Thank you.

I appreciate the invitation to attend this Conference and to address the subject of environmental emergencies in the context of Rio+20.

This past Monday in Geneva, at the invitation of Ambassador Toni Frisch, I spoke to a group of Ambassadors on the same subject.  I benefited from the conversation that followed my remarks.  The discussion helped broaden my thinking on multilateral response to environmental emergencies and disasters.

A few colleagues were also at the luncheon.  You will note that some of the points I made at the luncheon will be reiterated here, but with questions added to facilitate discussions this afternoon.

With so many experts and practitioners around the table here, I hope to benefit even more from your views and comments.

As you know, during the preparations for Rio+20, Member States identified a critical emerging challenge: increased frequency and severity of disasters and the need for enhanced resilience.

Disasters have always happened.  If they are now considered a critical, emerging challenge, it is because they occur more often, with greater impact and more devastating consequences.

However, our resilience has not matched their increased frequency and severity.

Neither have we come to grips with the environmental impacts of disasters, be they natural or man-made.

In particular, I deplore the lack of action in addressing their impact on ecosystems.

This fallout may be less visible and less immediate. But the environmental, social and economic consequences are no less significant.

I welcome today’s discussion. I hope it helps fill a gap in our preparations for Rio+20.

In recent years, we have seen earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, droughts, nuclear accidents, marine pollution and waste dumping among other disasters and emergencies.

Be they caused by nature or man, the human tolls they inflict are devastating; their economic costs run into billions and their social consequences are immeasurable.

The United Nations, supported by humanitarian organizations and NGOs, including environmental NGOs, have been doing an admirable job – in saving lives and in providing emergency relief.

However, in addressing the environmental consequences of these disasters, the multilateral system is overwhelmed.  Many believe the main challenge is with lack of effective coordination.

This is despite remarkable efforts by the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit, which has succeeded in the coordination and mobilization of international assistance in over 100 emergencies.

The Advisory Group on Environmental Emergencies, chaired my Ambassador Frisch, reviewed the governance and institutional challenges facing the United Nations in responding effectively to environmental emergencies and disasters.

Essentially, the problem is inadequate governance and institutional frameworks for international emergency response.

This is the root of numerous problems: lack of awareness, lack of notification procedures, lack of clear responsibilities and coordination, as well as operational difficulties.

Yesterday, we heard ample evidence of these difficulties during our discussions.  Due to extreme weather events linked to climate change we are facing increasing frequency of environmental emergencies.

Due to unsustainable consumption and production we face increasing impacts of disasters.

Additional efforts must therefore be made to strengthen international norms for notification to clarify procedures for emergency assistance and to improve critical coordination among humanitarian, disaster relief, environmental protection and development entities. There must be coherence and integration in prevention, preparedness, mitigation and recovery.

Rio+20 offers an opportunity for strengthening governance and institutional frameworks for international emergency response.

Let me elaborate on what we can do – collectively – to make this happen.

In addressing environmental emergencies and disasters, we should aim to be equally effective in saving lives, as well as livelihoods.

Therefore, we need to take a sustainable development approach to addressing environmental emergencies.

Last year, the international community worked together to respond to the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan.

A year later, floodwaters have receded but much of the flooded area continues to face land degradation, crop losses, shortages of clean water, and sanitation.

Meanwhile local populations lack basic access to medicine, schooling and economic opportunities.  Women and children are among the hardest hit.

How can we do a better job in saving both lives and livelihoods?

Strengthening the institutional framework for sustainable development may provide a timely opportunity for strengthening multilateral responses.

Today, I address you in my capacity as Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, scheduled for next June in Rio de Janeiro, also known as Rio+20.

Rio+20’s first theme – a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication – offers a new pathway to achieve MDGs and sustainable development.

The second theme – the institutional framework for sustainable development – will ideally enable multilateral institutions, regional organizations, national and local governments, as well as the nine Major Groups, to work in concert.

Emerging challenges, such as food security, water shortages, energy access, urbanization, marine protection and response to emergencies and disasters should be addressed collectively.

In this context, I would like to propose the following steps for your consideration;

  • First, working with governments, I suggest we aim for a high-level meeting at the 67th session of the General Assembly on strengthening global response to environmental emergencies and disasters.  I would be ready to work with my colleagues Achiem Steiner and Valerie Amos in support of such an initiative.
  • I further urge that Governments, working with UN family and NGOs, adopt a sustainable development approach in addressing environmental emergencies and disasters; they should tackle not only environmental threats and consequences, but also economic and social challenges.
  • Second, let us include specific ideas and proposals for strengthening environmental emergence response in the overall broad proposals for strengthening UNEP.
  • Third, an item on strengthening multilateral response to environmental emergencies and disasters should be on the agenda of the future intergovernmental body on sustainable development.  This body can tap into the advice from the Advisory Group on Environmental Emergencies.

I have made proposals and leave the difficult task of details to my colleagues in OCHA and UNEP and to members of the Advisory Group on Environmental Emergencies.

Even though there are difficult challenges, I remain optimistic for several reasons.

First, enthusiasm and passion for Rio+20 are on the rise.

Member States are setting up national preparatory committees or thematic task forces in preparation for Rio+20. Civil society groups are launching a variety of initiatives, either during the preparatory process or at Rio.  The business sector has set up a dedicated group in support of the Conference.

Second, more and more governments are seeing the potential of a green economy. In both direct and indirect ways, this will help prevent and deal with environmental emergencies and disasters.

While concerns remain, they believe a green economy is an important pathway to sustainable development.

Third, while gaps remain on how to proceed, Governments agree that the current international environmental governance is fragmented.

Everyone knows we need to ensure a better balance among the three pillars of sustainable development.

I am therefore hopeful about achieving a successful outcome.

I see the configurations of an outcome – if Member States agree – possibly encompassing the following elements:

  • First, a green economy roadmap (or guidelines), including a menu of policy options and toolkits of good practices, as well as possible review mechanisms (voluntary or peer review).
  • Second, decisions on strengthening UNEP, CSD and ECOSOC.
  • Third, global sustainable development goals (SDGs) that will be part of a post-2015 development agenda.

There will be further opportunities for focused discussions on these elements in preparatory meetings. Today’s meeting is one such initiative.

In this regard, I want to pose a few questions for you to consider:

1. What policy measures on environmental emergencies should be incorporated into the menu of policy options?
2. What good practices in addressing environmental emergencies should be included in the toolkit?
3. How would Member States conduct review of their response to environmental emergencies, if they agree on peer review or voluntary review?
4. If Member States agree on the idea of sustainable development goals, what kind of goals on environmental emergencies could be included, while bearing in mind the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities?

As many of you know, there are already energy goals under active consideration by Member States.  It is possible that similar sustainable development goals, with long-term time frames, may be proposed for other critical sectors, such as water, food security, marine protection, sustainable urbanization and others.

It is likewise possible that these goals may become part of the post 2015 development agenda.  In this regard, the issue of how to measure progress – through targets and indicators, as proposed by some Member States will need to be addressed.

Also requiring attention will be means of implementation.  How can we support developing countries in strengthening prevention, mitigation, recovery, and development?

What kind of partnerships should be established in support of developing countries?

These are questions that I believe are likely to be raised.  I would appreciate your feedback, your views and comments.  Your counsel and advice will be of great value to me.

Turning to the institutional framework for sustainable development, I would like to share the following questions for your consideration:

Do you think the current inter-agency arrangement, which includes the OCHA/UNEP Unit, is sufficient for coordinating multilateral response to environmental emergencies?

Should the inter-agency arrangement include other UN entities, such as UN-HABITAT, UNDP, FAO, UNIDO, WHO, WMO, and other specialized agencies?

Should there be better, improved coordination mechanisms at the global, regional and national levels, including with civil society?

Should these be placed within a strengthened UNEP, or a World Environment Organization or outside UNEP?

In the scenario that Member States agree on elevating the current Commission on Sustainable Development into a Sustainable Development Council, will the Council be mandated and equipped to review the sustainable development goals, including possibly those on environmental emergencies?

I have raised many questions, because from my experience and perspective as the Conference Secretary-General, I anticipate these coming. I hope you as experts and practitioners could help me find answers.

By 1 November, Member States, UN family organizations and civil society stakeholders will submit inputs for inclusion in a Compilation Document.

I strongly urge participants to provide such inputs through your respective Governments, or international entities or civil society organizations, or businesses.

The Co-Chairs of the Bureau will then present the compilation text in mid-December for comments and guidance by Member States.

A zero draft will be presented to an informal meeting in January. And negotiations will proceed during one full week in each of the months of February, March and April.

The third and last PrepCom will be held in Rio on 28-30 May 2012 and the Conference itself on 4-6 June 2012.

Between the PrepCom and the Conference, there will be thematic days to be organized in close collaboration with UN family organizations.

I see these events as providing a platform for highlighting the importance of governance and institutional framework when addressing environmental emergencies and disasters.

The Rio+20 Secretariat stands ready to assist future hosts in organizing such events.

Rio+20 is an event for the whole UN system and for civil society organizations.  Rio+20 is about tomorrow, about the future. And sustainable development should be our common future.

History has given all of us an opportunity to make a difference, in addressing short-term emergencies and long-term needs.

Let us do it, together, in partnership.

I thank you.