6 June 2012

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Rio+20


Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s press conference on the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in New York, 6 June:

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is just 14 days away.  Rio+20 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make real progress towards the sustainable economy of the future.  It can help us to build a more equitable world — a world of greater prosperity and inclusive, dynamic green growth for a healthy planet.

I have been calling on Member States to show leadership.  We want to make Rio+20 a conference of decisive impact and ambition.  Progress was achieved on key issues during last week’s negotiations.  I thank the co-chairs and all the negotiators for their efforts.  I saw willingness to find common ground.

There is still much work ahead, however; the foundations are in place for agreement on the remainder of the negotiating text.  I expect the negotiators to accomplish this in the days before ministers and world leaders arrive in Rio.  Leaders will then act to resolve all outstanding issues.  Their job is to achieve renewed political commitment for sustainable development.

We aspire to nothing less than a global movement for generational change.  We need world leaders to make the issues on the table at Rio+20 their own personal priority.  Nothing else will do.

We live in a world of economic uncertainty, growing inequality and environmental decline.  That is why I expect concrete outputs from Rio — outcomes that will improve the lives of real people around the world.

First, we need to agree to define a path to an inclusive green economy that will lift people from poverty and protect the global environment.  This requires international collaboration; it requires investment; it requires that countries exchange experiences and technology.

Second, leaders should agree to define sustainable development goals with clear and measurable targets and indicators.  These “SDGs” will be a central part of the post-2015 global development framework.

Third, we need to make decisions on key elements of the institutional framework for sustainable development.

Fourth, we need strong, action-oriented outcomes on a wide range of cross-cutting areas.  I see encouraging progress on food security and sustainable agriculture, oceans, gender equality and women’s empowerment, education and energy.

1.4 billion people live without access to modern sources of energy.  Sustainable energy for all is the golden thread that links development, social inclusion and environmental protection — including addressing the growing threat of climate change.

Fifth, we need progress on implementation.  This includes reaffirming past commitments and initiatives on trade, financing for development, technology transfer and capacity-building.

Sixth, we need more partnerships with civil society and the private sector — strategic alliances that can galvanize global public support and drive change.

I look forward to new commitments and initiatives on critical challenges — from job creation and social protection, to energy, transportation and food security.  These undertakings, and the global mobilization that has produced them, will be a major part of Rio+20’s legacy.

Ultimately, Rio+20 will be measured in the transformation it sets in motion — the lives it changes for the better.  For too long, we have tried to consume our way to prosperity.  Look at the cost:  polluted lands and oceans; climate change; growing scarcities of resources, from food to freshwater; rampant inequality.

We need to invent a new model — a model that offers growth and social inclusion — a model that is more respectful of the planet’s finite resources.  That is why I have made sustainable development my number one priority.  Our hopes for future prosperity, health and stability rest on finding a path that integrates the economic, social and environmental pillars of development.

Agreeing on that road map is what Rio+20 is about.  Sustainable development is an idea whose time has come.  It is the future we want.  Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  I will be happy to take some questions from you.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, thank you very much for this press conference and for sticking to questions for any and all subjects that are really urgent and knocking at the door.  Do you think that sustainable agriculture is the most urgent issue that Rio+20 has to resolve — just give an indication?

Secretary-General:  There are 26 priority areas [which] Member States have identified in the course of negotiations.  I believe that they are all very important.  But when it comes to food security, sustainable energy is one of the areas Member States are focusing and putting greater attention on this; the negotiations are going on well.  Food security, water, energy — there are some areas where Member States are focusing to have some concrete, implementable, practical packages.  Agriculture is one of the very important areas.

Question: I had a question.  You are talking about food and security — this is related to the Arab Spring… can I ask a question on Syria and Lebanon?

Secretary-General:  I am telling you, if you have any questions on Syria or the Arab Spring or related security issues, I will be very happy to answer all your questions tomorrow, together with Mr. Kofi Annan.  As you know, I, Kofi Annan and [Nabil] Elaraby, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, will all brief the General Assembly tomorrow morning at 10, and then there will be some other forms of consultations.  Then, in the afternoon, both I and Kofi Annan will brief the Security Council.  Immediately after that, we will come out and we will have a joint press stakeout — tomorrow, in front of the Security Council.  So that will be the perfect timing for you

Question:  Thank you.  Are you worried that this meeting in Brazil would not reach an agreement, a final agreement?  How worried are you, because, obviously, there is disarray between the groups of countries…?

Secretary-General:  As you have been very closely following and reporting the process of negotiation — this has been quite a difficult negotiation process.  Even with five more days’ extra negotiation which ended last Saturday, Member States have not been able to streamline all these negotiation packages.  But it is not unusual in these types of multilateral negotiations that negotiation takes quite a long time and [is] a difficult process, until the very last minute of the end of the conference.

But, as I said in my remarks, Member States are very willing to have very good, ambitious packages.  And that is quite encouraging.  There has been quite significant progress, even though, until when everything is agreed, people will not make a final decision on certain issues.  So a lot of things have been referred to as — what we call in negotiating terms — “ad ref”.  This means depending upon final approval by the home Government — “ad reference”.  So there are many “ad reference”-based agreed paragraphs, while there are more undecided, but [negotiations are] still going on.  But most of the paragraphs they have been dealing with and negotiating on have gone through a very extensive discussion and exchange of views.  So I am not as pessimistic as you portray and I am cautiously optimistic.  I’m sure that Member States will act for the interest of human beings and for humanity.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.  Once they miss this opportunity, they may have to wait a long time.  I have been urging Member States that this is not the end of everything; this is only the beginning of a very important process which will be coming.  And this is not a treaty negotiation.  This is a sort of political commitment.  As leaders in 2000 adopted the Millennium Development Goals as a blueprint to alleviate poverty and to save many lives from poverty and disease and environmental impact, so this will be a very important political blueprint, which they did 20 years ago in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.  So I still urge and am hopeful that Member States will be very seriously engaged in the final round of negotiations.

Question: Having covered a lot of conferences at the United Nations, I find that whenever you have every issue in the world involved, you come out with a bad, a confused focus.  I am just asking whether 26 priorities are not too much for anything to be followed up on afterwards.  And secondly, is there backtracking from the first conference in Rio?  Are developing nations reneging on commitments from technology to development, etcetera?

Secretary-General: I don’t think they are backtracking from the first Rio summit in 1992.  They adopted, as you know very well, Agenda 21.  But they consumed all this in the name of prosperity and development without knowing that this planet Earth has limitations.  This is a little bit of rhetoric, if I may say, but planet Earth, nature, in a sense, has been very kind to human beings, but we have not been kind to nature.  Nature does not wait while we negotiate.  I’m sorry to use this kind of rhetoric, maybe.  We need to be very practical.  This world has limits in terms of resources.  We have to use these resources to the best purpose for our future generations and for an environmentally hospitable, sustainable world.  That is what I’d like to really emphasize.

Then, there are 26 areas they have identified as important.  It may take time to agree on all 26.  If they can agree on 26, I would most welcome [this].  If not, they should come out with what I term as “must haves”.  Member States are now focusing on what would be the “must haves”.  Then I would strongly urge Member States to come out with sustainable development goals, based on the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs].  We have only 2.5 years left to go before the end of 2015, when the MDGs should be [achieved by] the end of this target [date].  Then we have to continue.  The Member States are very serious and getting a lot of support on these sustainable development goals.  That is why I have nominated, a couple of weeks ago, three world leaders — Indonesian President [Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono, Liberian President [Ellen] Johnson-Sirleaf, and [Prime Minister] David Cameron of the United Kingdom, who will co-chair, and I’m going to soon announce the establishment of a high-level panel of eminent persons who will be really working on these visions, together with the Member States.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, some of the people I’ve been talking to are looking at the “must haves”, rather than this very long document, which has not been agreed on yet.  They also seem to be focusing on the sustainable development goals, which they believe could give the world some specific targets over the next decade or less, perhaps.  I wonder if you could tell us what you see as the most important of these sustainable development goals.

Secretary-General: It’s very difficult for me to say anything which may give some impression that [I am] prejudging any future decision by the Member States.  We have eight goals under the Millennium Development Goals.  Whether it will be 5 goals, 7 goals, 8 goals, 10 goals – that is now still under consideration.  What is important at this time is that these sustainable development goals — SDGs — are getting a lot of support from Member States. They agree that there needs to be something which will be followed up on, because… suppose we have achieved all eight goals of the MDGs by 2015.  That means we will have left still a lot of things unfulfilled.  For example, pillar number one is cutting in half the number of people living in abject poverty.  We have in a sense achieved it, that goal, but we will have 50 per cent still who will be suffering from abject poverty; we have to do it.  Sanitation and drinking water, or many others, [such as] reducing the number of people dying from needless deaths, like preventable diseases, women’s and children’s deaths, malaria, tuberculosis and all these diseases. And climate change issues are still going on.  So therefore, it is important that we should be committed to carry on.  That’s the basic concept of SDGs.

Then, how these SDGs could be carried out, so what are the tools?  The institutional tools they are now talking about is whether to strengthen the UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] or elevating [it] to one of the specialized agencies, or whether to strengthen the current Commission on Sustainable Development to a Sustainable Development Council.  There are several ideas that are now being discussed by Member States.  Again, they are now trying to focus on streamlining all these options.

And there are tools, very effective tools, [and] that’s energy, among the 26, clearly the most important tool will be energy.  Energy is the golden thread.  That is why I have established the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, which is again getting support.  This is a cross-cutting issue.  Without energy, you cannot address all these issues.  Without educating people, without skilled human resources, without educated human resources, you cannot address all these issues.  Education can also be the foundation of everything: water; again, food – without food, without water, first of all, human beings cannot have sustainable living; how to handle all these organizational issues.  And oceans — 70 per cent of this planet Earth is water, oceans.  Oceans are now being polluted; marine biodiversity is being lost, significantly.  There are many areas where we have to focus our priority at this time.  Member States have gone through all these topics, in-depth, very deeply.  So they now know what to choose.  It’s a matter now of choice rather than on agreeing on this detailed language.

I think we need some political wisdom, political courage to set in motion all these priorities so that we need to head towards a sustainable path — environmentally, economically and socially.  When we say social equity —in an environmentally hospitable way and in an economically sustainably way — Member States are talking about green growth, how to achieve all this through green growth.  I know that there are some controversies about the exact concept of green growth, but whatever names green growth may be called, I hope Member States will be able to agree on all these matters.  Sorry for some long answers.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, as you noted, most of the developed countries had agreed that 0.7 per cent ODA [official development assistance] would be given in order for sustainable development programmes, to sustain itself.  They are not keeping their commitment.  What is it that you can do to make them keep their commitments?  And I just wanted to point out that, two years ago, you had asked for $1 trillion to help the developing countries at the G-20 summit.  They have not even come up with that.  How do you intend on asking them to follow up?

Secretary-General: That is one of the very important areas where some continuing discussions are taking place, in fact, what they call implementation or previous commitments.  These are, I think, related.  Member States are very seriously discussing this matter.  Our position, the United Nations position, is unchanged: they should provide 0.7 per cent of GNI [gross national income] for official development assistance.  There are some countries which have already met this target, even before 2015.  Some Nordic countries, European countries, at least five or six countries, have met [the] 0.7 [per cent target] and some countries have met even the 1 per cent goal of GNI.  That’s quite encouraging.  But many of the countries have not yet gone there, so we are asking them to do that.  For example, what I have been really highly commending is political courage.  Despite this economic downturn, financial crises in Europe, for example, Prime Minister David Cameron, he has made it quite clear that the United Kingdom, while they were cutting 30 per cent of their budgets, will keep the 0.7 per cent commitment.  So I’ve been urging G-20, G-8 leaders to follow suit.

We need leaders to have political commitment and political courage and vision.  Short-term measures will not be the answers.  You need to have mid- and longer-term visions for sustainable development.  Therefore, in addressing all these financial crises in Europe, I think they need to take a mid- and longer-term vision, rather than short-term, stop-gap measures. 

Thank you very much; thank you.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record