EU Commissioner for Environment
Towards a global transition to a green economy
Keynote speech at the official opening of the Commission on Sustainable Development -19 Ministerial Segment
New York, 11 May 2011
As I have said on a number of occasions, the biggest challenge we face this century is how to live and prosper together on this planet – within the constraints of what one Earth can provide.
And if we want to make sure that we give humanity the chance to enjoy a decent life, we need to ensure growth. The kind of growth that supports human well-being, eradicates poverty, provides decent jobs, whilst at the same time protecting and improving the state of the environment.
This should be a positive, mutually re-enforcing vision in which the economic, environmental and social pillars of sustainable development can grow together dynamically.
I should add just how fundamentally important it will be to harness – and direct – our patterns of consumption and production to sustainable paths.
Consumption and production are the bases of the economy – the fundamental patterns of purchasing goods and services, interlinked with their production and supply. The key to our better future is transforming these into a model sustainable production and consumption.
What is about to be agreed here at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) could be the essential milestone on the road to Rio and beyond. Among the important planned outcomes of this year's CSD policy session is the finalisation of a decision to adopt a 10 Year Framework Programme on Sustainable Consumption and Production, securing and establishing planned work well into the future, up to and beyond 2020. This will be a substantial achievement.
So let us take the opportunity to look beyond today. Let me share with you some thoughts on how action on sustainable production and consumption can help to secure that sustainable future.
Next year the world is to be challenged to demonstrate its renewed political commitment for sustainable development. Rio+20 can mark the start of a profound, world-wide transition towards a green economy – an economy that generates growth, creates jobs and eradicates poverty by investing in the natural capital upon which the long-term survival of our planet depends. It can also launch the needed reform of global governance and institutions.
The European Union is determined to contribute to making Rio+20 a success. Sustainable Consumption and Production is inextricably linked to the Green Economy, resource efficiency and natural capital – and we need to build these into our thinking and planning for Rio.
In the EU our policies are moving in this direction. Last year, the EU launched its Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Promoting a greener, more resource-efficient and low-carbon economy is an integral part of this agenda.
Among its specific objectives is "Resource Efficient Europe". Its aim is to use all types of resources in a more efficient way and to decouple resource use from economic growth. I should stress here that we see resources in the broadest sense, ranging from raw materials such as fuels, minerals and metals, to food, soil, water, air, biomass and ecosystems and waste.
We want to use resource efficiency to push a transformational agenda towards greening and making our economies more sustainable, in particular for a range of areas such as: Agriculture, biodiversity, fisheries, energy and waste.
One example is the Oceans. They are – if managed sustainably –an important source of resources, economies and livelihoods. The problem of course, is the word "if" - I said "if managed sustainably".
Because today, we have increasing and alarming evidence of depletion and pollution of marine resources. One topical example and one I've spoken about many times is marine litter (often referred to as "plastic soup"), which extends over huge areas of many of our oceans
Of course waste problems are not limited to oceans. They are widespread and have a wide range of environmental and resource impacts, such as on land quality, water quality, state of biodiversity and human health. The impact of chemical and hazardous waste is also an area of particular concern.
In dealing with waste, policies and regulatory measures clearly need to be put into place to deal with both the symptoms and the causes. We must look “upstream” to the sources of waste and pollution. This is often described as the life cycle approach.
It means, looking at how waste and pollution is generated – and dealing with it through the better design of products, through changing patterns of human behaviour, through the collection of waste, and better waste and chemicals management.
From this, you can see that we are fighting on many fronts to promote the Green Economy. It is linked to sustainable consumption and production, with the management of resources, and with regulatory and market conditions. We will need holistic approaches to solve the world's sustainability problems – not ones that focus on an issue here or there, in isolation.
And we need to think like this in working out our approach Rio+20. The work done by CSD over the years has to be a logical continuation of the results to be achieved at Rio+20. Rio should incorporate a number of basic factors into our policy decisions, such as:
- Investing in the sustainable use of natural resources – our natural capital;
- establishing correct regulatory and market conditions; and
- ensuring better governance and positive incentives to give business a stronger role.
With the right kinds of regulatory and market instruments, and improved governance, areas such as the water, renewable energy, ecosystem services, and oceans could become key growth areas for which applying the principles of sustainable consumption and production will be essential. This is the way we should develop our economies of the future, because it offers opportunities for countries in all stages of development - not only benefiting industrialized economies, but also offering opportunities for developing countries, and in particular it offers a clear path to help people break out of the state of chronic poverty.
The upcoming Rio+20 conference is a unique opportunity for the world, and the EU, to commit further to sustainable development, environmental protection, and improved global governance. It can mark the start of global transition to a green economy.
We now must ensure that the SCP Framework of Programmes will work in practice, so that what we do here at CSD19 will be a true milestone on the path to this transformation.