Delhi Ministerial Dialogue on Green Economy and Inclusive Growth

Opening Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a privilege to be here with all of you today.

On behalf of the United Nations, let me express my sincere gratitude to the Government of India for hosting this dialogue.

I expect today’s dialogue to be an important contribution to preparations for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20).

Rio +20 comes not a moment too soon.

Today’s world faces multiple challenges:

  • high unemployment in many countries;
  • risk of a new global recession;
  • increasing food prices and worsening hunger;
  • climate-related stresses;
  • increased frequency and severity of disasters and their impacts on vital ecosystems, infrastructure, and poor people’s livelihoods.

Each of these threatens to undermine progress towards poverty eradication and social and economic development.

As an international community and as national policy makers, we need to refocus.

In Rio in 1992, the promise of sustainable development inspired the world. We need to re-invigorate Agenda 21, which embodies that promise.

But what does that mean in practice?

Let me offer a few thoughts to stimulate discussion in the coming two days, and hopefully inform governments’ internal discussions as they finalize national submissions.

I have said before and I’ll say again: Rio + 20 must be about three things – integration, implementation and coherence.

These are the common messages we’ve heard over the past months during the prepcoms and intersessional – as well as at Solo and Beijing.

By definition, sustainable development is about integration – integration among the three pillars: social, economic and environmental and ensuring their coherence.

In practice, this is not easy.  This partly explains why progress has been slow.

Our governments, our international and national organizations are mostly geared to specialization. Ministries work in silos. Agencies have special focus areas – health, education, agriculture, etc.

Of course, we all must specialize and do what we do best. But our problems and challenges do not specialize.  Therefore, we must talk to each other, think holistically, and plan and act accordingly.

We need an institutional framework to ensure this happens routinely and systematically.

And what about implementation?

Above all, this is about political will.

Rio+20 is meant to mobilize renewed political commitment for sustainable development. If it cannot do this, it would be hard to call Rio+20 a success.

The agenda for sustainable development has been known in broad terms at least since Rio 1992. It has been further refined at Johannesburg.

In particular, Johannesburg heightened attention to the social pillar – which will be a primary focus during this Dialogue.

Of course, we also need to look at new and emerging challenges that were not so prominent in 1992 or 2002.  Turmoil of recent years should also be reflected in a forward-looking agenda.

But what is keeping us from implementing the sustainable development agenda more fully and more quickly?

Let me first say that the picture is not all gloomy.

There has been significant social and economic progress over the past 20 years, and that is very good news.  India, our host country, is a success story. And there are many others.

Still, it’s not good enough and it won’t be as long as poverty persists as long as human development and human dignity are not universally enjoyed.

So, we need to continue to making progress on the social pillar.

And, as this meeting will explore, we need to see how we can do this while also making progress on the economic and environmental pillars too. That is what is meant by “Green Economy and Inclusive Growth”.

How can we practically bring these three pillars together so countries are confident that the social agenda, the environmental agenda, and the economic agenda are mutually reinforcing?

Let’s provide some convincing answers in the next two days.

Our agenda here in New Delhi is a rich one.  It should provide ample opportunity for countries to share valuable national experiences in developing inclusive green economy policies and programmes.

The agenda focuses specifically on two fundamental needs for human well being – food and energy security.  Meeting both these basic human needs depends critically on sustainable management and use of natural resources.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is leading a global initiative to secure a commitment of sustainable energy for all at Rio+20. The Government of India has led efforts to declare 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.

Rio+20 offers an opportunity to move forward the agenda of universal energy access.

We know the benefits are broad: economic, social, and environmental. This is a case of integration par excellence.

I look forward to hearing your views during the discussions on how to deliver on ambitious energy access and sustainability goals.

On food security, we face major challenges. India and South Asia have been at the centre of one revolution – the green revolution – which brought untold benefits to hundreds of millions of people.

Yet we know those benefits have not reached everyone, neither in this subcontinent nor in much of Sub-Saharan Africa. We also know that this revolution has taken an environmental toll – on soils, water, fisheries, biodiversity.

As we look forward to feeding 9 billion people by mid-century with nutritious and healthy diets, we will need another revolution. One of the eminent speakers at this Dialogue calls it an “evergreen” revolution.

The conditions are not favourable. For example, climate change is increasing stress on agricultural production in many developing countries.

To tackle the food and nutrition challenge, the best agricultural science will need to be wedded to the best traditional knowledge. And the outcome needs to benefit smallholders, especially women farmers.

One idea is a knowledge sharing platform to help countries address the intersecting challenges of water, energy, nutritious and affordable food, and climate change adaptation.

We need to connect farmers to markets and empower them to capture a larger share of value along supply chains. At the same time, we must create productive non-farm employment to supplement farm incomes and diversify risks.

These are among the vital issues we must address in these two days as we consider how a green economy can promote inclusive growth.

I very much look forward to joining you in these discussions.

Before I conclude, let me say a few words about our host and the host city.

Since I joined the UN secretariat, my department has worked in close collaboration with the Indian government, first on climate change and now on Rio+20.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Indian government for your leadership, commitment, collaboration and generosity.

Thank you.