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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

The green economy – our survival strategy

Address to the media ahead of the upcoming Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20

Brussels, 13 June 2012

As you know, next week the UN summit on sustainable development, Rio +20 will take place in Brazil – twenty years after the original earth summit in 1992

We have made quite some progress since 1992. Today, developing countries account for 35% of GDP compared with 18% twenty years ago. However, the progress so far is clearly not enough. Millions are still hungry every day. If we carry on using resources at the current rate, by 2050 we will need the equivalent of more than two planets to sustain us, and the aspirations of many for a better quality of life will not be reached.

The theme for Rio +20 is the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and secondly the institutional framework for sustainable development

Let me start with the first part. Why the green economy?

One of the best and simplest answers I heard recently from an African diplomat: because it's our survival strategy

We will need to change the way we grow, the way we use key resources such as water, land, air and soil, in order not to run out and leave a growing population hungry and jobless.

We need to create a new circular structure, where nothing is wasted and growth is driven by reducing pressures on the environment. Where jobs are created through measures that fill our stomachs AND protect the environment, simultaneously

The poorest in our societies will suffer most if we use our resources unsustainably as their lives and livelihoods depend very directly on water, land, seas, forests and soil. There are new and emerging challenges that pose a serious threat to sustainable development – from climate change and increasing water scarcity to low resilience to natural disasters and biodiversity and ecosystem loss.

BUT, we have the tools to tackle these challenges and turn them into opportunities.

With the help of efficient technologies and systems, countries can exploit their resources – from forests and biodiversity to land and minerals – in ways that are sustainable and that can support increases in consumption

Between 70 and 85% of opportunities to boost resource productivity are estimated to be in developing countries.

Countries that learn to use their natural capital in a smart and sustainable way will be the winners of tomorrow. This holds for both developed and developing countries. The transformation to a greener economy could generate 15 to 60 million additional jobs globally over the next two decades and lift tens of millions of workers out of poverty

This is why the EU is committed to fight for Rio 20+ to result in a focused and ambitious outcome. We want something irreversible; something that has real impact on our lives.

The EU has suggested goals and targets for key natural resources which underpin a green economy: water, the oceans, land and ecosystems, including forests, sustainable energy, and resource efficiency including waste.

I refer to them as the five 'pillars of life' because these aspects are vital for our wellbeing and our economies. There can be no sustained growth without clean water, air, soils and functioning eco-systems.

The five pillars we are proposing are closely linked with food security, poverty reduction and social development. For instance, how can we talk about food security without properly managing our seas, our use of water and how we will tackle the problem of food waste?

These goals would drive the private sector to make the right investments, spur technological innovation and create employment, as well as influence international funding structures to move in the right direction.

For instance, what we'd like to see in Rio is an agreement that all listed and large private companies should include sustainability in their annual reporting, or else explain why they don't. The World Bank is suggesting for companies to use natural accounting mechanisms in their statistics.

On the second theme of the conference – the global governance on sustainable development – the EU's position is clear: we would like to see UNEP upgraded to a fully-fledged agency.

However, we realise that not all other actors agree on this approach, although there is common agreement that the current governance is not enough. In order to get the future we want, we will need to establish global follow-up and monitoring mechanisms that don't exist yet today.

The EU is willing to engage in negotiations with a view of achieving sustainable development goals. However, we would like these to contain concrete targets, stating the desired outcome clearly, without contradicting the Millennium Development Goals. Beyond 2015, we would like to see the MDGs and SDGs merged in one pillar.

Finally, the means of implementation will clearly be an important point in the negotiations.

While many countries are in better shape today compared to twenty years ago, the world's poorest will still need help getting access to education, the right infrastructure and skills.

This is why the EU remains the biggest donor of aid in the world. In 2011 we gave 53€ billion in development aid – more than half of the aid in the entire world.

And we will stick to our promises. Despite the current financial crisis, the EU countries recently reaffirmed this commitment, which would translate into an important additional development aid by 2015, including for projects related to the Rio outcome.

But funds alone will not feed the world, and certainly not forever.

We also need a mentality change.

It is clear change will not happen without everyone on board. Not only politicians will need to be convinced – we also need businesses, civil society and individuals involved.

After tough pre-negotiations in New York, unfortunately not enough progress has been made so we have some intense days ahead of us in Rio. However, we have high hopes that Brazil will fully engage in its role as host and move the conference to a desired outcome.

There is no guarantee others will follow suit, but I can tell you that we will do my utmost to achieve a concrete outcome from Rio that will aim to set the world on a different path – away from mass poverty, hunger, unemployment, pollution and degrading ecosystems.

Thank you for listening and now I am happy to take a few questions.


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