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

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to take part in this Rio + 20 ministerial session of the Eye on Earth Summit.

I wish to start by commending the foresight of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, for hosting this timely summit.

I also thank the summit partners: the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi and the United Nations Environment Programme.

The Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative has also provided important backing to this event.

This meeting is a landmark occasion… bridging a gap in the Rio+20 preparations.

Why is it so necessary?

Because without strong data and information to measure progress, we cannot make sound decisions.

Indeed, if we want long-term success at Rio+20, there needs to be widespread access to data.

Environmental and societal information and data are critical to realizing sustainable development objectives.

Timely, accurate, and appropriate data contribute strongly to successful monitoring, assessment and policymaking.

They are indispensable to implementation.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Rio+20 represents a major crossroads in humanity’s struggle to achieve sustainable development.

According to some estimates…at the time of the 1992 Rio Conference, the world’s population was consuming only sixty-five percent of the Earth’s annual renewable capacity.

Today, we consume over one hundred and thirty percent of annual renewable capacity.

In other words, humanity consumes a third more of the Earth’s resources than the Earth can regenerate, in a year.

Does this sound sustainable? Obviously, not!
Much of that consumption, of course, takes place in the richest parts of our world.

Yet, as compared to 1992, there are some 1.45 billion more people in the world.

Over a billion people suffer from poverty, hunger and lack of access to energy and water.

Social inequity continues to hinder progress in advancing sustainable development on the ground.

Clearly, there is a tremendous gap in implementation of the bold commitments… such as Agenda 21 and others… that were taken at the 1992 Rio Conference.

That gap needs urgently to be filled… through renewed political commitments, stronger institutions, a green economy, and innovative and forward-looking actions.

That is why expectations for the Rio+20 Conference are so high.
Secretary-General has called Rio+20 one of the most important events in the history of the United Nations… a once-in-a-generation opportunity to complete the unfinished business of 1992 — to make sustainable development a reality in the marketplace, in the halls of government and in our daily lives.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me now to provide you with a brief update on where we stand with Rio+20 preparations.

In the UN General Assembly, Member States have just recently adopted a resolution setting out modalities for the Conference.

They agreed that the Conference will be held from 20 – 22 June 2012. This will be preceded by the third session of the Preparatory Committee, from 13 – 15 June 2012.

The General Assembly encourages Member States to be represented at the level of Heads of State or Government.

I recently returned from a planning mission to Rio de Janeiro. I am very impressed with the preparations underway by our Brazilian hosts.

They are committed to ensuring the best possible conditions for a successful Conference.

In New York, we are getting ready for the upcoming intersessional meeting (15-16 December). Member States will provide their views on the structure, format, and content of the outcome document.

Ultimately, these comments will help the co-chairs draft the first negotiation text, by mid-January – approximately one month from now.

And just last month we passed a milestone…the 1 November deadline for submission of inputs to the Rio+20-Compilation text.

A total of 672 submissions were received. One hundred of those are from Member States. A number of Member States chose, however – rather than make individual submissions – to have a common submission as a Political Group…  So the actual number is even higher.

The response of Major Groups is also impressive … almost 500 submissions in all.  If printed back-to-back, it would be about 10 inches thick!
In my reading of the submissions to the compilation text, I see that the 7 priority areas identified during the Preparatory Committee meetings, have been reaffirmed. These are:

  • Combating poverty, including through green jobs and promoting social inclusion;
  • Advancing food security and sustainable agriculture;
  • Sound water management;
  • Energy access including from renewable sources, as well as energy efficiency and sustainability;
  • Sustainable cities;
  • Management of oceans; and
  • Improving resilience and disaster preparedness.

In a number of submissions, additional areas have been highlighted for priority attention. These include biodiversity, forests, land management, mountains and sanitation,

A number of important ideas and proposals have also emerged from the submissions, including better measurement of sustainability and environmental accounting and innovative finance.

Equally important, Member States and stakeholders have further stressed cross-cutting issues, including sustainable consumption and production…gender mainstreaming… education… science… and technology and means of implementation.

These focus areas present opportunities for agreement on significant new initiatives at Rio.

Furthermore, many submissions suggest that formulating Sustainable Development Goals would help provide focus. They would need to be balanced, incorporate the MDGs, and integrated into the discussion of a post 2015 development agenda.

These goals would also guide us in monitoring progress. This means collecting the necessary data … and doing it consistently, systematically and to high standards of quality and reliability.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As mentioned, the Rio+20 Conference has one primary objective: to renew political commitment for sustainable development. The two themes – a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and institutional framework for development – are meant to help expedite progress.

  • How so?  By:
    • generating economic dynamism and stability
    • promoting social protection and inclusion
    • creating jobs, especially for the youth; and
    • protecting the natural resource base on which the future of our planet depends.

In short: By:

  • Integrating the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development.
  • Leading to a more energized implementation of the sustainable development agenda… a major gap over the past 20 years.
  • Leading to coherent policies and programmes – at all levels.

These are the three key words for Rio+20: integration, implementation and coherence.

The first theme – green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication – has generated considerable debate.
What has clearly emerged from the discussions, is that a green economy must take into account specific national circumstances. And could be:

  • A means to accelerate progress towards sustainable development and poverty eradication;
  • A way to re-orient public and private decision making, so that it reflects and respects nature;
  • A way to synergize growth and environmental protection, by promoting win-win solutions;
  • A way to include the poor as active participants and beneficiaries.

An interesting idea is to have a green economy roadmap. Accompanied by a toolkit of good practices, a roadmap could assist in expediting implementation.

Turning to the second theme for Rio+20 – the institutional framework for sustainable development…  Analysis point to deficits in integration, implementation and coherence, at all levels. Institutional reform needs to be approached through this prism.

Important views that have emerged during the preparatory process, are:

  1. At the global level there is a clear expression of interest in strengthening UNEP.
  2. Along with ideas on strengthening the CSD and ECOSOC, there is also a deep interest in the creation of a Sustainable Development Council. The model of the Human Rights Council is often cited.
  3. At the regional level, ways to strengthen the Regional Commissions and improve the interface with other regional bodies is a major preoccupation.
  4. At the national level, many are referring to the need to reorient national decision making …giving a more participatory role to national stakeholders.
  5. The UN system is being asked to strengthen its contribution at all levels, with the “delivering as one’ modality cited as a good example.


Rio+20 is barely six months away.

As its Secretary-General, I encourage you to reflect on how your countries and your professional communities can contribute to the preparations… and the follow-up for this important event.

Let me reiterate what I often say: failure at Rio+20 is not an option.

Managing this planet’s resources responsibly, and equitably, is vital to achieving the future we want.

I wish you a very productive summit.

Thank you.