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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

EU objectives for Rio+20

Committee of Regions Plenary session

Brussels, 15 December 2011

Madame President,

Honourable Members of the Committee of the Regions,

Thank you for this invitation to address the Plenary session on the subject of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – Rio+20 – that will take place in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. I would like to take this opportunity to set out our objectives for the conference, and give an indication of the scale of our ambitions.

The EU will do all it can to help achieve the Conference's overall objective: give renewed political impetus to sustainable development at all levels.

In our view, meeting this objective requires agreeing on an ambitious vision and related actions in the two thematic areas that have been identified for Conference: "a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication" and the "institutional framework for sustainable development". Rio+20 is not just about the environment: its agenda is truly multi-dimensional, encompassing also the economic and social dimensions of sustainable development.

Allow me to say a few words about what the EU wants to achieve under each of these two themes, as reflected in our formal submission sent to the UN on 1 November. I should say from the outset that I am very grateful for support that the Committee of the Region has expressed for many of our proposals.

Let me start with our views on what we call a "green economy roadmap", which needs to trigger action at all levels, i.e. both at national and – very importantly also – sub-national level, and at international level.

With respect to international level action, such roadmap would contain a set of commitments by the international community on issues that can only effectively be addressed on a global scale. As explained in our submission such commitments can be both of a cross-cutting and sectoral nature.

In terms of cross-cutting issues key EU priorities relate to indicators complementing GDP; sustainable consumption and production; research and scientific cooperation; innovative finance; as well as environmentally harmful subsidies.

With respect to sector-specific issues, our submission stresses the importance of addressing themes such as water, food and agriculture, energy, the marine environment and sustainable cities – alongside other areas including forestry, soil and land management, fisheries, biodiversity and investing in natural capital, chemicals and waste.

With respect to the national and sub-national actions that we hope Rio+20 will trigger bottom-up and on a voluntary basis, one concrete suggestion that we have made as part of our ideas on a green economy roadmap is to establish a capacity development scheme. This scheme – with input from the UN system, the IFIs, bilateral and multilateral donors and the private sector – would provide country-specific – and, where appropriate, region and sector-specific – advice to all interested countries on the transformation to a green economy.

As you know, within the EU one important pathway through which we are greening our own economy is through our resource efficiency agenda.

The Commission's proposal for a "Roadmap towards a Resource-efficient Europe by 2050" proposes a growth path that respects the planet's natural limits. It contributes to a global economic transformation and enables high standards of living, with environmental impacts that our planet can bear. Rio+20 will be an ideal opportunity to rally (gather) our global partners around this sustainability agenda, and underline the potential benefits for all.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me now briefly turn to the second theme of Rio+20: the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development, which essentially is about better implementation and greater integration of sustainable development at all levels and in all countries.

In this area, the EU's proposal to upgrade the United Nation Environment Programme into a Specialized Agency has perhaps attracted most attention so far and it is indeed one of our priorities for Rio+20.

But it is certainly not the only thing we are after. Our submission to the UN makes it very that clear the strengthening of governance needs to be addressed across multiple levels of governance. Regional, national, sub-national and local level institutions are at the forefront when it comes to dealing with the challenges and opportunities related to the implementation of sustainable development.

In this respect we should build on the valuable work that is already taking place, for instance with regard to the implementation of national and sub-national sustainable development policies and strategies and Local Agenda 21 initiatives. Another useful tool in this context is the Commission's European Green Capitals Program.

Finally, we will have to reach agreements for the financing of such actions at the global level. International Financing Institutions and the private sector too will need to be mobilised to supplement what world governments can contribute.

At this point, I would like to indicate my agreement with many of the ideas included in your Opinion regarding the preparations of EU positions for Rio. In particular, I agree wholeheartedly when you say in your Opinion that the economy, competitiveness and employment should be considered as priority areas. Green economy is by definition focusing on future economic developments with an important remark that only the development which will take into account also the environmental and social considerations can lead to a sustainable future. And sustainable future, again by definition, has no real alternative, since any other kind of future would be unsustainable.

I have also noted your proposals to recognise the strong contribution that can come from the implementation of green economy measures and policies by cities and regions in Europe and around the world. We have included in the EU proposals for Rio+20 the need to promote sustainable urban development. We would like to see mobilisation of a renewed process at local level by integrating in the work of the whole UN system the agenda for sustainable urban development as well as the good practices, lessons learned and partnerships implemented by cities.

We agree with the Opinion of your Committee that promoting Green Economy and Resource Efficiency means that we will need to have the business sector as a key ally. The Green Economy clearly offers major opportunities for business for creating new employment, as well as major opportunities for protecting the environment.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am coming to a close.

There is no doubt that when it comes to greening our economies and improving sustainable development governance the good practices that exist in many of Europe's regions and cities can be a valuable source of inspiration.

Being so close to our citizens, your Committee can play a very useful role in bringing our policy messages to a much wider audience and to multiple levels of governance.

I would like to reaffirm the desire of the Commission to continue working with your Committee. That way, the major local and regional actors that you represent can join us in working towards the results we all hope for at Rio and with implementing them at all governmental levels after the conference.

As you know last week after lengthy and intensive negotiations the UN Climate Change conference in Durban ended. My colleague, Connie Hedegaard, did an excellent job out there and I would like to use this opportunity to sincerely congratulate her. The conference did not ended by providing us with a solution, but it ended with a message of hope. Hope that the world – we - understand the seriousness of the challenges we are facing in the area of environment and hope that international cooperation in environmental area under UN umbrella could be an effective way to deal with these challenges. The same message of hope I have witnessed in Nagoya a year ago when we reached important agreements in the area of biodiversity (UN CBD). The trust established among international partners and willingness to act together is something worth to build on next year when we will meet again in Rio, 20 years after the historical 1992 Summit.

We are more interconnected and interlinked than ever. We share the planet which is becoming a global village. We share the responsibility to protect it for future generations. And as an old proverb says: We did not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

Thank you.

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