Statement by Peter Thomson, the President of the General Assembly, at Luncheon on Sustainable Consumption and Production
23 March 2017
Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
welcome. I am very glad that you could join this luncheon.
I think almost all of you have participated this morning in our Climate Change SDG Action Event and it has been very encouraging to hear many speakers restate their commitments to the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The links between Climate Change and the subject of this luncheon – Ensuring Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns – are extremely strong. Indeed targets aimed at promoting sustainable consumption and production are found in Goals relating to Energy, Agriculture, Water, Cities, Biodiversity, the Ocean and of course, in SDG 12 itself.
As President of the General Assembly, I have committed to generating momentum across each of the 17 SDGs, but in truth, doing this for SDG 12 is proving quite a challenge.
That is why I decided to convene this luncheon.
We have with us today a number of leaders from both the private and public spheres who, as we enjoy our meal, will highlight how best to drive action on SDG 12 and on sustainable consumption and production more broadly.
After the main presentations, I encourage everyone to join in a moderated discussion.
I draw your attention in particular to the review of progress on SDG 12 that will take place at the High Level Political Forum in 2018 – a date that can serve as a target for all of us – not so much to take stock, but rather to be able to demonstrate genuine momentum; to highlight just how much action is taking place globally on sustainable consumption and production and how transformative that action can be.
Why? Because we cannot afford to sit back and wait for change to happen.
From a scientific, economic and common sense standpoint, the transition to more sustainable patterns of production and consumption is absolutely critical to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.
As you know, our planet is buckling under the demands of our 21st century societies – from our inefficient and carbon intensive approach to production; from levels of consumption that globally are five times today what they were just 50 years ago.
If we continue on our current trajectory, particularly with projected population growth rates and billions across the world due to join the middle classes, not only will we fail to avert climate change but we will dramatically accelerate the destruction of life in the Ocean, on land and of biodiversity on which the achievement of sustainable peace and prosperity depends so heavily.
My engagement on the SDGs throughout this 71st session, with member states, with the private sector, with the global public, even with the UN system itself, convinces me that sustainable consumption and production is usually the elephant in the room.
For some developed economies, Sustainable Consumption and Production is seen as a potentially significant drag on economic growth and a denial of established life-styles. For some developing countries, it’s seen as an impediment to the right to development.
I understand the place from which these concerns come, but I also feel that they are misplaced.
Most of the production changes required, for example in the areas of energy, waste, chemicals or food systems, will actually increase economic output through improvements to the systems of production, usage or storage we employ today. Changing from ‘take, make, dispose’ into a circular economy would significantly reduce the need for new materials and minimize activities required to manage waste.
That said, some of the consumption changes we need do demand a deeper reflection. They require that we question our current consumption patterns and adjust our preferences to materials or goods that are kinder to the scarce resources upon which we depend.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I believe in the power of individuals to make the choices that will drive transformation, by changing habits and refusing unsustainable products.
I am passionate about the incremental impact we can make from small changes to our lifestyles, particularly in relation to meat consumption and I look forward to hearing from our food and agriculture colleagues with us here today.
This does not, however, let Governments and civil society off the hook. If we think about the struggle and incremental victories against the tobacco industry in our life-times, we see the need for Governments, civil society and the citizenry to be in accord in resolve.
Ladies and gentlemen,
“Doing more and better with less,” is the call for our future and for all future generations.
But it must become a call that inspires consumers; that connects with their preferences and values; that deploys technologies and expertize towards sustainable action.
We must also connect better with policy makers and business in order to convey the incredible growth and employment opportunities that the shift to a sustainable economy will bring. As consumers, we must reward the private sector that makes the responsible choices in production.
And finally, we must maximise the contribution that the UN system can make in this area, including by identifying how best to lend greater visibility and strategic vision to its work, particularly as we build towards the High Level Political Forum in 2018.
I hope that over the course of this lunch, through your contributions, we will be able to identify some of the actions that will help with a universal push towards sustainable consumption and production.