Mr. Wu Hongbo Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General for the International Conference on Small Island Developing States

UNEP Governing Council, Keynote speech: Plenary discussion: Rio+20: from outcome to implementation, Ministerial Consultations

President Anote Tong (of Kiribati)
Your Royal Highness Princess Lala Hassna (of Morocco)
Minister Izabella Teixeira (of Brazil),
Minister Lena Ek (of Sweden)
Mr. Steiner
Distinguished panelists
Distinguished delegates
Dear colleagues,

Nine months ago, world leaders came together in Rio de Janeiro. They endorsed an historic outcome document, The Future We Want.

The theme of today’s plenary captures well the challenge ahead of all of us: taking the Rio+20 outcome and implementing it effectively.  In fulfilling this historic mission, we are not starting from zero.  We are building on other historic agreements on sustainable development, including the Earth Summit in 1992 and the World Summit in 2002.

Unfortunately, progress remains slow in implementing the outcomes. And the consequences are all too evident – in biodiversity loss, loss of forests and the valuable functions they perform. In climate change with its many impacts, from droughts and flooding, to heat waves and fires, to intense storm activity, to changing disease patterns and risks.

Rio+20 was a clarion call to world leaders: we must heed the warning signs of a planet under stress, and recommit ourselves to sustainable development, not just in principle but in practice.

World leaders answered this call and renewed their political commitment.  We must now strengthen international resolve to implement sustainable development policies. We must do better over the next 20 years, than we have over the past 20.  

At Rio+20, Member States agreed to strengthen all three dimensions of sustainable development – the social, the economic and the environmental – as well as the integration among them in decision-making, at all levels.

This integrated perspective needs to pervade our way of approaching and solving problems. If we neglect any one dimension, our solutions are not likely to prove sustainable.

The specific focus of this plenary discussion is paragraph 87 of The Future We Want. That is, strengthening UNEP as the core of the environmental pillar of sustainable development within the UN system.

So, allow me to spend a few moments addressing the importance of this paragraph. Then I shall turn to the broader context of strengthening the overall institutional framework for sustainable development.


Paragraph 87 establishes universal membership in UNEP’s Governing Council. This is the culmination of a long journey; the first major structural change in UNEP’s 40-year history. It will give the entire international community common ownership of this unique institution. It can help us ensure strong collective stewardship of the health of our planet.

Many would agree that the environmental pillar has, until now, been weak. The same can be said for the social pillar. The Millennium Summit in 2000 and the launch of the MDGs went some way towards strengthening these two pillars.  

The MDGs galvanized political attention and helped to mobilize international resources. While very uneven, progress has been notable on a number of MDGs, some of which have already been achieved at global level or are likely to be by 2015. This is laudable. 

Yet, we know that only one MDG addressed the environmental pillar – MDG7 on environmental sustainability. And this was a far cry from the magnitude of challenges we face on the natural resource and environment front and their inter-linkages with economic and social dimensions.

Thanks to the excellent work led by UNEP, the international community has learned a lot since that goal was set, for instance on ecosystems and biodiversity. Indeed, in response to these lessons, Member States agreed at Rio+20 to launch a process to define a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The Rio+20 outcome was very strong in its emphasis on integrating the three dimensions of sustainable development. To this end, it noted that the SDGs should, and I quote, “address and incorporate in a balanced way, all three dimensions of sustainable development and their interlinkages”, unquote.

With the strengthening of UNEP and the environmental pillar as one important outcome of Rio+20, and the SDGs another, we now move to define a post-2015 development agenda, with sustainable development at its core.

The picture is not yet complete, however. We also need to ensure that there is a strong custodian of the integrated sustainable development agenda at the international level. UNEP will support the environmental pillar and various other economic and social institutions.

But who will ensure that all three dimensions are mutually reinforcing in their support to the well-being of both present and future generations?  Historically, since Rio 1992, this was the role of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).

At Rio+20 Member States decided to elevate sustainable development politically. They decided to create an enhanced institution built to purpose, learning the lessons – both positive and negative – from the CSD, and in due course replacing the CSD. They called that body a universal, intergovernmental, high-level, political forum. Its contours, methods of work and other details are now being hammered out in informal consultations in the General Assembly.

It is hoped that an agreement will emerge and be adopted by the General Assembly in May of this year. The forum can then be launched during the high-level week of the General Assembly in September.

It is proposed, as an option for discussion, that the high-level political forum, in close coordination with ECOSOC and the GA, will be providing a monitoring framework and periodic review of progress towards the SDGs. This is, of course, once the SDGs are adopted as an integral part of the post-2015 development agenda.

In that work, it is envisaged that the high-level political forum will need to coordinate closely with UNEP.  For the sake of global sustainable development, the two bodies must work together.

Other key aspects must be put in place if we are to see genuine and accelerated progress in coming years. Means of implementation is among them.

Rio+20 called for an intergovernmental expert committee to develop a proposal for an effective sustainable development financing strategy. It also called for the examination of options to facilitate the development, transfer and diffusion of clean and environmentally sound technologies. Finance and technology, together with trade, education, skills formation and capacity building, are all critical to making good progress towards sustainable development.

A financing strategy and technology facilitation mechanism are also very important. And UNEP once more, together with other parts of the UN system with expertise in financing, technology and capacity building, will need to be intimately involved in this work.

Another important outcome of Rio+20 was the acknowledgement that green economy policies, if appropriately designed, can be useful tools for advancing sustainable development and poverty eradication. UNEP deserves much credit for having pioneered work on green economy within the UN system in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Many countries are exploring how green economy, or green growth policies, can help mainstream environmental concerns into economic policy making. Even now, in many countries, environmental and economic policies are seen as being in tension, as pulling in opposite directions. Green economy challenges this thinking.  It asks policy makers to identify ways in which these two areas could actually pull in the same direction. So that green policies actually become growth policies, and vice versa.

Moreover, there has been a strong emphasis in the UN’s work on inclusive green growth, incorporating employment and social inclusion into policy deliberations on green economy.


When the high-level forum is launched, it will be able to serve as a forum for the sharing of valuable knowledge and experience. Voluntary national reporting to the forum on green economy strategies and policies, could be an ideal opportunity to bring ministers of economics and finance together with their environmental and social policy colleagues.

It’s time to think systematically how to design policies that are mutually reinforcing. This would ensure that the forum brings all the key actors to the table.

The high-level political forum should have the convening power to bring together key actors within the UN system, the ones that support centrally the three pillars of sustainable development. And to facilitate a genuine dialogue on how the UN system can best support integrated decision making and implementation on the ground.

The high-level political forum also needs to provide for stronger engagement with the UN regional commissions. They are key bodies that provide substantive support to countries on sustainable development planning, policy making and progress review.

Likewise, the forum should engage actively with other key international institutions, including the international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization. If the agenda is set right, and if the level of political participation is right, these institutions will want to be at the table.

Distinguished Colleagues,

The high-level political forum must provide a space for three-way engagement of Member States, the UN system and civil society representatives.

Sustainable development is a collective undertaking. It requires cooperation among all stakeholders, and mutual accountability. It is my hope that the high-level political forum, working in close cooperation with a strengthened UNEP – and with other relevant UN actors and the broader international community – will be able to catalyze, guide and accelerate progress towards sustainable development

We must work together intensively in the next few years to complete the processes we launched at Rio+20. We are ready to put in place the goals, enhanced institutions, and effective strategies and mechanisms that will guide us to “the future we want”.