COP16 Side Event: A green economy and the renewal of political commitment to sustainable development

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

His Excellency Maanee Lee,
Dr. Supachai Panichpakdi,
Mr. Achim Steiner,
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to join Dr. Supachai and Achim Steiner at this event on the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20.

I am especially delighted to welcome His Excellency Maanee Lee, Minister for the Environment from the Republic of Korea.

I am sure that all of you are familiar with the upcoming Rio+20 Conference.

Convened by the UN General Assembly, the Conference will take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.

Its objectives are to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess progress to date and gaps in implementation, and address new and add emerging challenges.

The themes of the Conference are the topics of our discussion today, namely a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed me as the Secretary-General of the Conference. It is a weighty responsibility and I am giving it my utmost attention and commitment.

I know that for the Conference and its outcomes to be successful, I must listen to you – stakeholders from government, civil society, academia and the private sector…

And I must work with my colleagues in the UN system, including those who have helped organized today’s event.

My role is to serve you.

I do not pretend to be an expert on all sustainable development issues.

My colleague Achim Steiner is an authority on the green economy, and my friend Dr. Supachai has held senior government positions and he is a renowned expert.

I am a career diplomat, steeped in politics, and I can speak to you from a politician’s perspective on why this conference is so important.

First, let me say that I am not interested in birthdays. Despite its symbolic significance, it is not of much consequence that the Conference marks the 20th anniversary of the first sustainable development conference in Rio.

The conference is needed because of the state of our world today.

So many countries are still experiencing the fall out of the recent financial and economic crisis. It has caused enormous social distress and impeded progress on the Millennium Development Goals.

The economic crisis, compounded with the food and energy crisis, and the looming problem of climate change, could lead to a world overshadowed by fear, cynicism, and despair.

Some ask if sustained economic growth is still possible.

Others ask why the response to climate change is so slow.

Developing countries fear the abandonment of the development agenda.

Developed countries have yet to fully grasp the broad impact of emerging economies.

Small island states are anxious to simply survive.

But, ladies and gentlemen, there is also good news.

In recent years we have seen rapid growth and poverty reduction in developing countries.

We have also seen a huge expansion in sustainable development programmes – those that tackle economic, social and environmental challenges all at once.

Many of these programmes can serve as pillars of a green economy…programmes on renewable energy… energy efficiency…waste management…afforestation…integrated water management and sustainable agriculture.

We have seen enormous creativity.

New technologies are being diffused at a breathtaking speed. There are new forms of collaboration, corporate responsibility movements, dynamic city governments and new and widening circles of leadership. The G6 became the G8 and is now the G20, marking the changing global economic landscape.

So, while progress in implementation has been slow, we are not starting from scratch.

But we need to do more.

At events like this one today, we can start by asking ourselves hard questions.

But first, let me clarify at the outset that we are for a green economy.

The General Assembly has decided to focus on a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development, because progress in these two areas is critical for accelerating implementation, through harmonizing the relations between growth and environment and through building up institutions for advancing implementation.

In that sense, a green economy is seen as holding the key to faster implementation of sustainable development. A green economy provides the missing entry point to accelerated progress. It offers new avenues and opportunities for pursuing the integration of the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development.

The green economy serves as a lever that can leverage actions in a broad spectrum of economic sectors, generating momentum for poverty eradication, economic transformation and increased incentives for a real paradigm shift characterized by low inputs, low emissions, low wastes, higher efficiency in resource uses and better product designs,.

But many questions remain unanswered Allow me to pose those in the hope that they will stimulate the discussions today.

First, is the goal of a green economy in any way putting at risk the imperative for growth and development in developing countries?

The economic challenges facing developing countries vary, depending on the size of the economy, the stages of development and other relevant factors. Will they be in a position to implement one-size-fits all solutions?

Will aid-dependent countries be forced to reorder their investment priorities?

Will countries appease their domestic constituencies by imposing new forms of trade protectionism or aid conditionality under the green banner?

Central to the questions is the uncomfortable – yet unavoidable – topic of how much it will cost to implement a green economy.

How will the costs and risks be distributed?

These are real concerns of developing countries. Because of these concerns, a green economy was not included in the outcome document of the MDG Summit.

Now, even for some developed countries, there is also the question of whether they will be able to change the historical pattern of growth and change their unsustainable production and consumption patterns,

I know that Achim’s remarks will address all these questions.

Second, is a green economy an incarnation of the Washington Consensus – that is, an embodiment of laisser-faire free market tenets?

Given the preoccupation of many green economy advocates with market solutions, will it end up restricting the policy space for developing countries?

In this regard, there is also another concern – how did the word growth disappear from this discourse?

Growth has been central to narrowing the gap between rich and poor countries, achieving MDGs, and building capacity for integrated policies, but it is no longer mentioned in green economy advocacy efforts

Nor is financing and technology support highlighted in the discussion. Clearly we will need both to make progress in a green economy. The question is how.

I hope Dr Supachai’s insights will help kick off this discussion.

Thirdly, how can the international community assist countries to prepare for and later implement the outcomes of Rio+20?

If Member States are able to reach agreement and tap into the potentials of the green economy, there will be a better chance to reach agreement on the institutional framework for sustainable development and on coordinated and integrated follow-up, including through capacity development.

In this regard, I am delighted that His Excellency Maanee Lee is able to join us today.

The Republic of Korea and the United Nations have agreed to establish a new Office on Sustainable Development, in Inchon, Korea. It will be dedicated to providing technical assistance to developing countries.

We will use this occasion to sign our formal agreement on this office – to demonstrate our common resolve and to place the questi

on of capacity building on the table.

I hope Minister Lee’s intervention will generate a dynamic discussion from the audience on this issue.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I said in the beginning, I am a political animal.

The job of a politician is to bring agendas and constituencies together, to find practical ways of moving forward, and to enhance synergies.

This, in the end, is what sustainable development is all about.

It is why I am excited by what we can achieve at Rio in 2012.

I hope all of you will join us on this exciting journey, and that the younger audience members will continue to carry the flag of sustainable development when my generation passes from the scene.

As my Brazilian friends say, “a luta continua” – onward with our struggle.

Thank you and I wish you a productive meeting.