High-Level Symposium on the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

Concluding Remarks by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO+20)

Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for your active participation and engagement during the past one-and-half days.

We have held frank and fruitful discussions. As the Secretary-General of Rio+20, I am very pleased with the rich, open and interactive nature of the debate. This bodes well for Rio+20.

Building upon discussions in the formal preparatory process as well as in other national, regional and international meetings, in Beijing we have made good progress towards a better mutual understanding of each other’s current thinking on the objective and themes of Rio+20. We have clarified areas where we seem to be nearing consensus, areas of remaining difference, as well as areas where we still need to explore ideas and proposals with open minds. We are arriving at a clearer picture of the way forward.

Even though we may differ on specific proposals, we all share a common pursuit, to accelerate implementation and progress towards sustainable development. There are no North-South differences on this there is a shared concern for our common future.

Mr. Wu Hailong, the Executive Secretary-General of China’s Preparatory Committee for Rio+20, has summarized the salient features of the discussions at the Symposium. Let me briefly share with you some key messages that I observe emerging from this meeting.

The multiple crises of recent years have reinforced an appreciation of the urgency of reorienting our current economic growth models. We need to rethink development together. We need growth – but growth that is inclusive, equitable and strongly oriented towards poverty eradication. We have to reduce the environmental footprint of this growth with sensible policies on energy, water, agriculture, oceans, urbanization, disaster resilience and preparedness, and job creation.

We need to make provision for the technology, finance and capacity building for the economic transformation needed for sustainable development. Technology transfer is complex. But what we are talking about specifically is identifying appropriate technologies that can facilitate transformation to a sustainable world.

Many of you emphasized that renewed political commitment for sustainable development must begin from re-affirming the Rio principles and Agenda 21.

We heard much discussion, from different perspectives, on the question of sustainable development goals as part of a post-2015 development agenda as called for by the GA. In coming months we will need to address concerns and questions about how to define such goals in a way that is ambitious and feasible, that is inclusive and at the same time respects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Implementation of commitments will demand stronger partnerships including with all the Major Groups and the financial institutions. I am happy to report to you that through the EC-ESA Plus process we have engaged the Bretton Woods Institutions, the regional development banks and the relevant UN agencies from the outset.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our discussions have repeatedly touched on a fundamental question: How can a green economy help accelerate progress towards poverty eradication and sustainable development? I think we can agree that green economy is only a means to these ends. Clearly it needs to be treated as a “bottom up” rather than a “top down” approach. To be useful, it must help us address head-on the sustainable development implementation failures many of you have noted.

More than anything else, green economy can be seen as a new way of approaching economic decision making one that emphasizes potential synergies between economic and social development and environmental protection one that identifies new green growth opportunities and shifts investments to capture them one that treats investment in protection and sustainable management of the natural resource base as an integral part of poverty eradication strategies.

There are risks and opportunities of a green economy that have been articulated. We need to minimize the risks and grab the opportunities. As a number of you mentioned, it would be helpful if we could agree upfront on what the green economy is not – or should not be.

Picking up on some of the issues raised during the Symposium, I would like to be a little more specific. Let me single out employment and decent work, as well as sustainable consumption and production.

First, on employment creation and decent work, countries need to share lessons on how green economy policies can create abundant decent jobs.

Second, as many of you noted, a framework on sustainable consumption and production based on common but differentiated responsibilities would make an important contribution to a green economy transition.

There have been proposals made for a global green economy fund, as well as questions raised about its feasibility under current global economic conditions. It is widely accepted that sizeable investment will need to flow into green sectors. While domestic resource mobilization will play a key role, for many countries – especially the least developed countries — enhanced access to international finance will be crucial as well as new and additional resources.

Drawing on what has been said this past two days, an agreement on a green economy at Rio+20 may contain a number of key elements:

  • a set of framing principles and caveats;
  • a road map for countries to follow in their efforts to build green economies bottom-up;
  • a menu of policy options for countries to consider in building green economies;
  • a toolkit for analysis and policy choice;
  • financial, technology and capacity building support to enable developing countries to accelerate progress along green development paths.

This list is still evolving. Countries will develop more concrete and action-oriented proposals as we move towards Rio. Energy, water, and food security, oceans, cities, natural disaster preparedness, these are some other areas you have mentioned where concrete initiatives may be forthcoming.

Let me turn now to the institutional framework for sustainable development. The discussion over the past two days has highlighted that strengthened governance in all three pillars, as well as improved integration among the pillars, is firmly on the Rio+20 agenda.

The sheer scale and acceleration of global problems – climate change, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, economic instability – lead to the conclusion that the existing governance arrangements are not up to the task in their current configuration.

There is wide acknowledgement of the need to bring coherence to the landscape of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), intergovernmental bodies, and the UN system and other international organizations.

Attention has been drawn to the fragmentation and relative weakness of the environmental pillar, as well as weaknesses in the social and economic pillars. As of now, effective integration of the three pillars remains an aspiration more than a reality.

In broad terms, institutional reform proposals at the international level can be categorized into three clusters:

  • Various proposals for enhancing ECOSOC and the Commission on Sustainable Development,
  • Options focusing on the environmental pillar, ranging from making UNEP into a specialized agency to the creation of a World Environment Organization, and
  • Elevating the functions of the Commission on Sustainable Development into a Sustainable Development Council reporting directly to the General Assembly.

This Symposium has helped us advance our understanding of the various proposals. Among the range of views expressed, there is a common thread concerning the need for integration, coherence, efficiency and flexibility to address emerging challenges.

Let me dwell briefly on integration. Sustainable development is predicated on integrated policy-making and implementation at all levels.

If sustainable development requires broad integration into institutions, policies and programmes, it also continues to need an institutional champion and torch-bearer. In this regard, some have suggested a strengthened CSD and many others suggested upgrading CSD to a Sustainable Development Council with an enhanced mandate for monitoring progress with implementation the Human Rights Council was mentioned as a possible model.

A number of you stressed the importance of strengthened sustainable development governance at national level, supported by a UN delivering as one.

Finally, there was broad recognition of the importance of strong engagement of civil society, including business and industry, in the process leading up to and the implementation process following Rio+20. While governments will need to provide leadership and policy direction, major groups will be crucial to building a green economy on the ground.

Let me assure you that the Chair’s summary of the Beijing Symposium will be reflected faithfully and objectively in the compilation text.

Beijing is part of a process to facilitate better understanding. The next step in this process is the early October meeting in New Delhi. That meeting will focus in greater depth on the social aspects of a green economy, with a particular emphasis on food and energy security and decent livelihoods for the poor.

The work ahead of us is difficult but doable. It is also absolutely essential. We must focus our efforts on further refining our understanding with a view to broadening areas of consensus ahead of negotiations which begin early next year.

On behalf of the United Nations, I would like to thank our Chinese host once more for convening such a valuable meeting, and to express my sincere appreciation to all those who worked tirelessly to make this event a success.

I wish you all a safe trip back home and every success in your preparation for Rio+20. We must continue to work together to advance implementation of sustainable development.

I thank you.