Press Launch of the World Economic and Social Survey 2011:
The Great Green Technological Transformation
5 July 2011, Geneva
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Over the next several decades, humankind must manage a global technological overhaul to end poverty and avert the catastrophic impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.
The World Economic and Social Survey, produced by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, is one of the UN’s flagship reports. This year’s report, “The Great Green Technological Transformation”, argues that efforts to facilitate a green technological transformation must be at the centre of national policies and multilateral cooperation, over the next 30 to 40 years.
We need a complete overhaul of how we generate and use our energy and how we produce our food. Continued use of existing technologies is likely make the Earth unliveable.
Economic progress over the past two centuries has been enormous. But it has been unevenly distributed and it has come at the cost of degrading our natural environment.
We cannot stop the engines of growth, because much more economic progress is still needed for people in developing countries to also have access to a decent standard of living. By mid-century the world’s population is projected to increase by another two billion people. They will need to have access to modern energy, and to sufficient food.
This report sets out the path for achieving an urgent global technological and economic overhaul needed for sustainable development.
Given the pace of climate change, we do not have much time – probably only three or four decades – to make this transformation. Previous major energy transitions took no less than 70 to 100 years to achieve.
Therefore, governments will need to play a much more active role to accelerate the green energy transformation. The Survey stresses that a much stronger push is needed to develop end-use energy technologies that are sustainable. That means making automobiles computers heating production equipment more energy efficient and powered by clean energy. This can take us a long way.
The Survey calls for a truly green revolution in agriculture. Global food production will need to increase by between 70 and 100 per cent from present levels by 2050, in order to feed the growing world population.
We had a green agricultural revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. It modernized agriculture, and pushed up food production. But it also contributed to air and water pollution, and land degradation. Agriculture currently contributes about 14 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation is adding another 17 per cent.
So, in order to feed the growing world population, we now need a new green revolution by, among other things, shifting to farming techniques that require less water and produce less land degradation. The technologies are there, but conditions are needed to create widespread adaptation of those techniques and make them available to developing countries at affordable costs.
The Survey argues that innovative policies for sustainable development should be an integral part of national development strategies. It calls for the greening of every country’s National Innovation System. This will also have important implications for education systems. Farmers, engineers and other technicians will need training on how to handle green technologies. Scientists will need support to develop and improve new technologies.
The Survey proposes to build a global public technology sharing regime. It also recommends creating international networks of technology research and application centres. We need these to share information across borders to spread green technology, globally. Although, this will also require expanding options regarding multilateral intellectual property rights.
Financing remains a key constraint in all of this. Inadequate financing is consistently mentioned by businesses and governments as the greatest obstacle to their rapid adaptation of clean technologies.
The Survey estimates that, over the next 40 years, an additional $1.9 trillion per year will be needed for incremental investments in green technologies. At least one half, or $1 trillion, of the required investments would need to take place in developing countries.
All of these issues will be central to the Rio+20 Conference next June. The World Economic and Social Survey suggests a number of possible solutions of how to achieve the “great green technological transformation”.
However, we must not rely on technology alone. One crucial pillar of sustainable development is social development. This means green technologies must not lead to widening gaps between the rich and the poor; developing countries, in particular the poor should have access to these technologies at affordable costs.
We must take these issues very seriously, if we really want to achieve sustainable development and avert catastrophic damage to the Earth’s natural environment as well as social and economic crises. There is very little time left, so we must come together and agree to joint action at Rio+20.