Next week, world leaders will gather for a momentous occasion — the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20), a milestone on a long road. The famous 1992 Earth Summit put sustainable development on the global agenda. Today, we have come to a broader and more nuanced understanding of this age-old imperative: how to better balance the development needs of a growing world population — so that all may enjoy the fruits of prosperity and robust economic growth — with the necessity of conserving our planet’s most precious resources: land, air and water. At Rio, more than 100 heads of state and government will join an estimated 25,000 participants to map our way ahead. For too long, we have sought to burn and consume our way to prosperity. At Rio, we must begin to create a new model — one for a 21st century economy that rejects the myth that there must be a zero-sum trade-off between growth and the environment. Increasingly, we understand that with smart public policies, governments can grow their economies, alleviate poverty, create decent jobs and accelerate social progress in a way that respects the earth’s finite natural resources.
In this larger sense, that momentum for change is already irreversible. The evidence is all around in countries large and small, rich and poor. Barbados, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea and South Africa, among many others, are already adopting ‘green growth’ strategies that use limited natural resources more efficiently, create jobs and promote low-carbon development. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Kenya, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Senegal and Ukraine are applying new green-growth technologies in a variety of industries, from agriculture to tourism.
China has committed to supplying 16 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 and plans to invest over $450 billion in waste recycling and clean technologies. In Brazil, waste management and recycling employs more than 500,000 people, most of whom live on society’s margins. Under its new National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, India has begun paying people to better manage natural resources, such as forests and fresh water. Wherever you look, national and local authorities are adopting principles and practices that could help move us from a prospect of environmental ruin and growing social inequality toward a new era of inclusive and balanced sustainable growth.
Governments and nation states are not alone in driving this transformation. At Rio, more than 1,000 corporate leaders from all continents will deliver a common message: business as usual no longer works. Many are members of the United Nations Global Compact — volunteers in a growing private sector movement that understands that 21st-century corporate responsibility means corporate sustainability.
Energy will be a major focus at Rio and the key driver for development, social inclusion and environmental protection, including climate change. That is why, in 2011, I established a new initiative called Sustainable Energy for All to ensure universal access to modern energy services for the one in five people worldwide who lack them, to reduce energy waste by doubling energy efficiency, and to double the share of renewables in the global energy mix. In Rio, leaders from government, business and civil society will announce a galaxy of actions to advance these goals, from promoting cleaner, more efficient cooking stoves to helping governments scale up their geothermal and other renewable energy potential. Sustainable Energy for All is the partnership model of the future. The principle is simple but powerful: the United Nations uses its unrivalled convening power to bring all relevant actors to the table so that they can work in common cause for the common good. Rio+20 is the expression of a dynamic global movement for change — and a big step forward toward the future we want.