Regional Preparatory Meeting for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (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

Professor Dr. Your Royal Highness Princess Chulaborn Mahidol,
Your Excellency Minister Yoo Young-Sook,
Your Excellency Ambassador Kim Sook
Deputy Executive Secretary Shun-ichi Murata,
Director Nessim Ahmad
Regional Director of UNEP Young-Woo Park
Distinguished Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to be here today to open this important preparatory meeting for Rio+20.

Let me first of all thank the Government of the Republic of Korea for hosting this meeting.

It is only fitting that this preparatory meeting is taking place in the Republic of Korea.  Korea has been a pioneer in pursing green economy.

Our thanks also go to ESCAP.  ESCAP has been an excellent partner in promoting sustainable development at the regional level.

Dear Colleagues,

No other region in the world is so vividly characterized by the contrast between the level of achievements and challenges ahead, than Asia-Pacific.

The Asia-Pacific region represents more than half of humanity. It is home to developed countries, emerging economies,   LDCs and SIDS. It is also the most economically dynamic, helping drive the world economy.

It has seen the greatest progress in reducing poverty, improving women and children’s health. And yet, it still has the largest number of poor people of any region.
The region has made strenuous efforts to protect our ecosystems; but it also faces some of the most serious environmental problems, including unsustainable urbanization.

Climate change is expected to hit food production in South Asia particularly hard.

Sea-level rise will have a severe impact on low-lying coastal areas and deltas of Asia, as well as Pacific Island States.

For all these reasons, Asia-Pacific has much to contribute for a sustainable future.  And you have much at stake in the outcome of Rio+20.

So, what you say … and what you choose to do … about sustainable development matters.

It is my strong hope this meeting will lead to the following concrete results

1.    an increased awareness in the region of the importance of Rio+20;
2.    stronger momentum for national preparations for the Conference; and
3.    further convergence of views and perspectives among different groupings on the themes, emerging challenges and expected outcomes of Rio+20.

As you know well, the objective of Rio+20 is to secure political commitment.

This must start with a reaffirmation of the Rio principles. These are as valid today as in 1992. But their application is even more urgent now.

Asia-Pacific is facing challenges on many fronts: high and volatile food prices… worsening water scarcities… encroaching desertification … more extreme weather events and natural disasters… and city populations growing faster than infrastructure and services…

These have been captured in the excellent background papers.

How can we address these challenges?

First and foremost, we need to renew and reinvigorate political will and political commitments.  The region must accord priority to sustainable development.

There is no other way out of the crises.

Rio+20 is expected to produce a “focused political document”. What should it focus on, and how will it reflect different focuses of different groups?

We look forward to your discussions on the outcome document.

In doing so, please bear in mind that Rio+20 is a Conference on Implementation.

The two themes of the Conference – a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development (IFSD) – are meant to provide the tools and institutions that will help speed up implementation.

Here, let me share a few thoughts on green economy – and how it could figure in a strong Rio+20 outcomes.

First, I would like to commend ESCAP for its pioneering work on green growth.

Indeed, compared to other regions, many more countries in Asia-Pacific have recognized the potential of green economy as a tool for operationalizing sustainable development.

Indeed, at the recent country-led preparatory meetings in Beijing and Delhi, there is a growing convergence toward action on green economy.  I am coming from Warsaw where I heard the views of EU countries.  They are most advanced on their actions towards a green economy.  But concerns and differences remain.  If we want a strong push at Rio we must address their concerns.

We should say upfront what a green economy is not. It is not:

  • a top-down, one-size-fits-all model of development;
  • an excuse for green protectionism or new green conditionalities on ODA and other finance;
  • a way of putting nature’s wealth under corporate control.

A green economy is or should be :

  • a means to accelerate progress with implementation of sustainable development commitments;
  • a vehicle for integrating the three pillars of sustainable development;
  • and a way of reinforcing coherence among economic, environmental and social policies.

For developing countries, a green economy transition needs to be supported by adequate means of implementation, including finance, technology and capacity building.

A green economy needs to be inclusive. It must create sustainable livelihoods for the poor and decent jobs for those seeking employment.

For the Asia-Pacific region – and especially for countries with high working-age populations – the creation of abundant jobs in a green economy is especially urgent.

How should we move ahead?

There is an emerging consensus on the need for a green economy roadmap.

Such a roadmap can guide countries in the transition… offer a menu of policy options for building green economies… a toolkit with best practices and lessons learned to facilitate learning from one another.

No one has rejected this proposal, but everyone is waiting for more specifics.

Would goals and targets be global?

If so, how do we make them consistent with Rio Principle 7 of common but differentiated responsibilities?

Would it mean different timelines for different countries?

Would contributions to global targets differ depending on the level of development?

Some countries may have to climb a steeper development path.

Hopefully a green economy roadmap with a menu of policy options can show us how.

Another proposal is for a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs).

By this proposal, delegations at Rio+20 could agree on broad areas for elaborating long-term goals.

Perhaps, the goals could cover the seven priority areas identified by Member States in the preparatory process, namely:

  • green jobs and social inclusion;
  • energy access, efficiency and sustainability;
  • food security and sustainable agriculture;
  • sound water management;
  • sustainable cities;
  • management of the oceans; and
  • improved resilience and disaster preparedness.

In a follow-up process, these goals could be further elaborated. This would need to be closely coordinated with discussions on the post-2015 development agenda.

There is no agreement on this proposal for now. But there is considerable interest in exploring it further.

We hope to benefit from your deliberations on SDGs.

Let me turn briefly to the second theme of Rio+20: the institutional framework for sustainable development (or IFSD).

We must consider what will be most effective in advancing integration, implementation and coherence.

In this regard, the proposal for a sustainable development council (SDC) has been gaining interest.

Its proponents suggest that such an SDC could raise the political profile of sustainable development… foster greater coordination in international institutions…and, given a strong mandate, an SDC could monitor implementation.

This could be done, for example, through voluntary reporting and review along the lines of the Human Rights Council.

We have also heard different proposals on how to strengthen UNEP, including a proposal on making it a specialized agency.

Others believe that strengthening UNEP could be achieved without this transformation.

Whatever the final option, one thing is clear – we need a stronger UNEP.  A stronger UNEP is essential to accelerated implementation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Asia-Pacific encapsulates the opportunities ahead, as well as the remaining challenges.

We know that the journey ahead will not be easy.

But the dynamism and the energy of this region give us hope and optimism.

Rio+20 should be remembered as the moment when we changed course… it can be the moment that the world decisively chose the path of sustainable development.

We must seize this opportunity.

Please remember the 1 November deadline. It is only 13 days away.

I wish you all fruitful discussions.

Thank you.