Gaps in Sustainable Development Gains Exacerbate Other Serious Challenges, Deputy Secretary-General Tells General Assembly Debate on ‘Green Economy’

2 June 2011

Gaps in Sustainable Development Gains Exacerbate Other Serious Challenges, Deputy Secretary-General Tells General Assembly Debate on ‘Green Economy’

2 June 2011
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Gaps in Sustainable Development Gains Exacerbate Other Serious Challenges,


Deputy Secretary-General Tells General Assembly Debate on ‘Green Economy’


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s opening remarks at the General Assembly debate on “A green economy: a pathway to sustainable development”, in New York today, 2 June:

I am very pleased to welcome you to this informal thematic debate on the green economy.

We meet as preparations for next year’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) begin to take on greater momentum.  It has been a generation since the historic Earth Summit in 1992.  In that time, there have been important gains.  But it is also clear that this effort needs significant reinforcement.

“Rio+20” has a three-pronged objective: strengthening political commitment to sustainable development, assessing progress and gaps, and addressing new and emerging challenges.  The Conference also has two themes: a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

Since 1992, there has indeed been notable progress.  We have witnessed dramatic reductions in poverty; improvements in education, in health and in gender equality; a slowdown in rates of deforestation; and the creation of the Nagoya Protocol on Biodiversity, to name just a few.  The gaps, however, are many: in governance and financing, in technology development and transfer, in public awareness and willingness to make needed behavioural changes and, perhaps most of all, in mobilizing the political will required to make sustainable development a reality.

These gaps exacerbate other serious challenges, including the spread of epidemic diseases, intensifying climate change and protracted violent conflicts that undermine development.

In Rio, participants will need to address not only climate change, but also food, water and energy security issues, rapid urbanization and persistently high unemployment, particularly among youth in the developing world.

Two questions should animate today’s debate: can a green economy help address these challenges, and are we truly willing to make the changes needed to make such a transition?

We all know that business as usual is not sustainable.  We know that making the adjustments will not always be easy, and that there will be tradeoffs.  And we know that there will be up-front costs that can seem like an insurmountable burden, even though — over the course of time — they will reap lasting benefits.

Responsibilities, capabilities and starting points differ greatly from country to country.

Developed countries possess advanced technologies and institutional capacity, but need to demonstrate political impetus critical to making transformative change.  Developing countries face an array of challenges.  But they also stand to benefit enormously by leapfrogging over heavily polluting nineteenth-century technologies to pursue a twenty-first-century clean energy pathway.

The green economy must be tailored to national circumstances; there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.  For countries where poverty is rife, green economy measures must create abundant jobs and sustainable livelihoods.  For countries that depend heavily on raw material exports, green economy measures must not displace vital economic sectors, but instead create dynamic new growth sectors.

Within an agreed global framework, each Government must determine how the green economy can work for its people — and for the planet.  At the same time, the green economy must also help us address the many challenges presented by global climate change, from food security to deforestation and energy security.

Climate change was not created overnight, and will not be solved overnight, nor by isolated and fragmented measures.  We must make progress step by step, both through the international negotiations and through actions on the ground, to curb emissions and strengthen resilience.  Developing countries require support to pursue these twin objectives.  At Cancún last year, developed countries agreed to establish a Green Climate Fund and a technology mechanism to help realize these goals, and to build a clean energy pathway.

Trade issues are also a vital concern.  Green economy measures should not become a barrier to developing country exports, or impose “green conditionalities” that limit trade opportunities.  To the contrary, a green economy should open up new markets for export, thereby strengthening national prosperity.

Technology gaps are another concern.  Developing countries worry that they might widen further if a green economy accelerates technological change.  They wonder whether they will be able to compete in the field of new green technologies and industries.

Measures to promote technology transfer and build technological capabilities in developing countries need to be part of a green economy agreement at Rio next year.

Sustainable development is one of the Secretary-General’s top priorities.  He and I are both strongly committed to ensuring that the United Nations system will work as one to support preparations for Rio+20.  The Conference is now just one year away.  We are striving for a meaningful outcome, one which galvanizes political will towards our common goal: sustainable development for all.

I wish all of you a very productive meeting.

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