UNESCO Future Forum and UN-ECE Public-Private Roundtable Forum on Green Economy
Message by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General of The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development
Paril, 24 May 2011
Director General Bokova,
Executive Secretary Kubis,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I wish to thank UNESCO, UN-ECE and the Collegium International for the invitation to this important meeting.
I want to compliment the organizers for focusing the discussion on “Attitudes, Policies, Governance” in relation to a green economy and a green society.
You have identified a missing link in the ongoing global debate on green economy, and I am grateful that this gap is being bridged, through our meeting today.
Today, I am here in my capacity as Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, scheduled for next June in Rio de Janeiro.
The Conference, also known as Rio+20, takes place 20 years after the UN Conference on Environment and Development that was held in the same city in 1992.
Rio+20 can be captured in 1, 2, and 3:
- One focused political document on the outcome;
- Two themes – a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development; and
- Three objectives – renew political commitments, assess gaps in implementation, and identify new and emerging challenges.
Our vision for this Conference is clear: to re-launch the world on the sustainable development pathway, by injecting new vigour and momentum in actions and initiatives for a sustainable society.
I would like to divide my remarks in two parts.
First, I would like to share some ideas on the theme of today’s meeting and its linkages to the ongoing preparations for Rio+20.
Then, I will highlight some of the milestones on the road to Rio and I look forward to your feedback on the preparatory process ahead.
The United Nations is convening the Rio+20 Conference just as our world is being hit by multiple crises.
Humanity has made enormous progress in improving material welfare over the past two centuries.
But this progress has come at a huge cost –about half of the forests that covered the land are gone, groundwater resources are being depleted and contaminated, biodiversity is being reduced and, through increased burning of fossil fuels, the stability of the planet’s climate is threatened by climate change.
The international community acknowledges the consequences of this unsustainable pattern of consumption and production. Developed countries agreed to take the lead in changing this through their commitments in Rio Principles and Agenda 21.
Clearly, continuation along the conventional economic growth pathways will be unsustainable. Simply put, business as usual is not an option.
Yet, if we stop global engines of growth now, billions of people in developing countries will remain condemned to conditions of abject poverty.
The global financial crisis and the food security crisis have pushed millions more people into poverty, threatening to derail progress in meeting the MDGs by 2015.
Clearly, this is not sustainable development.
Hence, there is an urgent need to find new growth pathways which ensure environmental sustainability, reverse ecological destruction, while managing to provide, now and in the future, a decent livelihood for all of humankind.
The green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication offers a new pathway to achieve MDGs and sustainable development.
If a green economy seems to offer solutions, what is it then?
While there is no agreed definition of the green economy, there is broad agreement on the basic idea underpinning it… namely, that enhancing economic growth, social progress and environmental protection can be complementary strategic objectives… and that the difficulties for possible trade-offs among them can be overcome.
In this sense, a green economy is fully consistent with sustainable development, with its defining three pillars, and with its emphasis on inter-generational equity in development… that is, meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
If we agree on the benefits of a green economy, what do we need to do to make it happen?
First, we need a change in our mindset.
Changing unsustainable consumption and production is a precondition for a green economy.
For this to happen, there must be a significant shift in attitude and in behavioural change towards sustainability.
Economic history shows that without change in attitude, shifts in consumption patterns will be temporary at best.
Current prevalent consumption patterns are still based on a framework of values based on an industrial, affluent-consumer society.
By some measures, in North America, per capita material consumption is 3 times the world average, while Western Europe’s is 1.6 times the world average.
Industrialized nations, with only 15 per cent of the world population, use over 50 per cent of the fossil fuel energy, industrial minerals and other commodities.
This is slowly changing, but the disparity is no longer tenable.
Fortunately, the seeds of change sowed in Rio are beginning to bear fruits.
Across the planet, we have heard calls for “thinking globally, acting locally”.
More and more individuals and businesses are starting to push for a sustainable world by altering their own behaviour as consumers and producers.
More and more business are re-thinking their growth strategies by addressing sustainability needs. Many have appointed Chief Sustainability Officers (CSO).
Public and private partnerships are on the rise.
But change can be difficult. And shifting the global economy to a sustainable path will require action on multiple fronts: changes in the ways we produce… changes in what we consume… changes in what and how we trade… changes in government policies… changes in corporate behaviour… changes in values and thinking.
In this respect, I want to acknowledge the contributions made by UNESCO through its ongoing ten-year campaign of Education for Sustainable Development.
By empowering every actor with the awareness and knowledge necessary for change, UNESCO is giving all stakeholders an opportunity to learn the values, behaviour and lifestyles required for a sustainable future… and for positive societal transformation.
In a growing number of countries, from Costa Rica to China… from India to Germany… from Kenya to Korea… from Brazil to Norway… from South Africa to Finland and Sweden, recent experience has shown that a green economy can create jobs and stimulate growth, while also protecting ecosystems.
Their experience also shows the critical role of technology in a green economy.
In fact, many of the technologies needed for a green economy are already available. For example, there are a range of options for generating renewable energy… there are technologies for more efficient energy use… there are sustainable farming and forestry techniques… and there are technologies to protect coastlines and infrastructure and to enhance preparedness for natural disasters.
These options offer readily usable starting points.
The main challenges to jump-start the shift to a green economy lie in how to further improve these techniques… how to adapt them to specific local and sectoral needs… how to scale up the applications so as to bring down their costs… and how to provide incentives and mechanisms that will facilitate their diffusion and knowledge-sharing.
Meeting these challenges successfully, is easier said than done.
Many of the components of current economic systems are “locked into” existing use of non-green and non-sustainable technologies. Much is at stake in terms of the high cost of moving out of those technologies.
In theory, developing countries, with relatively low infrastructure in place, may be able to “leapfrog” into key sectors of green economy, such as electricity generation based on renewable energy, for instance.
In practice, the question is how to enable those countries to access, utilize and, above all, afford green technologies.
I will return to this point later on.
Further innovation and scaling up are also needed to drive down costs.
Technologies will need to be made accessible, since most innovation takes place in developed countries. Private corporations in those countries are the main owners of the intellectual property rights covering green technologies.
The new technologies will also need to be locked into new production processes. Consequently, the technological revolution for a green economy will be fundamentally different from previous revolutions—in three ways.
First, it will have to take place within a specific and limited time period.
Given existing pressures on our ecosystem, the goal would need to be achieved within the next three to four decades—a huge challenge, given that diffusion of technologies is a slow process.
Second, Governments will have to assume a much more central role in the acceleration of technological innovation and diffusion, which is unlikely to occur if they are left to market forces alone.
In addition, since existing brown technologies are locked into the entire economic system, a radical shift to green technologies will mean improving, adjusting and replacing much existing infrastructure and other invested capital. Such transformations will be costly. They will necessitate large-scale long-term financing, which is unlikely to be mobilized in full through private initiatives and will require government support as well as incentives.
Thus, not only will strong technology policies be needed, but they must go hand in hand with active industrial and educational policies aimed at inducing the necessary changes in infrastructure and production processes.
Third, since the environmental challenges are global, the green technological revolution will need to be facilitated by intense international cooperation.
In all three areas, we see an enhanced role for UNESCO, as a premier UN agency on science and technology.
Technological catch-up by developing countries is both a national and global development imperative. The greening of the economy will involve building educational structures and innovation systems to strengthen skills and facilitate learning.
Without technological catch-up, developing economies will remain marginalized from the world economy. And without a green technological catch-up, development progress will exacerbate the world’s environmental problems.
Multilateral environmental agreements, trade and investment rules, financing facilities and intellectual property rights regimes would all need to be aligned so as to facilitate the green technological transformation.
Since many, although not all, existing new technologies are owned by the developed countries, and the cost of inducing green technological change will be much higher for developing countries relative to their incomes, there will be important requirements for development cooperation.
I see at least three such requirements.
First, an international regime for green technology-sharing will have to be established to facilitate technology transfers to, and development in, developing countries.
Second, securing adequate development finance to energize developing country efforts to upgrade production towards a green economy is indispensable.
Third, international governance and cooperation have to be enhanced.
Rio+20 is faced with high expectations and daunting tasks.
Will Rio+20 live up to the expectations? Let me share with you an update on the preparations so far.
First, the good news.
Preparations at the intergovernmental level remain largely on track.
At the second session of the Preparatory Committee held in early March, we saw a turnabout in Member States’ views on a green economy.
They are now more open to an agreement.
Some called for a UN global roadmap on a green economy.
EU and a few others also called for the development of a toolkit of good practices to promote a green economy.
Developing countries stressed that a green economy must not be a one-size-fits-all approach, but should emanate from each country’s experiences.
They reiterated the importance of ensuring that a green economy does not lead to new forms of trade protection and/or aid conditionality.
SIDS stressed the need to protect oceans and marine resources, calling for a blue economy.
Regarding the institutional framework, we have seen three major proposals:
- One option is an umbrella structure involving ECOSOC, UNEP and the CSD;
- the second option supports transforming UNEP into a specialized agency; and
- the third, more comprehensive package, includes the five options put forward at the UNEP Governing Council (the so-called Nairobi-Helsinki Outcome).
The Executive Committee of Economic and Social Affairs, which DESA convenes, has initiated a study on institutional framework for sustainable development, with contributions from UNESCO and other UN agencies.
The Co-chairs, on behalf of the Bureau, sent a letter to Member States, UN system and Major Groups requesting inputs for the preparation of a compilation document by 1 November 2011.
While we welcome this progress, we are keenly aware of the difficult tasks ahead.
As mentioned, developing countries have concerns that green economy will be used for trade protection or aid conditionality. No response has emerged yet to address this concern.
Developing countries remain sceptical about the prospect for commitments on funding and technology in support of a transition to a green economy.
On the institutional framework, considerable gaps remain on which of the three major options is the best.
And the divide is not necessarily between the North and South.
Most important, Member States have yet to come to grips with the outcome of the Conference.
What will a focused political document look like? Different Member States have different focuses. How will we reflect the different focuses of Member States?
While there is convergence of views on the need for developing a global roadmap on green economy, what will constitute its critical elements?
Then, there is the issue of emerging challenges. What are they? Many have identified energy, water, food security, oceans, population dynamics, urbanization and disaster preparedness, as emerging challenges calling for special attention.
How will each of these issues be addressed in the outcome?
Even though there are difficult challenges, I remain optimistic for several reasons.
First, enthusiasm and passion for Rio+20 are on the rise. Many Member States are setting up national preparatory committees or thematic task forces in preparation for Rio+20.
Civil society groups are launching a variety of initiatives, either during the preparatory process or at Rio.
The business sector has set up a dedicated group in support of the Conference.
Second, more and more governments are seeing the potential of a green economy. While concerns remain, they believe a green economy is an important pathway to sustainable development.
Third, while gaps remain on how to proceed, Governments agree that the current international environmental governance is fragmented and that we need to ensure a better balance among the three pillars of sustainable development.
I am therefore hopeful about achieving a successful outcome.
On the green economy, I see the configurations of an outcome possibly encompassing the following three elements:
- First, a green economy roadmap (or guidelines), including a menu of policy options, toolkits, and possibly a set of targets.
- Second, some meaningful commitments on the resources front. This would include a green economy fund for promotion of research, development, transfer and deployment of clean technologies, especially in developing countries.
- And third, possible mechanisms to enhance capacity building and to share knowledge, experience and practices, including at the UN system level.
On the institutional framework, I see possible decisions on strengthening UNEP, CSD and ECOSOC, through an incremental approach.
We have about 12 months between now and the third and last PrepCom.
There will be further opportunities for focused discussions on these elements in preparatory meetings. Today’s meeting is one such initiative.
In addition, many countries have announced an intention to organize such meetings on issues related to the Conference themes.
These countries include: China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Monaco, Republic of Korea, as well as our host Brazil. These meetings will take place during the second half of this year.
Furthermore, our colleagues in the Regional Commissions are also in the process of preparing their respective regional PrepComs.
Their results, as well as those of the country-led preparatory meetings, will provide important inputs for the outcome document.
By 1 November, Member States, UN family organizations and civil society stakeholders will submit inputs for inclusion in a compilation document.
The Co-Chairs will then present the compilation text in mid-December for comments and guidance by Member States.
A zero draft will be presented to an informal meeting in January and negotiations will proceed during one full week in each of the months of February, March and April.
The third and last PrepCom will be held in Rio on 28-30 May 2012 and the Conference itself on 4-6 June 2012.
Between the PrepCom and the Conference, there will be thematic days, to be organized in close collaboration with UN family organizations. We expect to have detailed discussions with the host Government in the coming months on how to organize these thematic days.
Rio+20 is an event for the whole UN system. It takes the whole UN family to support a successful UN Conference on Sustainable Development.
From Day 1, UNESCO has been a strong and close partner in our journey to Rio.
Thank you, Director-General Bokova, for your leadership and support.
Rio+20 is about tomorrow, about the future. And sustainable development should be our common future.
History has given all of us an opportunity to make a difference.
Let us do it, together, in partnership.
I thank you.