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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

"Rio+20 must succeed and Europe will play its part"

Inaugural Session of the Ministerial Dialogue on Green Economy and Inclusive Growth

New Delhi, 3 October 2011


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to address this important meeting.

I want to start my intervention with three basic premises:

  • One, making the transition to the green economy is the way forward to a sustainable future for the world.  

  • Two, preserving natural resources and making best use of them are essential to making that transition, and thus contribute to sustainable growth.

  • Three, the sustainable management of these resources can make a crucial contribution to poverty eradication.

Allow me to expand on these premises – and as their consequence on what Rio must deliver.

First, it is clear that our path of growth of our economies must change. The world's population is increasing by around 200,000 people a day, and it is likely to reach 9 billion by 2050. This means that by 2050 demand for food, feed and fibre is forecast to increase by 70%. And yet 60% of the ecosystems underpinning these resources are already degraded. As we only have one Earth to live on – the only option we have is to find ways to live within its limits.

Second, this must entail using our natural resources more efficiently and more sustainably. Water, food, energy, forests, the oceans, and materials together with biodiversity are the natural capital that the earth provides. This natural capital forms the basis of our economies – and if managed sustainably can form the underlying basis of a global green economy, upon which other economic sectors can build.

Just two weeks ago, the European Commission announced proposals on resource efficiency. Together with our proposals on a low carbon economy, they set out what is needed to transform Europe's economy to be sustainable by 2050. This package is our approach to green growth, and it builds on the efficient and sustainable management of our resources. I think it is fair to say that this shows that the European Union is doing its part. But of course we certainly hope to work with our international partners to make progress at a global level.

In the EU, sustainable water management, waste management and recycling, together with renewable energies already constitute close to 2.5% of EU GDP. In other parts of the world similar progress is being made, demonstrating the potential only this production sectors have in all countries in all stages of development. Rio+20 should help us to accelerate the transition to a green economy, and building on our natural resource base in a sustainable manner is the way forward.

My third premise makes the crucial link between our natural resource base and lifting people out of poverty. Amartya Sen, economist and Nobel Prize winner, has said that poverty is the lack of capability, and that "development is fundamentally an empowering process, and this power can be used to preserve and enrich the environment". Addressing poverty is about providing people with capabilities to grow and progress – including participating in democracy, getting an education and medical care – but also having access to fresh drinking water, healthy food, sustainable energy, and a healthy environment itself.

So we see that the interplay of these three elements – the economy, natural resources, and decent living conditions and jobs – are the core of what we need to address. Let me take one concrete example: food and agriculture.

In the past few years we have seen how concerns about food security and economic crises point to the need to move towards more sustainable agriculture. Over one billion people – one out of six globally – lack access to adequate food and nutrition. At the same time agriculture is threatened by water scarcity, land degradation, price volatility, climate change, and other factors, which in turn can cause the loss of work and malnutrition.

To tackle such challenges, Rio+20 must promote a new vision for agriculture – that highlights its potential as the driver of food security, sustainability and growth.

Increasing the production of food for growing populations will not be possible with the continued overuse of water, fertilizers and pesticides. We need to focus on the potential of improving productivity of inputs and expanding sustainable practices, stopping the degradation of land and improving the status of biodiversity. Biodiversity supports the ecosystems – for example, the forests or grasslands – which hundreds of millions of people depend on for their livelihoods. Investing in biodiversity is investing in development and poverty reduction.

This is particularly important for smallholder farmers when we link this with existing indigenous knowledge. In this way we can enhance the ability to produce nutritious food to feed growing populations, to provide decent livelihoods, and contribute to the social development of rural communities.

An equally important challenge is that of ensuring access to sustainable energy, for instance, harnessing the potential of solar and wind power.

Clearly the transition to a green economy will not happen by itself. Action and supporting measures will be needed at city, regional, national and international level.

In the EU we are currently working with our Member States on defining what we will be presenting as our proposals and ideas for the outcome of Rio+20. We are convinced that Rio+20 needs to agree on a shared vision for change, able to deliver results within agreed time-frames. As to the tools to deliver that, we have been saying for some time already that one of the operational outcomes at Rio+20 should be a green economy roadmap that sets out specific goals, objectives and actions at international level, coupled with national activities based on national prorities and preferences. We also find the idea of Sustainable Development Goals, proposed by some countries, interesting and we are ready to actively engage to explore its full potential.

Let me assure you that the discussion we are having within the EU currently makes it clear to me that Rio+20 should be regarded as the opportunity that everybody in our mutually interdependent world has to seize, in order to secure global and worldwide commitment to sustainable development.

The EU is open to discussions with all countries on how to make sure that Rio+20 can meet these pressing global challenges. We have to work together to ensure that we can in reality bring about change.

Thank you.

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