Ministerial meeting: “Sharing Green Economy Best Practices Towards Rio+20”

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

Distinguished Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to be here today.

I commend the Government of Poland in its Presidency of the European Union for convening this high-level Ministerial meeting.

I must start by acknowledging the strong and critical role of the European Union. Many of the issues under discussion in the Rio+20 process owe their origin to ideas which have come from the EU green economy road map, the critical focus areas and the strengthening of UNEP.

And I appreciate that in today’s meeting, international organizations and civil society stakeholders have the opportunity to take part.  As have other players who are helping shaping the outcome of Rio.

This meeting is a further step on the road to Rio+20, picking up where others left off – the PrepComs, intersessional, Solo, Beijing and just last week, Delhi.

By the end of this meeting, we should have achieved even greater clarity on green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication:

  • what it is and what it is not;
  • how building green economies can help countries accelerate progress towards sustainable development;
  • how to ensure a green economy is inclusive and fair, creating decent jobs and sustainable livelihoods for poor and vulnerable people; and
  • what countries are doing on the ground and what we can learn from their experience.

A few key messages came out of the Delhi Dialogue on green economy. Allow me to recall these as we begin our deliberations here in Warsaw.

First, we need to agree on guidelines.

We need to reaffirm the Rio Principles, which will be central to renewing political commitment for sustainable development.

We also need to state clearly what a green economy is, and what it is not.  This is important because there remains uncertainty about its meaning, scope and implications for different countries.

Some countries still have concerns that a green economy is not in their interests, or that it will be too costly for them to pursue.

Let’s first try to agree on what a green economy is not. A green economy:

  • is not a top-down, one-size-fits-all model of development;
  • is not an excuse for green protectionism or new green conditionalities on ODA and other finance; and
  • is not a way of putting nature’s wealth under corporate control.

So, what is a green economy then?

While we are not likely to agree on any one definition, we can see the outlines of common features:

  • A green economy is a means to accelerate progress towards sustainable development and poverty eradication.
  • It is a way of reorienting decision making in the public and private sectors to respect the valuable benefits nature provides us.
  • It is an approach to development and growth that systematically seeks to mutually reinforce the three pillars of Sustainable Development.

For each country, green economy will mean different things. Countries are at very different levels of development. They have different natural endowments. Each must have enough policy space to find its own green growth path.

But we know that, as different as we are, we share many values, including the desire to entrust to our children a better world.


The European Union has proposed that Rio+20 could adopt a roadmap for a green economy.  This proposal is getting traction. It is seen by many as a tool for operationalizing the Rio Principles, Agenda 21 and JPOI.

We look forward to learning more about how a roadmap might look.

In using a map, for instance, we must have a destination in view.  We know the vision: universal human development and dignity on a shared and peaceful and healthy planet.

Yet, some countries have a much longer road to travel on the path to development.

Some depend heavily on natural resources, and must develop new sources of prosperity.

Some countries enjoy high levels of human development, but must struggle to maintain them as they face economic and other crises.

A menu of policy options could be a valuable tool for all countries. The specific policy mixes will differ from country to country, and even in the same country at different moments.  But, it is important to know what policies have worked where, and why.

That is why a broad discussion on green economy best practices – the subject of this meeting – is so timely.

One of the proposals of the EU is for a toolkit of best practices and lessons learned. As we are all still learning, that toolkit would need to be continuously updated.

It would also need to be filled with lessons learned from experience relevant to all countries in very different circumstances  – developed, developing and least developed.

Finally, the EU proposal refers to milestones, targets, timelines. Of course each country wants to be able to know how far it has travelled, and how long is the road ahead. It wants to know if there is a faster way to get to its destination.

But, we cannot expect every country to travel at the same speed. So, how do we devise milestones – measures of progress – that are flexible, and respect diversity?

Some have proposed a common set of sustainable development goals.  If there are to be global goals, how would these translate into equitable national level goals, consistent with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities? And how would such goals relate to the post-2015 development agenda and the MDGs? And cover what areas?

Only by listening to the concerns of all Member States, are we likely to reach agreement on a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

Though this meeting focuses on a green economy, we cannot ignore the institutional framework for sustainable development. Without an appropriate institutional framework, implementation will be affected.

Until now, a major challenge has been failure to integrate effectively the three pillars. What institutional strengthening will help achieve such integration?

The creation of a high-level sustainable development council through the transformation of the CSD is a proposal that has generated interest. Key to making it effective would be giving it a strong mandate to monitor progress in implementation.

We also need a stronger UNEP, whatever the option Member States will agree on.  A stronger UNEP is essential to implementation.

As part of a strengthened institutional framework, we also need to remember that sustainable development is a multi-stakeholder process.

We need to involve the nine major groups, but what kind of a role will they play in advancing a green economy, including the business sector?  Is there a new model that could come out of Rio+20 for strengthening their engagement and accountability?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In concluding, let me say that I fully expect that this meeting will help us to focus on key elements of a possible agreement at Rio+20 on a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

Examples of best practices and success stories can help to build such confidence. But we need to move from specific examples to strategies for scaling up and replicating successes across countries, regions and the globe.

I remind you that we are approaching the critical next stage of the Rio+20 preparatory process.  The 1st November deadline for submissions to the compilation text is only 22 days away.  The outcome of the Warsaw meeting is critical and must be fully reflected in the compilation text.  I hope you will ensure that this is in time and becomes part of the zero draft and the final outcome.

We must be prepared for the hard work that lies ahead. As Rio+20 approaches, let us remember that sustainable development is not an issue that divides us, but one that unites us – North, South, East and West.

Thank you and I wish you productive discussions.