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

Distinguished delegates,
Dear Colleagues,

It is an honour for me to join the distinguished speakers at the opening session of this important and very unique Conference addressing the nexus of water, energy and food security.

By addressing the linkages among the three critical areas, I am sure the Conference will yield practical solutions for the Green Economy and make concrete and tangible contributions to the Rio+20 Conference.

As you know, the Rio+20 Conference is now only 7 months away.
My hope is that renewed political commitment for sustainable development is also only seven months away.

That is our aim.

During the preparatory process so far, we have reviewed progress and gaps in implementing existing commitments, and we have identified new and emerging challenges.

While there remains a diversity of views and perspectives, we have seen a growing convergence of understanding and approaches toward the two themes: a green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development; and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

On November 1, we passed a key milestone in the preparatory process.

We now have contributions from Governments, UN-System and major groups.

Their contributions will appear in a compilation document for review, at the upcoming intersessional meeting, in mid-December.

This will be followed by a zero-draft negotiating text, to be prepared by the Co-Chairs of the Bureau. The formal negotiation process will begin in early 2012, and culminate in Rio.

To date, preparations for Rio have been energetic and active.

Regional preparatory meetings have been held in Santiago, Cairo, Seoul and Addis.

Likewise, meetings related to the conference themes have been held in numerous countries. And there are more to come.

These activities reflect the high expectations for Rio.

Collectively, they contribute to deepening our understanding of the critical challenges at hand, and how best to approach them.

At this moment in history, stresses on energy, water and food resources, are mounting rapidly. Growing populations and rising inequalities exacerbate the problems.

Let’s be clear. Current consumption patterns are unsustainable. And projections suggest urgent actions are needed to change course.

Are we ready to change course?

Or are we willing simply to bear witness, over the next 20 years, to ever worsening resource scarcities, climate change and destruction of ecosystems? I hope not.

In the recent past, we have witnessed multiple crises, which clearly demonstrate our vulnerability in the face of shocks.

Make no mistake. These shocks are expected to get worse.

So, with this backdrop, what should Rio+20 seek to achieve?
First, it should strive for economic prosperity, allowing for dynamic growth leading to poverty reductions.

It should promote social protection, and create new jobs in green economic sectors. And, it should protect the natural resource base.

  • In short, it must, firstly, integrate the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development.
  • Second, it must address a major gap since 1992 – namely the implementation of the sustainable development agenda.
  • And third, it should lead to coherent policies and programmes at all levels.

These three keywords: integration, implementation and coherence, have come up repeatedly.  They should apply equally to the outcome of Rio as to its follow up.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Increasingly, we realize how interconnected water, energy and food security are.

This nexus impacts development, peace and security and economic growth.

Addressing one without the others is, in many cases, counterproductive.

Climate change and the responses to it, have served to reinforce this mutual interdependence.

In the future, addressing concerns in these areas will require integrated and comprehensive technical assessments, robust economic analysis and policy processes that are mutually interlinked.

Can a green economy provide a useful integrative framework?

Progress has been made, but differences remain in a common understanding of the meaning, scope and implications of a green economy.

Indeed, the pursuit of a green economy must take into account specific national circumstances, as it differs from country to country.

In this regard, a set of guidelines is emerging:

  1. there should be common but differentiated responsibilities in pursuing a green economy;
  2. green economy should be a means to accelerate progress towards sustainable development and poverty eradication; and
  3. it should reflect the contribution of natural capital to human well-being, and promote win-win solutions that benefit the poor.

To this end, one proposal suggests the creation of a green economy roadmap. This would be adapted to national contexts, and supplemented with clear goals, objectives and timelines.

Also proposed is a toolkit as part of the roadmap containing good practices, and lessons learned.

If member States reach agreement on the proposed elements, collectively, this would constitute a valuable outcome of Rio+20.

In this regard, some Member States have also proposed sustainable development goals.

These would need to be balanced and integrated into discussions about a post-2015 development agenda.  We all agree on the importance of goals.  They represent important markers to evaluate progress.  The MDGs provided a set of signposts on poverty, hunger, gender equality, education, health, environmental sustainability and partnerships.  But the expiry date on many of these is 2015.  Even these goals have not been realized.

We need to accelerate progress to meet the aspirations of the poor.  But this is not enough.  Our future sustainable development goals must encompass the poor and the rich alike.  The UN is starting working on the post-2015 development agenda (not post-2015 MDG agenda).

As part of this, it will have to address the limitations of the current goals and one of these is the lack of sufficient goals on sustainability.  Yes there are goals on water, sanitation, slum upgradation, but there are none on energy, sustainable consumption and production, or the other critical priority areas.

At Rio we must ensure that the process leading to the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda addresses the issue of sustainable development goals in an integrated and balanced way, doing equal justice to economic, social and environmental goals.  Any development agenda must be a sustainable development agenda, incorporating the unfinished MDG agenda, in what we define in 2015.

The nexus of food, water and energy is likely to be addressed in a post 2015 development agenda.

This nexus is systemic in nature. It cannot be addressed by Governments alone.

It requires multistakeholder partnerships that include business and civil society.

We need a new way of doing business, new types of tools, skills and capacities. And we need the power of innovation.

Decision makers also must address difficult trade-offs.

For example, how do they ensure food security while providing alternative fuels to fossil fuels?

In many places, water and land scarcities will only become more severe.

Investments in new technologies will be key to relieving resource constraints. But changing consumption patterns, will also be crucial.

Indeed, the complexity of the interactions, among these three factors, requires the formulation of systematic and integrated approaches.

Likewise, new institutional and technical capacities for both developing and developed countries, are a must.

The implications go beyond national borders. They need to be assessed at regional and global levels.


This brings me to the second theme for Rio+20, the institutional framework for sustainable development.

Also here, we are lagging behind in the three critical areas of integration, implementation and coherence.

The three pillars of sustainable development have yet to be effectively integrated at most levels of government as well as within international institutions.

The focus on implementation is uneven at best. And there is a lack of coherence among institutions at all levels.

The same three deficiencies – of integration, implementation, and coherence – can be found in governing the nexus between food security, water and energy.

For instance, on one hand, institutions and policies may be working to improve energy and water use efficiency.

On the other hand, a variety of subsidies may be undermining incentives to efficiency.

Many views are emerging from the preparatory process on institutional reform.

At the global level, there has been an expression of interest, in strengthening the United Nations Environment Programme.

There has also been a deep interest, in the creation of a Sustainable Development Council, along with ideas on strengthening the Commission for Sustainable Development, and the Economic and Social Council.

At the regional level, there is a keen interest in strengthening UN Regional Commissions.

Creating better cooperation among regional UN entities, other regional entities and regional banks, is also under discussion.

At the national level there is a need to ensure that integration is at the heart of decision-making.
This includes the national system of ministries, and strengthening the participatory role of national stakeholders.

The UN system could also see improvements. The “delivering as one” process is one way to strengthen integration and coherence.

Lastly, strengthened means of implementation – technology, financing and capacity building – remain vital components of a successful outcome.

Dear Colleagues,

Rio+20 presents once-in-a-generation opportunity. The stakes are high.

The Bonn Conference represents an important opportunity to inform the intergovernmental process.

I encourage you to widely share your findings, and forward-looking activities.

And I count on your active participation in Rio+20.

History offers us an opportunity to make a difference.  Let us seize it. Let us make it happen.  Let everyone’s contribution count in seeking a future we all want.

Thank you.