‘We Stand on the Mountain of Development and For the First Time, Mother Earth Is Sending Invoices Back,’ General Assembly Told during High-level Debate

16 May 2013
GA/11373

‘We Stand on the Mountain of Development and For the First Time, Mother Earth Is Sending Invoices Back,’ General Assembly Told during High-level Debate

16 May 2013
General Assembly
GA/11373
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Thematic Debate

AM & PM Meetings

‘We Stand on the Mountain of Development and For the First Time, Mother Earth

Is Sending Invoices Back,’ General Assembly Told during High-level Debate

Energy-Water Nexus Central to Balance

Sustainable Development with Environmental Preservation, Say Speakers

After placing great demands on the environment for decades, “we stand on the mountain of development and, for the first time, Mother Earth is sending invoices back”, the General Assembly heard today during a high-level thematic debate aimed at balancing environment and development by mapping out a practical and policy pathway that had at its core the interdependency between water and energy.

The meeting, featuring an opening segment, keynote speakers, and academics and representatives from non-governmental organizations, sought to draw upon the convening power of the General Assembly, said its President in a concept paper, to generate new ideas to scale up solutions for durable development in line with the growing political and public awareness of its significant environmental impact. 

Opening the debate, General Assembly President Vuk Jeremić (Serbia) said that evidence of a climate crisis was overwhelming, with global temperatures rising and extreme weather events becoming commonplace.  The final challenge was a moral one, he pointed out, as environmental stewardship was a shared obligation.

“We need to embrace the path to sustainability, crafting a new global partnership in which no nation is left behind [or] opts out,” he stressed. 

Also setting the stage for debate was the Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, who said that humanity was “pressing hard” against the planet’s environmental boundaries.  Critical were practical solutions that delivered a sustainable model for an increasingly dynamic world, with the guarantee of shared prosperity.

He was convinced that the year 2015 would catalyse prospects for transformative change when the world came together to forge a model to deal with climate change — one that was universal, ambitious and binding.  “Our children deserve nothing less,” he declared. 

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Minister of State of the United Arab Emirates and Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change, whose delegation co-organized today’s debate, underlined the shared responsibility to address the intricate balance between growing economies and societies and the world’s limited resources.  That balance rested on energy, water and food.  Without sustainable access to all three, he declared, growth and development could not thrive and all would come under greater pressure in the coming decades.

Jeffery Sachs, Director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Earth Institute, said that last week marked a “remarkable moment” in the history of the planet as carbon dioxide levels reached their highest in 3 million years.  “We will pay a price — even in our time — and impose a devastating cost on our children and our children’s children,” he warned.

He noted that scientists had recently coined the term “anthropocene”, which meant that for the first time the physical changes of the Earth were at the command of one species.  “Humanity is driving the planet” and breaching planetary boundaries of safety, security and life support, he said.

Keynote speakers, weighing in on the discussion, shared regional and national challenges, and offered various solutions to deal with the climate change challenges.  Janez Potocnik, the European Commissioner for Environment, for one, noted that 1 billion people were now without proper access to water, while water use was projected to increase considerably, 30 per cent by 2035. 

Equally concerned was Brazil’s Minister of the Environment, Izabella Teixeira, who said that a significant portion of the global population was already living in regions under severe water stress, and that water would become even scarcer in the coming years.

Looking to the future, the Deputy Minister of Environment of Poland, Beata Jaczewska, called on the international community to take concrete steps to “prepare itself for 9 billion people”.  Although Poland was not water-rich, it had concentrated on accelerating economic development, despite those limitations, while, at the same time, respecting global resources.

“If there is a will, there is a way,” she said, recalling the commitment made at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, to make 2015 a critical year; “that was the will, now we need to find a way”. 

Notable contributions to the discussion were made during a segment entitled “Views from the Frontline.  Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, Chairmanof the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Director of the Energy and Resources Institute, for example, said that the situation was especially grave for poorer countries, where climate change was expected to jeopardize water security and push up its price.  He said that 3 billion people would be in conditions of water scarcity by 2035, with the problem worsening as population growth increased demand. 

Laurence Tubiana, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, Sciences Po pointed to what she called a “looming resource crisis”, and said decision-makers faced complex trade-offs when it came to consumption.  Increasing supply was not the answer, as challenges today were different in both magnitude and nature, and it was extremely difficult to increase the water supply because of the stress facing fresh water availability.

The Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority of Australia, Craig Knowles, having dealt with his country’s environmental basin problem, said he had learned to “never waste a crisis”.  All the scientific evidence in the world would mean nothing unless there was appropriate policy and people willing to take concrete action on the ground. Indeed, the “wisdom in communities” must be exploited in achieving sustainable development.

It was up to people to choose how to navigate and connect with the biosphere, asserted Johan Rockström, the Professor of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.  He said the current effects of pollution were an “aperitif” of what was to come as the Earth’s unpredictable and surprising response to climate change would only grow more extreme.  “We need to go from growth without limits to growth within limits,” he urged.

Two interactive panel discussions were held in the afternoon, both on the “Energy-Water Nexus”, the first on Global Goals and Frameworks and the second on Technological Advancements and Investment.

Opening Session

Opening the debate, General Assembly President VUC JEREMIĆ (Serbia) said:  “The fundamental challenge of our time is to end extreme poverty in this generation and significantly narrow the global gap between rich and poor, without ruining the environmental basis for our survival.”  Safeguarding the world from runaway climate change required decoupling economic growth from carbon-based energy systems, which provided 80 per cent of primary power needs and, last year, emitted 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide.  The evidence was overwhelming:  global temperatures were rising and extreme weather events were becoming commonplace.  Water and energy problems were linked, with food production and distribution requiring large inputs of both.

The challenge to achieve sustainable development had four dimensions, he said:  technological, organizational, economic and moral.  Each was applicable to the energy-water nexus.  More energy — not less — was needed to end poverty, but it must be low-carbon, and new technologies were needed to remake the energy delivery system so that, by mid-century, it produced three times more than today’s output with less than half the emissions.  On the organizational front, the question hinged on how humanity could establish — then manage — a “decarbonization” effort, which would require universal participation and two generations to complete.  He added that the Assembly would define the major work streams of the post-2015 agenda.

On the economic dimension, he said better energy markets were needed in order to benefit from private-sector innovation.  Incentives to rationalize water use were also crucial.  The final challenge was a moral one, as environmental stewardship was a shared obligation.  “We need to embrace the path to sustainability, crafting a new global partnership in which no nation is left behind [or] opts out”.  That called for a new direction and new strategies.  Today’s debate could direct attention to the innovative science, technologies and business models related to the energy-water nexus.  “We have the tools to save the planet from human-induced environmental devastation,” he said, but a commitment to use them coherently was lacking.  “We’re simply not doing enough to address it.”

WU HONGBO, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, speaking on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said that energy and water were indispensable to life.  Access to sustainable energy and appropriate water supply was essential to alleviating poverty, promoting health, and achieving sustainable development.  The strong interdependency between water and energy required integrated policies to utilize those resources in a manner that would ensure access for all.

Looking to the future, he said it was necessary to take into account the growing impact of climate change on energy and water, as they were becoming severely strained in many regions and hindering the access of hundreds of millions of people.  Sea-level rise and erosion severely affected water supply, he said, adding that just last week, scientists reported that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached its highest in millions of years.  That “alarm bell” should wake everyone up.

Humanity was “pressing hard” against the planet’s environmental boundaries, he said.  Critical were practical solutions that delivered a sustainable model for an ever increasingly dynamic world, with the guarantee of shared prosperity.  Noting that Governments at Rio+20 had renewed their commitment to sustainable development, he said that the post-2015 development agenda presented a unique opportunity to revisit various development models.  Moreover, the year 2015 would catalyse prospects for transformative change when the world came together to forge a model to deal with climate change — one that was universal, ambitious and binding.  “Our children deserve nothing less,” he added.

SULTAN AHMED AL JABER, Minister of State and Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change of the United Arab Emirates, described a crucial and shared responsibility to address the intricate balance between growing economies and societies and the world’s limited resources.  That balance rested on energy, water and food.  Without sustainable access to all three, growth and development could not thrive and all three would come under greater pressure in the coming decades.

He described the challenges faced by the United Arab Emirates, including their heavy reliance on food imports.  Water was the greatest challenge but one he viewed as “a unique opportunity” to expand economic sectors, diversify the economy and establish policies to drive investment.  To save water was to save energy, so both needed to be considered together.  As such, he was piloting highly efficient desalination technology coupled with renewable energy, and Abu Dhabi had recently inaugurated a 100 megawatt concentrating solar plant supplying 20,000 homes in the country.  It also was building nuclear power plants to supply 5.6 gigawatts of power.

He stressed the importance of international cooperation, saying that sustainable technologies were the focus.  Through the Pacific Fund, $50 million was given in grants to renewable energy projects in the Pacific Islands.  The United Arab Emirates had also constructed the largest offshore wind farm in the world to power homes in the United Kingdom.  He participated in the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, and looked forward to establishing mutually reinforcing goals on energy and water, as well as food security.  Discussions such as the thematic debate would allow States to learn from each other and find new ways to advance sustainable development.  It was important to take those messages to the wider community, as he believed there was no bigger opportunity to harness investment, growth and human ingenuity.

JEFFREY SACHS, Director, United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said that last week marked a “remarkable moment” in the history of the planet as carbon dioxide levels reached their highest in 3 million years.  “We will pay a price even in our time and impose a devastating cost on our children and our children’s children,” he warned.  To refer to the new era, scientists had coined the term “anthropocene”, which meant that for the first time the physical changes of the Earth were at the command of one species.  “Humanity is driving the planet” and breaching planetary boundaries of safety, security and life support, he said.

He said that greenhouse gasses were destroying marine life and the very food webs that fed humanity.  Although he felt humanity was “not contributing destruction unknowingly and recklessly”, it was critical to “get out of the massive puzzle”.  Indeed, no place escaped the effects of climate change, no matter how sophisticated or rich it was.  “Wall Street thinks it is clever,” but it was under water last October following Hurricane Sandy in New York.  Climate change was not a rich or poor problem, although “rich people think they’re immune”.  Last year, the United States experienced the worst drought in its history.  The forest fires in the West were running out of control and “it is no accident”.  Crops were being destroying and cities were under water.

The United States had experienced its hottest year, worst floods, and biggest droughts, and yet the country “has not talked about it because politics has found a different agenda to focus on”, he said.  On a global level, the world was also in crisis with the soaring number of floods, cyclones and droughts.  “We are living in an age when extreme is normal,” he said.  “Drought leads to famine leads to war”, he continued.  It was critical to concentrate on developing new forms of energy such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power.  However, those remained on the fringes, as policy-makers had not gotten serious about them.  In closing, effectively transitioning from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals required an integrated vision of the three pillars of development, namely economic, social, and environmental.

Keynote Addresses

JANEZ POTOČNIK, European Commissioner for the Environment, stressed the importance of a holistic approach to managing natural resources.  Key resources like land, forests and oceans needed to be considered in that context because lack of access to those resources was a major cause of poverty.  Rio+20 had confirmed the link between addressing sustainable development and poverty; failure to do so would meter out the severest consequences to the poorest people.  The developed world should lead in changing unsustainable consumption patterns.  The answer was not to stop growth, but to ensure it was of the right sort.  Ignoring the planet’s physical limits would lead to unsustainable pressures on the Earth’s resources.

He said that water and energy were important issues in their own right, but they were so interdependent that they could not be addressed alone.  The energy supply depended on water, while energy production also impacted the state of water resources.  Lack of access was becoming a much bigger issue, especially as the Earth’s population was growing rapidly.  A billion people were now without proper access to water and water use was projected to increase considerably, with use expected to increase by 30 per cent by 2035.  An integrated resource management approach was needed, particularly as scarcity was already an issue in some European countries.  It was the poor who were first to experience pressure on their livelihoods and they had the least ability to respond.

Today’s debate was important to the post-2015 sustainable development framework, he said, with eradicating poverty and ensuring sustainable development two of the most pressing challenges.  Goals and targets were needed in specific areas and clarity was important if concrete results were expected.  They needed to be interlinked, as one of the criticisms of the Millennium Development Goals was that they did not take into account the impact of one on the other.

IZABELLA TEIXEIRA, Minister of the Environment of Brazil, said that the international community was undertaking the strategic political tasks of setting the post-2015 development agenda, elaborating the Sustainable Development Goals and creating a global binding agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to effectively address the problem.  Projections showed that a significant portion of the global population was already living in regions under severe water stress, and that water would become even scarcer in the coming years.  Fossil fuels had become increasingly expensive.  Nations must find solutions to better manage their water resources, including ground water, and improve national water governance mechanisms; they must also reduce further water withdrawals through greater efficiency in irrigation for agriculture.  More emphasis should also be placed on dialogue and information exchange.

She said that the post-2015 agenda should address that complex set of issues by recognizing the opportunity to upgrade infrastructure and use new, cleaner technologies, while at the same time creating jobs and boosting the world’s economies.  Brazil, for its part, had one of the greenest energy matrixes in the world, with 45 per cent of its energy derived from renewable sources.  It had been investing in energy generation that was less carbon-intensive, especially due to its hydrological advantages.  However, an energy matrix that was dependent on water was vulnerable to climate change, and a diversification of clean alternatives should therefore be sought. Brazil had a 10-year energy plan that considered alternative sources and stimulated energy efficiency.  The plan prioritized actions for the sectors that contributed to low carbon emissions by increasing the supply of energy from renewable sources — mainly hydropower, wind and biomass — and by increasing the energy efficiency in the consumption of biofuels.

Water availability was crucial, he stressed.  A series of measures were being adopted to increase natural water availability and to keep rivers flowing and reservoirs full:  policies to combat deforestation, reforestation of river margins, protection of wellsprings and recharge areas, efficient water use, proper soil management, adequate reservoir management and payment for environmental services.  Those challenges were not limited to forested countries; it was important to better understand their interlinkage and how the global economy could deal with them.  The international community had sent a “vigorous and consensual” signal at Rio+20, recognizing the need to promote sustainable development in a world that was expected to have a global middle class of 9 to 10 billion people by 2050.  Unsustainable habits must be replaced by sustainable patterns of production and consumption, with a focus on improving efficiency in the cities.

BEATA JACZEWSKA, Deputy Minister of Environment of Poland, said that energy, water and food security were three major needs and rights of every single human being on the planet.  Having access to those was not a luxury but a matter of survival.  Population growth, the growing demand for water, and increasing energy consumption were key factors that had been taken into account when shaping Poland’s national policy and inspiring global initiatives.  She was pleased to see that energy and water had been given a rightful plan in the “Future We Want” outcome document.  In the same vein, continuous global action that was ambitious, universal, and served society was urgently needed.

She said her country took into account social and economic factors, and universal access to energy in the long-term mapping of its energy agenda.  Already ahead of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, Poland believed that adding climate change-related measures was critical to meeting future sustainable development goals.  However, the global community was at the “point of no return” requiring that all nations “join in solving global challenges, as they demand global solutions”.

While promoting economic growth and ensuring a decent and secure life, the international community should take concrete steps to “prepare itself for 9 billion people”.  Poland was not water-rich, yet even with those limits, it concentrated on accelerating economic development with respect to the world’s resources.  “If there is a will, there is a way,” she said, recalling the commitment made in Rio to make 2015 a critical year; “that was the will, now we need to find a way.”

Views from the Frontline

RAJENDRA KUMAR PACHAURI, Chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Director of the Energy and Resources Institute, said the impacts of climate change and water scarcity were set to increase.  The problems were especially grave for poorer countries, where climate change was expected to jeopardize water security and to push up its price.  He said that 3 billion people would be in conditions of water scarcity by 2035, with the problem worsening as population growth increased the demand for water. 

For the future, he stressed the importance of renewable energy.  It was up to the international community to identify areas where that could be an economically viable alternative and to identify ways to implement it on a large scale.  He stressed the need for international cooperation, with developed countries bearing the responsibility of transferring technology and helping to build capacity in developing countries.  That was especially important given that those countries were most severely affected by climate change.

CRAIG KNOWLES, Chair, Murray-Darling Basin Authority of Australia, said that from experience he could truly say that having all the scientific evidence and knowledge meant nothing without appropriate policy and people willing to take concrete action on the ground.  The Murray-Darling Basin, approximately the size of France and Germany together, was home to a number of Australian wetlands, included in international treaties, and one the country’s most productive sources of food and fibre, contributing to more than 40 per cent of Australia’s supply.  Climate there was highly changeable due to extreme variables such as flooding and bush fires.  Those had soared in the last 200 years following the construction of dams and bridges and a change in water quality.

He said that unprecedented droughts in the early 2000s caused the Government to pay attention to that problem, which was competing to “get on their radar”, by implementing a basin plan that set out sustainable limits and included the participation of the inhabitants and workers in the basin.  The plan, to be implemented over the next seven to 10 years, replaced 200 years of multi-jurisdictional regulations and recognized that the manner in which water was recovered would have long-term social and economic implications.  It also noted that “wisdom in communities” must be exploited in achieving sustainable development.  Moreover, leaders, in a deliberate display of bipartisan efforts, recognized that the old ways of managing the system, the basin and the water were outdated.  On a personal note, he said he learned to “never waste a crisis”.  Policy makers must focus on the holistic rather than the sectional solution, otherwise “do not bother starting”, he said.

LAURENCE TUBIANA, Director, Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, Sciences Po, described the resource challenge facing the world, noting that supply would have to grow enormously to meet the growing demand.  That pointed to a “looming resource crisis”.  Those prices had grown enormously, having already wiped out the price declines of the last century.  Volatility had also increased.  Decision-makers now faced increasingly complex trade-offs when it came to consumption.  Increasing supply was not the answer, though that had been an adequate approach in the past.  Challenges today were different in both magnitude and nature and it was extremely costly and difficult to increase the water supply because of the stress facing fresh water supplies. 

She said the most important approach was increasing productivity and improving the efficiency of the transformation of resources into productive inputs.  Energy efficiency could be improved through hybrid vehicles and enhanced power plant efficiency, while water efficiency could be aided by reducing municipal water leakages and improving irrigation.  However, she stressed that productivity alone would not be enough to relieve climate change pressures.  It was important to develop more integrated approaches to resource management.  There were good examples of policies being implemented around the world, but countries needed to join forces to do that at scale.  Unfortunately, many important actors did not understand the problem or minimized it.

JOHAN ROCKSTRÖM, Professor, Stockholm Resilience Centre, said that it was up to people to choose how to navigate and connect with the biosphere.  Until 1955, humanity lived in a “small world on a large planet”, followed by the era of the “acceleration of wealth”.  With the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer in the late 1980s, the world began to understand it could no longer move towards development at such an unsustainable pace.  The growth model of the past served us well, but now “we stand on the mountain of development and, for the first time, Mother Earth is sending invoices back.”

He called the current effects of pollution the “aperitif” of what was to come.  The Earth’s unpredictable and surprising response to climate change would only grow more extreme.  For example, the amount of heat that should go back to space, regulating the coolness and stability of the planet, for the first time had changed direction.  That, he said, was a “scientific nightmare”.  Global sustainability should be a prerequisite for human development at all scales.  Also critical was a new unified framework to address humanity’s challenges.  Fifty per cent of carbon monoxide was absorbed by nature and destroying nature would mean destroying the planet; therefore, “we need to go from growth without limits to growth within limits.”

Interactive Dialogue

During the exchange that followed presentations about both the science and impacts of climate change and the realities of investment in energy and water infrastructure, several delegates noted the complex challenges to both developing and developed countries, as well as the importance of clean water and energy to lift populations out of poverty and sustain Earth’s rapidly growing population. 

The connection between water and energy was nowhere more apparent than across Africa, said Namibia’s representative, stressing that access to clean water could alleviate poverty and combat hunger and malnutrition.  Some 780 million people worldwide lacked access to clean water, and 1.2 billion to electricity.  Sustainable management of those resources was the best way to combat poverty, and the post-2015 development agenda must address those very disturbing statistics.

Lithuania’s delegate described the “scary” and “unpredictable” effects that climate change was having on his country.  The country had had four months of winter instead of three, forcing up the population’s heating and energy consumption.  In addition, two rivers in Lithuania were under serious threat because their waters were disappearing to cool power plants in the Russian Federation and Belarus. 

Along with other speakers, Kyrgyzstan’s representative noted the particular strains faced by more vulnerable countries such as his own.  As a landlocked and mountainous developing country, his was particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, especially glacial melting.

Uzbekistan’s delegate, providing a regional context, noted that 60 million people in Central Asia depended on the effective use and management of water and energy resources.  He urged the development of highly efficient hydropower and low-carbon energy technologies to minimize impact on the environment.  Uzbekistan’s particular geographical and climate conditions lent themselves to the application of solar power, and he outlined a number of practical steps taken in that direction.

Energy and water management were two sides of the same coin, said Germany’s delegate.  Food security should be added to the energy-water nexus, because heavy demand worldwide was placing strains on all three.  A future post-development agenda should keep in mind those linkages and take an integrated approach.  In the modern world, it was not possible to have clean water without energy.

Also taking part in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Fiji (speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Costa Rica and South Africa.  A representative of the Delegation of the European Union also contributed.

Panel 1

The first panel — on “Energy-Water Nexus:  Global Goals and Frameworks” — was moderated by Geir O. Pedersen (Norway) and featured presentations by Amina J. Mohammed, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning; Gisela Alonso Domínguez, President, Cuban Agency of Environment; Samantha Smith, Director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Global Climate Change and Energy Initiative; Zhou Dadi, Director General (Emeritus), Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission; and Mark A. Cane, G. Unger Vetlesen Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences, the Earth Institute, Columbia University.

Setting the tone for the discussion, Mr. PEDERSEN said his country had been asked to moderate today’s panel, in part because a growing share of its electricity came from hydropower — one of the keys to Norway’s successful development.  Water and energy were scarce and important global resources for which demand would only increase.  Norway had hosted a conference on energy in Oslo and another on water in The Hague — both of which formed part of broader United Nations consultations on the topic.  The question now was how to handle the synergy between water and energy to foster sustainable development.

Next, Mr. CANE said today’s water crisis was building gradually in some places and more rapidly in others.  While climate change projections had shown increasing temperatures, it was more difficult to determine what was happening to water falling to the ground, as there had not been dramatic changes in precipitation.  He expected the planet’s wet places to become wetter and dry places drier.  There was evidence of that around the world, especially in Syria, which had recorded its worst droughts between 2007 and 2008.  In Somalia, extreme drought had set the scene for one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.  It was notable that climate change projections had estimated that East Africa would become wetter.  Predicting such natural variability — and dealing with it — was exceptionally important.

Mr. ZHOU said the global goal should be clear, as the two-degree temperature change target had been politically agreed.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that global greenhouse gas emissions should be halved by 2050.  With that target in mind, emissions should peak as soon as possible.  Interpreting such data in the near-term was still a challenge.  Emissions were rapidly increasing in developing countries, with some, including China, producing emissions near levels produced by developed countries.  Priority should be placed on energy efficiency, especially in the context of increasing energy demand.

In the near-term, developed countries should aim to “dramatically” cut per capita emissions, he continued.  Efficiency could address — but not solve — issues related to demand.  Developing countries could not copy the emissions patterns of developed nations; a new approach to development must be found.  As for technology, there was much room for improvement.  Current energy markets did not foster efficiency, as there were many barriers to entry and efficiency improvement, which must be solved.  While some countries were relying more on hybrid technologies, coal dominated the mix in others.  For renewables to comprise 90 to 100 per cent of the energy mix, the entire system must be changed.

Ms. SMITH focused on solutions, saying that there would be 9 billion people on the planet by mid-century.  The utopia was a world with reliable, safe and affordable access to clean energy and water, where deaths from indoor and outdoor air pollution dropped dramatically and where most or all energy came from sustainable, renewable energy sources.  Indeed, an energy system based on fresh water was a vulnerable one in a world susceptible to climate change.  The perfect world would have healthy, natural systems to support people, without the threat of climate change or extreme poverty.

“That is the world we want,” she said.  Science supported that kind of world.  The technology existed and could become commercial with the help of global goals.  She suggested three such goals to be framed around sustainable energy, food and water.  “We must address overconsumption, wasteful consumption and unsustainable production,” she stressed, as well as the related issues of finance and technology transfer.  Those goals would move us away from a “4-degree world”, where people experienced heat waves every two years and those dependent on rain-fed agriculture saw a 30 per cent drop in agricultural production.

Ms. ALONSO, speaking on behalf of the small island developing States and on behalf of a developing country, Cuba, said that it was crucial to address the fundamental problem of poverty.  Displaying a map of the Cuban archipelago, she said that, since 1959, Cuba had been working to implement a model of Government based on equality and social justice, as well as the protection of natural resources and the environment.  Cuba was located in a vulnerable climate zone and it suffered from extreme weather events, she said, describing challenges related to changes in sea levels — including the salination of subterranean drinking water — rising temperatures, hurricanes, droughts, rising levels of precipitation, losses of biodiversity and forest cover, and declines in agricultural production.

As a result, she said her country had instituted a strong research and data gathering policy.  It had spared no effort in the area of research and new technology, having set up a major technological infrastructure base in that area and working both to model the kinds of changes that might be seen across the region and to design adaption measures.

Ms. MOHAMMED, broadly describing her view of the post-2015 development framework, said that the anti-poverty agenda would be critical going forward.  “It will be a question of livelihoods and lifestyles,” she said, adding that “at the end of the day it will be about people — those affected, and those responsible.”  It was fortunate that the Millennium Development Goals had been successful.  However, there would be a major transition period, and it was crucial to ensure that no one was left behind in the new sustainable development agenda.

Importantly, she said, “we will have to come together out of the silos” of the distinct areas of that agenda.  Access was crucial for both people and economies.  The development of the energy-water nexus, the increasing importance of cities, the biodiversity agenda and increased efficiency were all important factors.  In addition, integrated management would be critical, she said, warning against repeating the mistakes of the past.  Another major question was how to incorporate business in a way that protected people but at the same time invited investments “of scale”.

In the ensuing dialogue, there was broad agreement that climate change had an important bearing on the well-being of the world’s people and that it required common and strategic action.  Many speakers stressed the urgency of abandoning the “silo approach” referred to by the panellists, reminding the Assembly that the urgent issues of climate change — especially those related to water and energy — were hampering development in many countries and exacerbating challenges already facing women, children and other vulnerable groups.

In that regard, a number of speakers, including China’s delegate, emphasized the importance of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.  Developed countries should assist developing countries better manage their water resources and optimize their energy mix, sharing their advanced technology and experiences in those areas.  Developed countries should also eliminate trade barriers in order to help developing States achieve their own development and adapt to climate change, she said.

Similarly, the representative of India called for a reinvigoration of technology and solutions coming from developing countries themselves.  Fossil fuels, he added, were the champions of a better life for developing countries; in that context, it was critical to address the “great conundrums” of the carbon footprint and the energy-water nexus.

A number of delegates added that the role of Governments in meeting today’s challenges was limited, stressing instead that other stakeholders — in particular, the private sector — must be brought on board.  Several speakers also posed questions for the panellists, including the representative of Morocco, who asked how they foresaw building on existing international legal instruments to move forward in the areas of clean energy and water.

Responding to those questions and comments, Mr. CANE said that, alas, the actions undertaken so far to mitigate climate change had not been sufficient and those set for the near future were “too understated”.  As an example of a best practice, he pointed to Cuba’s climate change policy, which included a strong element of adaptation.

Mr. ZHOU agreed with speakers who had said that developing countries were still not fully meeting their energy needs.  Developed countries should take the lead in combating climate change, he said; however, all countries should explore the low-carbon development approach.  He recommended that China undertake a study on when its greenhouse gas emissions would peak, expected to be before 2030.

Ms. SMITH agreed with delegates who said that the major challenge was to “break down the wall” of fossil fuels.  She also agreed that combating climate change required collaboration, not just competition, between countries.  In addition, she noted that countries needed to live up to the climate-related commitments they had made in multilateral negotiations, including support to the Green Climate Fund, which to date remained empty.

Ms. ALONSO said that without true solidarity, without a change in the paradigm of consumption and production, and without the application of common but differentiated responsibility, it would be very difficult to deal with challenges posed by climate change.  To that, Ms. MOHAMMED added that combating climate change required more than political will — it required political action.  And, access to technologies, partnerships and resources were all critical in that regard.

Also participating in that discussion were the representatives of Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Japan, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Panel 2

A second panel, discussing “Technological Advancements and Investment”, was moderated by Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and featured Jeff Seabright, Vice President of Environment and Water Resources, the Coca-Cola Company; Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary-General, Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi; Professor Vijay Modi, Columbia University; and Brice Lalonde, Special Advisor on Sustainable Development, United Nations Global Compact.

Mr. Amin said the session was aimed at finding solutions to some of the challenges discussed throughout the day.  It would look at what was happening in a more dynamic sense, because there was a tremendous amount of interest in the energy transition to come.

Mr. Seabright described how his company engaged with the issue, saying he was looking at its operational footprint in terms of resource use.  From a business perspective, it was important to understand that nature provided that largest part of the supply chain.  He looked at how watersheds were being managed and at the people with whom the company shared them.  Although it was possible to conceive of a “beyond petroleum” time, there could be no “beyond water”, so improvements in usage were vital.  He said his company had cut water use by 20 per cent, saving approximately $650 million, and it was targeting an additional 25 per cent in cuts.  He also outlined a goal whereby in 2020 Coca-Cola would give back as much water as was used.  That target was currently offset by 52 per cent and examples of efforts included reforestation and drip irrigation.  He stressed the importance of understanding the business value in protecting ecosystems. 

Ms. Khalifa Al Mubarak addressed the challenge of balancing the energy-water nexus, underlining that doing so depended on the prevailing conditions in a nation or region.  In Abu Dhabi, for instance, groundwater was the only source of water and it was essentially non-renewable.  Current usage was unsustainable and was devoted mainly to agriculture in an inefficient manner.  That left desalination as the only option and that was energy intensive and also environmentally damaging.  She stressed that diversification of the energy base was essential.  By 2030, Abu Dhabi had a target of 30 per cent from low-carbon sources.  Achieving that would help to decouple water and energy production.  Simpler things were also being done, such as a comprehensive cooling plan in all Abu Dhabi buildings, which had reduced energy demands by 14 per cent; over 10 years, that would bring huge carbon dioxide savings. 

Professor Modi focused on the situation in developing countries, noting that despite the 1 billion people without access to drinking water, a far larger problem was obtaining water for food production.  The requirements for intensification of land use “absolutely dwarfed” the requirements for drinking water.  An individual’s basic food requirements demanded huge amounts of water, and the processes underpinning food production, such as irrigation, also had enormous energy requirements. 

Concerning leakage, he called for “last-mile discipline” in distribution, whether with energy or water.  Utilities often suffered reliability problems, whether from poor management or political interference.  Poor service was a main cause of unpaid bills, which created a vicious cycle, preventing utility companies from accessing money for investments.  Even the poor were willing to pay for good service, he added.

Taking the floor again, Mr. Seabright returned to the question of the business case for improving water and energy use.  He said it was not only about corporate social responsibility or philanthropy.  Climate change and water scarcity posed potential material risks to businesses.  To build a business that would go the distance meant engaging with those issues. 

In her second intervention, Ms. Khalifa Al Mubarak focused on the importance of improving research and development.  For Abu Dhabi, water was the major issue, and its scarcity was prompting innovation.  There were also efforts to ensure that the Government addressed the issue in a holistic manner, which involved all ministries and government sectors.  She pointed to “Environment 2030”, an integrated policy framework that sought to get all areas of government thinking, planning and deciding together to look for opportunities for improvements. 

Turning to ways in which the energy-water nexus could add value in developing countries, Mr. Modi described ways of scheduling irrigation in sync with availability of the sun.  He said it was important to look 20 to 30 years into the future to work out how such projects could obtain the best value.  He also talked about how sensors and automation were improving efficiency in resource management.  Unwritten rules were no longer used so prevalently to inform actions.  It was now possible to manage water in a much more nuanced manner, reducing operational costs and improving efficiency. 

Mr. Lalonde called for persistence in pursuing improvements in water and energy efficiency.  The process had begun many years earlier and it should continue, he said, adding that many companies were now recognizing the importance of taking the issue forward.  He called for more and better measurement of water and energy and recommended use of a “water footprint” that would be similar to the carbon footprint.  Consumption measurement was one demand-side option that could help, and he called for improved metering.  On the supply side, he described a number of simple and small-scale innovations, which could be applied where water was scarce.  He also recommended reuse of water, and called for action from politicians worldwide, looking forward to a day when they would consider planetary interests instead of just national ones.  

Interactive Discussion

In the dialogue that followed, delegates described the practical solutions and policies their Governments had applied to address the energy-water nexus.  France’s representative expressed some disappointment that the discussion had lost sight of the climate change issue.  She also echoed a concern expressed earlier in the day that food security should have been included as a prong of the nexus, along with water and energy. 

New Zealand’s delegate referenced her country’s high level of hydroelectric and geothermal energy production and noted that increased water scarcity could affect the ability to produce energy in the longer term.  She said her country was phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and was also trying to address greenhouse gas emissions by the agricultural sector. 

Morocco’s delegate proposed his long-term vision for resolving the energy puzzle, which involved building a global energy network, similar to the information network.  Such a grid would help address the sustainable development challenge, he said. 

Also participating in the interactive discussion were representatives of Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Gabon and the United Arab Emirates.

Closing remarks

Mr. Al Jaber pointed out that clean energy and clean water were fundamental drivers of sustainable development.  There were major opportunities for win-win solutions.  For example, better desalination could save energy and infrastructure planning could improve both energy and water management.  International collaboration and cooperation were necessary to achieve economies of scale and promote international investment.

Mr. Sachs said he agreed with India’s representative on the responsibility to build on the Rio+20 principles.  He looked forward to the Sustainable Development Goals, which would drive global development in the next 15 years.  He stressed the need for massive investment in research and development.  Every region needed to find its own solutions, taking the existing portfolio of options and applying them as they made the most sense in their contexts. 

He drew attention to the sustainable development solutions network, established by the United Nations Secretary General to build a knowledge network.  It would be at the disposal of every country.  He recognized that changing was a process, which would last two generations and which would take the world “from the current unsustainable trajectory to a safe harbour for the world”.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.