Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here with you in Seoul. The United Nations is pleased to co-host this important event on how to harmonize our economies with our precious environmental resources.
I would like to begin by delivering a message on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon who could not be with us today. I quote:
The international community has been buffeted by a series of interlinked crises, including volatile food prices, financial and economic upheaval, and the threats posed by climate change. The United Nations is leading the search for integrated solutions that address all the social, economic and environmental aspects of these challenges, while using resources wisely and protecting our planet’s ecosystems.
The world needs to do more to ensure that our economies rest on sound ecological, social and economic principles. Only then can we reduce the risk of future crises and improve the lives of the poor and vulnerable. We must introduce sustainable practices at all stages of production, consumption and trade, from policy-making to the daily operations of small and large businesses. The use of renewable sources of energy must be expanded as quickly as possible.
I commend those countries, including the Republic of Korea, that have responded to the financial and climate crises by increasing public investments in renewable energy projects, clean technologies and environmentally friendly public transport initiatives. A global green economy can flourish only when all countries commit to putting increased financial and human resources into green sectors and activities.
I welcome forums such as this, which promote international cooperation, knowledge-sharing and the diffusion of green technologies across the globe. I hope participants in “Green Korea” will also consider how you can contribute to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+ 20, which will be held in Brazil in 2012. We need a range of stakeholders and a wellspring of ideas to make this major global event into a lasting success. I thank you for your commitment to green causes, and I wish you a successful conference in Seoul.
That concludes the message of the Secretary-General.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to share with you my own remarks on the importance of greening our economies.
A good starting point relates to the Secretary-General’s remark about the response of some countries to the global financial and economic crisis. In China and the Republic of Korea, for example, stimulus packages were crafted to increase aggregate demand and employment and to boost “green” investment. This took the form of infrastructure improvements in rail and other public transport systems, smart power grids and energy efficiency improvements in buildings.
I commend these initiatives. They represent true progress in the mindset of policy makers. What is behind this mindset? Recognition that a strong economy must consist of businesses and strategies that preserve our environment and promote social development. This mindset acknowledges that we must act now with changes that will affect our long-term future, not just the next few years.
The stimulus spending, however, was largely a one-time exercise. Today, fiscal reins are tightening again and many governments face constraints on new spending. But investment in green technologies and sectors needs to be continued as stimulus spending winds down.
Perhaps the most significant way to advance change is through green policies. Governments have a number of fiscal policy levers at their disposal. One policy tool that has been applied in some countries is the levying of taxes on unsustainable production and consumption patterns that cause pollution. They can create financial incentives for reducing material inputs and pollution. They can subsidize renewable energy projects, such as feed-in tariffs which guarantee a price premium to renewable energy suppliers to cover their higher costs.
Another possible alternative is ecological fiscal reform, which shifts the tax burden from labour to activities which cause pollution. It represents a “polluter pays” principle. Countries that have implemented such reform have shown that, if designed well, eco-taxes do not have to hurt economic growth and employment. Social services must be strengthened in these scenarios, however, so that low-income households are not hurt by tax measures.
Secondly, governments and the private sector should invest in research and development, especially with regard to energy initiatives. Current expenditures, public and private, lag behind what is required. Public-private partnerships also play an important role, especially for pilot deployments of new, commercially untested technologies like carbon capture and storage.
Beyond policies and research, we need to accelerate the diffusion of clean technologies across the globe. The diffusion of past innovations – including information technologies – has occurred largely through market forces driving down costs, making the technologies affordable to more and more people. With technologies to tackle climate change, however, a market approach is simply too slow. Government policies and international cooperation are crucial to accelerating the process. Developed countries must increase assistance to developing countries with financial, human and technological resources.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We must urgently join forces in the international community and advance policies, directives and business practices that advance a green economy agenda. We need bold, transformative change. In recent years we have seen first steps taken by governments and the private sector. The Republic of Korea has been an especially strong advocate and participant in this arena. But if these ideas and practices are to have lasting influence, all countries must implement them – urgently and with vigour.
Ultimately, green practices can serve as a rising tide that lifts all boats: when well designed, they can benefit all people in society. They can increase profitability for the private sector, create healthier and safer jobs and sustainable livelihoods and improve the quality of our environment, including the air we breathe and the water we drink.
In 2012, world leaders will gather for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio + 20. The objective of the Conference is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assessing the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and addressing new and emerging challenges. To this end, the Conference will focus on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development.
This meeting in Seoul is an important opportunity to explore new ideas and successful practices that can inform the preparations for Rio + 20. The United Nations counts on input from all of you – from the scientific, business and academic communities – in order to make the Rio + 20 conference a success.
On behalf of the Secretary-General, I thank you for your participation at this conference. Through your presence here, your feedback and your exchange of best practices and technologies, you are helping the United Nations chart a clear path for the international community on the green economy agenda. May you leave with new ideas, strategies and most of all, inspiration, for aligning government and business practices with the needs of our environment, and most importantly the needs of the poor and vulnerable in our societies.