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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Rio +20: Oceans, land, water, fisheries

Sessions on Rio +20 during the Informal Ministerial Roundtable on Climate Change

Brussels, 7-8 May 2012

I am pleased to have you here in Brussels and to have the possibility to discuss Rio+20 with you. This is a good moment to look more closely at the upcoming global summit on sustainable development. Last Friday the final New York-based negotiation session ended. Some progress has been made in making the outcome text more manageable. However, a lot of work remains to be done to ensure that Rio+20 lives up to expectations.

In my view, promoting green growth is the pathway towards economic growth, jobs and social improvement and limiting the pressure on our ecosystems. It is also an instrument for increasing food security, and addressing poverty.

In the EU, we have decided to focus increasingly on resource efficiency – through more efficient use of energy, chemicals, soils, water, etc. This is not a luxury; it is pure necessity because it will be the only viable economic, social and environmental strategy in the long run.

For Rio+20, the EU has proposed to work on five priority areas: oceans, energy, land degradation, water and resource efficiency, in particular, waste.

Let me start with water – one of our most valuable resources. However, it is a finite resource and becoming increasingly scarce due to its inefficient use and to trends such as climate change, economics and population growth.

It is estimated that there could be a potential global water gap of 40% between demand and supply by 2030. Those living in poverty have to pay five to ten times as much for water as those in more fortunate situations. At the same time, in many countries, wastage of water is a large problem. McKinsey estimated that the gains from eliminating municipal water wastage are $167 billion a year by 2030.

Access to sufficient quantities of good quality water is fundamental for the environment, but also for the daily lives of every human being and for most economic activities. Imbalances between water demand and availability create increasing water scarcity and may increase droughts.

This has a direct impact on citizens and economic sectors which use and depend on water, such as agriculture, tourism, water using industry, energy production and inland navigation. Water scarcity and droughts also have broader impacts on natural resources at large, through negative side-effects on biodiversity, water quality, increased risks of forest fires and soil impoverishment.

Rio is an opportunity to promote a much more efficient management of water resources. We need to ensure sustainable use of water so that its quality and quantity is able to meet the needs of humans, nature and the economy. Following the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), a number of issues have not been addressed sufficiently and a number of areas need urgent attention.

One potential area of progress is integrated water resource management at river basin level. This brings together all users in a big cooperative effort, under a shared policy framework, to identify the measures to be taken on the ground.

Such an approach is also essential to achieve the Millennium Development target on water, to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. An important complement to this goal would be an effort to improve water efficiency.

Moving on to our second key area for the green economy, sustainable use of land and conservation and restoration of ecosystems. It is essential for food security, biodiversity loss and climate change mitigation, but also for the resilience of the world economy.

Land is a finite and in human terms non-renewable resource. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), due to growing population figures and land degradation, only 1.,8 hectares of arable land will be available per person in 2020, less than half the amount in 1960.

By 2050, this area is likely to be halved yet again. Agricultural productivity cannot increase at a fast enough rate unless the quality of the land and soil is improved.

Already over 1.5 billion people are affected by desertification, land degradation and drought. The growth in world population, the rising consumption of meat and dairy products, and the increased use of biomass for energy and other industrial purposes, will all lead to increased global land use, land use change and potential land, soil and ecosystem degradation.

From the perspective of resource efficiency, more needs to be produced from less land, more crops per drop of water, more yield per unit of fertilisers and pesticides, more food per unit of energy, and more biomass per unit of carbon and environmental footprint.

The European Commission supports partnerships and initiatives for the safeguarding of soil resources such as the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) and its Inter-governmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS).

More can and should be done at Rio, to address the main sectors that have an impact on land use. Agriculture, as the largest user of land and the key to addressing food security, but also forests, that cover 30% of Earth's surface and are an essential provider of food, feed, shelter, protection against natural disasters and many other ecosystem services.

So what can be done to achieve better land and soil management? One thing Rio can do is to provide a vision, and measure progress. It has for instance been suggested by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification to set a target of 'zero net rate of land degradation'. We also need to meet fully the so-called Aichi targets that were agreed at the last COP of the Convention on Biodiversity. More investment is needed in sustainable agriculture to close the productivity gap and we must improve on global forest governance.

The third key area for sustainable development, energy, was covered this morning by my colleague Commissioner Piebalgs. A further area I'd like to touch upon is oceans and fisheries.

Oceans and seas cover 71% of the Earth's surface and are critical for sustaining life on Earth. The sustainable management of the oceans and their resources is necessary to preserve the ability of oceans to continue to provide economic and social benefits and environmental services to humankind. This is particularly true for those living in island and coastal states.

Irresponsible exploitation of the oceans and their resources puts at risk the ability of oceans to continue to provide food, other economic benefits and environmental services, in a very direct manner, not several generations in the future, but already today.

There is a world-wide imperative for the conservation and sustainable management of ocean resources; to benefit from the range of ecosystem services provided, it is necessary to ensure that the marine environment is clean, healthy, productive and resilient to external impacts, including climate change.

Despite a number of commitments on oceans and seas taken in Agenda 21 in 1992 and in Johannesburg in 2002, a number of issues have not been addressed sufficiently while others require urgent attention.

Rio could help by boosting the implementation of such agreements and by launching new policies and actions that address the conservation of marine resources and the sustainable use of marine biodiversity.

We need to manage fish stocks sustainably. At present 32% of global commercial fish stocks are overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, and this figure is rising every year (FAO 2010).

In addition, we should address the negative impacts on the quality of ocean water of pollution from a number of sources, and increasingly from marine litter, in particular, plastic waste.

Significant economic opportunities for growth and jobs for coastal populations could be created if these were supported in a sustainable manner, creating new long-lasting livelihoods and positive impacts on the marine environment.

The translation of the principles of the green economy into the marine and coastal context is known as the blue economy. Partnerships, such as the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) and the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), are successful examples of how to boost local "blue economies" in a sustainable and inclusive manner.

Over the course of the last two days we have touched upon different areas of sustainable development and I have presented to you three of the EU's 'pillars of life' and sustainable management of: water, our oceans and land, including the conservation and restoration of ecosystems. Commissioner Piebalgs has talked about the importance of sustainable energy as a vehicle for green growth and poverty eradication. The fifth pillar of life is generally improving resource efficiency and moving towards a zero-waste society. All these areas are critical for sustainable development. The way we look at it, they are also all key areas for the green economy. I look forward to discussing these and other concrete ideas for Rio+20 with you.

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