environment of the BRICS Countries

"Developing Green Economies for Sustainability and Competitiveness" - Moscow, 22 April 2015    

Your Excellency Sergey Donskoy, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation.

Your Excellencies:

Shri Prakash Javadekar, Minister of State for the Environment, Forest & Climate Change, India;

Chen Jining. Minister of Environmental Protection, the People's Republic of China

Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, the Republic of South Africa

Francisco Gaetani, the Brazilian Deputy Minister of the Environment, Brazil;

Esteemed guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

To begin, I would like to offer your Excellencies my warmest congratulations for the convening of the first BRICS Ministerial meeting on the Environment.

It is indeed a privilege to address this distinguished gathering and I extend my appreciation to you and the Russian Federation, our generous hosts, for this kind invitation, particularly to address the resolution of environmental problems and the sustainability of competitiveness of business in the context of green economy.

BRICS nations hold a special position of political and economic influence in these discussions. They account for more than 40% of the planet’s population, one fourth of its landmass, and one quarter of the global gross domestic product -- measured by the purchasing power of their national currencies. In 2013, they represented 16.1% of global imports and 17.7% of global exports, with almost 90% of exports going to non-BRICS countries.

UNEP has worked closely with BRICS nations though the past years, witnessing first-hand the leadership, vision and determination by BRICS governments to embrace a bold transition towards low carbon resource efficiency, inclusive green economic growth and overall sustainable development.

From Russia’s energy-saving policies and India’s ambitious renewable energy targets and forest-based budgeting to South Africa’s Green Fund, Brazil’s Sao Paulo sub-national green economy initiative and China’s articulation of the Ecological Civilization, BRICS nations are already pioneering the green economy transition in your domestic contexts.

Your efforts towards establishing an environmental public-private partnership mechanisms to facilitate the investment in green technologies and related environmental projects in BRICS countries, provides an opportunity to expedite and further strengthen the global transition to a green economy and will serve as a common platform for knowledge sharing, technology transfer and investment.

Innovative financial mechanisms under the BRICS, such as the soon-to-be launched New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement has the potential to construct an enduring green infrastructure, longer term competitiveness for the BRICS economies and strengthen South-South cooperation.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

2015 is a pivotal year for sustainable development.

 The coming months will define the global development framework that will succeed the millennium development goals when they reach their target date at the end of this year.

The Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July will be a significant milestone in the global effort to achieve universal and sustainable development. The conference provides an opportunity to develop a pragmatic package of policies to complement the post-2015 development agenda and the adoption of the SDGs at the UN Special Summit for Sustainable Development in New York in September.

At the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in December a new international agreement on climate change will be sought. With these three critical conferences taking place over six months, 2015 will create a platform to support global development aspirations for the next 15 years.

The BRICS nations hold a unique position as leading emerging economies and political powers at the regional and international level and the collective strength of the BRICS economies is of ever increasing importance to the strength of the global economy. Influence highlighted by a PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study titled ‘World in 2050’ (2013) states, “Whilst mature economies across the globe grapple with towering budget deficits, anaemic growth and rising unemployment, the BRICs are expanding rapidly, lifting people out of poverty and driving the global economy.

Therefore, the work undertaken through the BRICS platform will not only influence these processes, they are also necessary for unlocking myriad opportunities for future welfare, prosperity and development.

I recall, in this context, the Fortaleza Declaration and Action Plan, adopted at the Sixth BRICS Summit last July, where leaders reaffirmed their commitments to cooperate on environmental issues, including a successful agreement on climate change at COP 21; a commitment to support the SDG process and Post-2015 Development Agenda – in line with the Rio principles on sustainable development; and to promote the deployment of clean energy and energy efficient technologies — taking into account national policies, priorities and resources.


As world governments intensify efforts to achieve a global agreement on climate change in time for the Paris Conference, it is no exaggeration that success in Paris will largely depend on progress and agreement on the issue of climate finance; and the prospect of mobilizing resources at the required pace and scale.

The World Bank estimates that over the next 15 years, the global economy will require $89 trillion in infrastructure investments across cities, energy, and land-use systems, and $4.1 trillion in incremental investment for the low-carbon transition to keep within the internationally agreed limit of a 2 degree Celsius temperature rise.

Tackling climate change requires economic transformation and a re-channelling of private finance.

There is no silver bullet for the mobilisation of private climate finance, which ranges from micro-scale rooftop solar voltaic installations to large-scale offshore wind parks; from the restoration of ecosystems such as mangrove systems to the climate-proofing of large man-made infrastructure.

Equally varied is the private financial landscape, spanning everything from micro-finance institutions to domestic banks to large infrastructure financiers and institutional investors.  


Following the financial crisis, you as BRICS countries are helping focus how the financial system can fulfil its underlying purpose to serve the long-term health of the global economy.

If brought to scale, the US $300+ trillion global financial system could help close the widening gap in sustainable development investment.

Yet, financial markets do not tend to effectively price environmental resources, resulting in undervaluation of natural capital stocks such as clean air, productive soils and abundant water in 116 out of 140 countries across the world.

This becomes clear in the work of UNEP’s Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, which draws on work undertaken in 12 countries and across a range of critical sectors such as banking, insurance, investment and securities.

The Inquiry, launched in early 2014, explores what will potentially be one of the most important contemporary changes in our international economic and development landscape: the reshaping of our global financial system to fit the needs of sustainable development financing.

The Inquiry's high potential innovations include three major asset pools:

  • Banking: Banks hold the largest pool of global financial assets (US$139 trillion), and leadership by developing countries such as Bangladesh, Brazil and China in 'green credit' regulations points to a new phase in international banking standards.
  • Bond markets: The largest capital market (US$100 trillion assets) and fastest moving theme, with a tripling of 'green bonds' issuance in 2014 and the prize of incorporating sustainability factors such as climate risk into routine credit ratings.
  • Institutional investment: With US$93 trillion in assets under management in pensions, insurance and sovereign wealth funds, new investment structures, changes to investor governance and reform of incentives (such as remuneration) could underpin the next generation of sustainable investment.

Our aim is clear: to speed the transition to an inclusive sustainable economy.

To do so, we need to channel trillions of dollars annually into green investment and many more trillions away from polluting and natural resource-intensive investment.

Meeting this challenge, in a nutshell, requires the mobilization of large amounts of private capital, as well as a concerted effort to develop policies that promote sustainable lifestyles and sustainable consumption and production.

China, with one of the world`s strongest fiscal positions, estimates that less than 20 per cent of its annual US S$350 billion incremental green-financing needs can be met through the use of public revenues.

In a marked departure from the past, emerging economies with rapidly developing financial and capital markets are playing a leading role in this all-important reshaping.

Brazil`s central bank has established environmental risk management requirements for banks, and is working with market actors in establishing how environmental lender liability might improve both environmental outcomes to Brazil and financial returns to the banks.

The People`s Bank of China has established a Green Finance Task Force, co-convened with the UNEP Inquiry, and is working with dozens of public agencies and market actors on developing 14 sets of proposals for enhancing green financing through policy, regulatory and market innovations.

South Africa`s stock exchange has led globally in requiring listed companies to report on their sustainability performance, The country`s pension fund legislation has led the way in requiring pension fund trustees to take sustainability factors into account in making investment decisions on behalf of intended beneficiaries.

Perhaps it is not surprising that developing countries are leading the way. After all, it is these countries that experience the worst effects of environmental degradation and climate change; impacting health, livelihoods and costing life.

Beyond this, however, are two further reasons for such leadership that I would like to highlight:

Firstly, development banks in emerging economies are built on the principle that financial systems exist to promote development. Secondly, financial systems in developing countries are evolving rapidly, and so the challenge is to design competitive sustainable routes.

Green bonds, such as those that have been issued by India to support renewable energy projects, can become part of the development of China`s bond markets, just as environmental and social considerations can be designed from the outset, and so more effectively, into the BRICS New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank.

In a year such as 2015, when securing financing for sustainability — both broadly and for climate related actions — is such a critical theme and ambition, the opportunity exists to go beyond identifying ‘additional resources for sustainable development’ to shaping the contours of a new international financial system; one that is fit for the needs of an inclusive, sustainable, 21st century economy.


Financial Initiatives

The innovative financial initiatives set by the BRICS present significant opportunities for building sustainable development and resilience across the BRICS nations, as well as in the context of broader South-South cooperation.

The Contingent Reserves Arrangement — with US $100 billion in initial funding for BRICS countries — and the New Development Bank, an innovative South-South financial architecture, could help close the widening global gap in annual environmental sustainable infrastructure investment, estimated at approximately US $ 1 trillion.

Environmental Goods and Services

At the same time, it is estimated that the global market demand for environmental goods and services is projected to rise from US $584 billion in 2004 to close to US $2 trillion by 2020, in particular the global market in low-carbon and energy-efficient technologies.

This presents yet another economic opportunity, especially for emerging economies.

Embracing such potential can help shift resource intensive economies towards a greener model that is more sustainable, competitive and knowledge-based.

Renewable Energy

Some experts still predict that fossil fuels will supply the majority of our energy ‘for decades to come’, but the evidence strongly points in another direction.

According to UNEP’s Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2015, once again in 2014 renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide. Major expansion of solar installations in China and Japan and record investments in offshore wind projects in Europe helped propel global investments to US $270 billion, a 17 per cent surge from 2013 figures.

These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.

In developing countries, where renewables are best positioned to address the chronic lack of energy access, clean energy investment rose 36 per cent to US $131 billion. It’s well on track to surpass investment in developed countries, which amounted to US $139 billion, last year

For example:

·         China saw by far the biggest renewable energy investments, last year — a record US $83.3 billion, up 7 per cent from last year (but below its all-time high in 2011.

·         South Africa saw a 5 per cent increase in renewable energy investment to US $5.5 billion.

·         Brazil invested some US $7.4 billion in renewables – with wind attracting 84 per cent of that investment.

·         India pledged to raise its solar production to 100 gigawatts by 2022, while renewable energy investment reached US $2.4 billion in 2014. Better lending norms and loan tenors helped boost financing to US $7.4 billion, a 13 per cent increase on 2013, with wind attracting nearly half of the total investment.

Yet, the growth of renewable generation faces a mixture of old and new barriers, sometimes because of the very success of renewables. Coping with 25 per cent or more variable generation is more difficult for grids and utilities than managing a 5 per cent proportion.

Among the policy measure being taken to deal with high wind and solar penetration is a cap on renewables subsidies, capacity markets to keep fossil fuel plants open, the installation of phase shifting transformers to control loop flows.

If the positive investment trends in renewables are to continue, it is important that major market reforms in the electricity sector are implemented — of the sort that Germany is now undertaking with its Energiwende energy transition.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

 A low carbon, resource efficient future is not just possible and desirable; it is imperative.

On a vital, basic level, our decisions and actions today will determine whether the ‘Anthropocene’ will be an age in which human ingenuity and responsibility will allow 10 billion people to have access to a sustainable future tomorrow, without compromising the vital life support systems of our planet.

As custodians of the future, it is our responsibility to make the right choices and seize every opportunity for a greener and more sustainable future.

Thank you.

The Swiss Expedition "Race for Water Odyssey" Reaches New York

New York, 9 April 2015 - The Race for Water Odyssey (R4WO) reached New York City on Thursday, concluding its Atlantic crossing in a journey that will take its crew over 40,000 nautical miles as they attempt to draw up the first global assessment of plastic pollution in the oceans.

After completing the crossing of the Atlantic-which was turbulent due to several large depressions-the expedition has now arrived in New York, where it is welcomed and supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Swiss Consulate, among others. The crew members will be in New York until April 15th, participating in numerous outreach events including an open forum organized by UNEP to highlight the issue of plastic debris in the oceans.

The R4WO will be the guest of honor this afternoon at a plenary session regarding the "Global Partnership on Marine Litter" (GPML), organized by UNEP at the United Nations headquarters-undoubtedly the defining moment of the New York stopover. Launched at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, the GPML aims to coordinate and support private and public action in the fight against marine pollution. During this session, an open forum will take place in honor of the R4WO, with remarks by Patricia Beneke, Director of the Regional Office for North America, UNEP, Nancy Wallace, member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Chair of the GPML; and H.E. May-Elin Stener, Deputy Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations. At the same time, outreach activities for young audiences will be held aboard the "MOD70 Race for Water" trimaran.

"The world's oceans receive an enormous amount of litter each year, much of which is persistent and creates marine pollution that is global and intergenerational," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director. "Collaboration between governments, the private sector, civil society and academia is key to stemming the flow of waste into this fragile environment."

"The Race for Water Odyssey is a pioneering and inspiring expedition that is helping to uncover the true impact of pollution in the world's oceans, 80 per cent of which comes from human activities. Through their bold mission to extend our limited knowledge of waste gyres, and the major environmental threat they pose, the Odyssey's crew are inspiring us all to take action and speak up for the oceans, the lifeblood of our blue planet."

After leaving Bordeaux, France on March 15th, the R4WO made an initial stopover in the Azores before heading to the Bermuda islands, located in the center of a plastic gyre, to conduct the first of 11 scientific analyses.

Heading for Necker Island, Panama, then Valparaiso (Chile)

The R4WO crew will remain in New York before heading to Necker Island (British Virgin Islands). The expedition is invited there to participate in the Leadership Program developed by Virgin United and its famous founder, Richard Branson. The "MOD70 Race for Water" will subsequently enter the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal and continue on to Valparaiso. A second series of analyses will be conducted on the island beaches, which are found in the trash gyre of the South Pacific.

About the Race for Water Odyssey (R4WO)

Initiated by the Race for Water foundation, the "Race for Water Odyssey" is a unique expedition that aims to draw up the first global assessment of plastic pollution in the ocean by visiting island beaches situated in the 5 trash vortexes. In less than 300 days, over 40,000 nautical miles will be traveled, punctuated by 11 scientific stopovers and 9 outreach stopovers, involving a total of 13 countries. The Race for Water Odyssey benefits from the support of ISAF, Duke University, Oregon State University, senseFly, Swisscom and Swissnex.

About the Race for Water Foundation

Founded in Lausanne in 2010, the "Race for Water" Foundation's mission is to preserve our planet's most valuable resource: water. The foundation is an officially recognized non-profit organization seeking to implement concrete and sustainable actions, focusing on two main themes: protecting oceans and freshwater. "Race for Water" initiates projects aimed at raising awareness and taking concrete action on the ground. These actions are directed at four target audiences: economic players, political bodies, the scientific community, and the general public-with particular emphasis on future generations. "Race for Water" collaborates with organizations such as UNESCO, UNEP, IUCN, WWF, and WBCSD.

About UNEP

UNEP, established in 1972, is the voice for the environment within the United Nations system. UNEP acts as a catalyst, advocate, educator and facilitator to promote the wise use and sustainable development of the global environment. UNEP work encompasses: Assessing global, regional and national environmental conditions and trends, developing international and national environmental instruments and strengthening institutions for the wise management of the environment. UNEP is the Secretariat for the Global Partnership on Marine Litter. www.unep.org

About the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML)

The GPML was launched in June 2012 at Rio + 20 in Brazil. The GPML, besides being supportive of the Global Partnership on Waste Management, seeks to protect human health and the global environment by the reduction and management of marine litter as its main goal, through several specific objectives. The GPML is a voluntary multi-stakeholder coordination mechanism gathering international agencies, Governments, NGOs, academia, private sector, and civil society in which all partners agree to work together to further reduce and better manage marine litter.


For more information or to obtain imagery:

Lucie Gerber - Press Attaché


+ 41 79 419 86 60

Laura Fuller, Information Officer, UNEP Regional Office for North America

(202) 255-2228, laura.fuller@unep.org

UNEP News Desk


Italy to Lead Global Celebrations of World Environment Day 2015

Nairobi/Rome, 7 April 2015 - Italy has today been named host of this year’s World Environment Day (WED) global celebrations on 5 June, in a joint announcement made by the Government of Italy and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The theme of this year's World Environment Day is resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production in the context of the planet’s regenerative capacity, as captured in the slogan ‘Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care’. Affirming WED as a global public outreach platform, this slogan emerged as the top choice by the global community through social media voting.

The 2015 global WED celebrations will be organized at the world famous Universal Exhibition, which attracts over 20 million visitors. Expo Milano 2015 will run from May 1 to October 31 and is expected to include over 140 countries plus a significant number of international organizations.

One of three UN Days that the UN Expo Team has chosen to mark at the Milan Expo this year, WED will support and complement the Expo theme of ‘Feeding the Planet - Energy for Life’, which showcases state-of-the-art technology, ideas and solutions that can help guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium.

“It is an honour for Italy to work together with UNEP in leading the global celebrations for World Environment Day 2015,” said Italian Minister for the Environment Gian Luca Galletti. “This year, WED will focus on the need to respect the carrying capacity of the planet and to manage natural resources efficiently—all aspects that are of utmost importance if really we want to ensure prosperity and wellbeing globally.”

“I firmly believe in the benefits offered by sustainable consumption and production models in terms of economic opportunities, inclusiveness, employment, resiliency and quality of life,” he said. “We have a unique opportunity to take advantage of the international and multidimensional arena represented by EXPO 2015 to stimulate greater thinking and action on these topics in view of the crucial decisions that will be taken later this year: the launch of the Post-2015 Development Agenda in September and the new agreement on Climate Change in December.”

Announcing World Environment Day 2015, UN-Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “While industrialized countries account for the bulk of the world’s resource consumption, unsustainable consumption patterns are becoming more prevalent worldwide, with 3 billion middle class consumers expected to be added to the global population by 2030 - many of them from emerging economies.”

“Food production is one of the most obvious examples of unsustainable consumption patterns, with 1.3 billion tons of food being wasted every year, while almost 1 billion people go undernourished,” he added. “This is an issue that UNEP is helping to address with partners like the UN Food and Agriculture Organization through our joint campaign against food waste, Think.Eat.Save. We are glad the Expo’s theme also focuses on sustainable food systems.”

“World Environment Day provides us with an important opportunity to identify solutions for re-engineering our consumer culture to create a sustainable society in which everyone has enough to live well while staying within the planet’s regenerative capacity. It is time to look seriously at what our appetite-for-more is costing the planet, our health, our future, and the future of our children.” he said.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea of Italy, the UN Expo Team and the Milan Expo, this year’s WED programme will involve various activities organized with partners such as FAO, International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme, Slow Food, WWF Italy, Cinemambiente and the Green Film Network, and the national delegations and other international organizations that will be present at the Expo.

About World Environment Day

World Environment Day (WED) is the largest, most celebrated global day for positive environmental action. Established by the UN General Assembly in 1972, WED is celebrated every year on 5 June. WED is the principal vehicle through which the UN stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment, and encourages political attention and action. WED gives a human perspective to environmental issues, empowers people to become active agents of sustainable development and advocates multi-stakeholder partnerships in support of the environment.

For more information contact:

Isabelle Valentiny – Information Officer for UNEP in Europe – tel. +41 79 251 82 36 –


Newsdesk at unepnewsdesk@unep.org

For UNEP global news, click here
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