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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Statement on the outcome of Rio+20

Debate in the European Parliament on the outcome of Rio +20

Strasbourg, 5 July 2012

Mr President, Honourable Members of Parliament,

I would like to start by thanking the Members of Parliament that, in spite of the many difficulties, decided to join the Conference in their personal capacity. I appreciate the exchanges we had during the conference and am pleased that you can now share your impressions of the complex negotiations with the other honourable members.

I want to recognize upfront that the Rio+20 outcome document is less ambitious than what the EU had planned. However, after long negotiations, the EU and its Member States decided to support its adoption as a step in the right direction.

There are a number of areas where the EU would have hoped for a more ambitious outcome. This applies, for instance, to setting concrete timelines for the specific commitments in the priority areas, or to institutional aspects.

On the other hand, however, the final outcome still remains close to a range of initial objectives of the EU and, more importantly, it provides a basis for further work in the right direction, if properly implemented. But, this must be done with a sense of urgency, because the planet, and the poorest in the world, cannot afford delays. This is why we decided that it is better to have this agreement, than no agreement at all. The challenges are global and so are the solutions, so we need to keep working with our international partners in the future.

Green economy, beyond GDP and social aspects

The outcome document acknowledges the important role of an inclusive green economy in achieving sustainable development and poverty eradication. It is recognized as an important tool for achieving sustainable development for all countries. It will enhance our ability to manage natural resources sustainably, increase resource efficiency and reduce waste. It relates to changing the way we consume and produce today to adapt our economies to the boundaries of our planet and to allow future generations to meet their own needs.

Overall support for this was confirmed by a number of countries during months of preparations and by the positive references to the green economy in the final statements made by most Heads of State, including Heads of State from the majority of developing countries.

The document also recognises the need for broader measures of progress to complement GDP in order to have more solid policy decisions, as well as the importance of corporate sustainability reporting. The outcome document provides the necessary basis to turn these words into action at various levels.

At a time when our societies suffer widespread unemployment, we are also satisfied that Rio+20 has given a stronger social angle to sustainable development, on matters such as decent work, green jobs, and social protection floors, thereby enhancing the linkages between its three dimensions.

We have also contributed actively to highlight that democracy, human rights, rule of law, good governance, and gender equality and empowerment of women are indispensable to achieve sustainable development. These are the European values we will never back from. The fact that these concepts have been made more operational at Rio, for instance in relation to the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, is important progress.

Civil society and private sector

The EU has also fought for and secured a good outcome in relation to the fundamental role of civil society and stakeholders in the realisation of sustainable development. We will keep working, throughout the next reforms, to increase their participation in the decision-making process. In the new UNEP, for instance, we have agreed to ensure the active participation of all relevant stakeholders and to explore new mechanisms to promote transparency and the effective engagement of civil society.

I would also like to highlight that the Rio principle 10 on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice has been extended at Rio+20 from environmental matters to sustainable development as a whole.

The inclusive green economy can bring fundamental changes to progress towards sustainable development, because it will change the economic fabric. We have seen enormous engagement of the private sector in Rio. This gives me hope that the top down endorsement, alas weaker than we wanted, and a strong bottom up movement will actually bring about change faster than we could have hoped for.

The private sector, if given the direction and framework ensuring public goods, can thrive, can create investments, prosperity and wellbeing, decent employment and green jobs, and help to promote sharing of know-how and development and diffusion of innovation and technology.

And this will be fundamental for the necessary mobilisation of all means of implementation from all sources. This is the key to move away from focus on the official development assistance approach only.

Means of implementation

This is why the EU has taken the position that, first and foremost, each country must take the necessary measures to put in place an enabling environment of domestic policies that is designed to be self-sustaining.

Secondly, progress towards sustainable development entails providing the right financing instruments. We repeated our commitments to Official Development Assistance (ODA), but ODA alone is not the answer. Public and private funding and business expertise should go hand in hand in establishing appropriate financing strategies. Innovative sources of financing should be encouraged. And emerging economies should take a stronger role, proportionate to their evolving international status.

Thirdly, moving towards more sustainable development also depends on skills, know-how and technology diffusion. In this regard, the European Union research framework programmes are open to all countries, including support to researchers in developing countries. The green economy can also make a real difference in the development and diffusion of green technologies to the countries having most natural resources.

Goals, targets and SDGs

The EU has made efforts to make the text more operational, including by proposing goals and targets with timelines in several areas. We have not obtained the timelines we sought, with exceptions such as the commitment to achieve substantial reductions of marine litter by 2025. But the EU has achieved the integration of most of its proposed targets into the main text in the form of express commitments, for example on future action concerning extending the protection of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

This has reinforced the text to make it more action oriented. These efforts of the EU to focus the attention on key issues such as sustainable energy, water, oceans, land and biodiversity, food security or resource efficiency, should also bring fruit in the next months, in the process to develop Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.

The decision at Rio to develop Sustainable Development Goals and make them operational is indeed one of the main outcomes of Rio+20.

For the EU, the work on SDGs should be coordinated and coherent with the review process of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), without deviating efforts from their achievement by 2015. It would be important to have an overarching framework for post 2015 that encompasses the three dimensions of sustainable development with goals that address key challenges in a holistic and coherent way.

In addition, the agreement to launch the SDG process also means bringing a fresh impetus to a concept that was shown to be at risk at Rio: I refer to sustainable development, taken as a holistic notion. Indeed, at Rio+20, in spite of initial difficulties, we have reaffirmed the need to put together our efforts to eradicate poverty and to secure sustainability within our planetary limits. In retrospect, reaffirming this holistic vision was more important than we initially thought, in view of resistance from many sides to continue to address these two matters in conjunction.


Overall, we also welcome the agreement to reinforce the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD).

Rio has reinforced the international environmental governance by strengthening and upgrading UNEP. It will now have universal membership and must become our common home to set the global environmental agenda. In this new set up, a truly global UNEP will have a new authority that will allow it to take actions that were until now beyond its reach. We already started the strategic reflection on this new potential strength. We will however continue to work, together with our partners, towards the creation of a fully-fledged United Nations Environment Organization, to allow it to function on an equal footing with other UN organizations.

The other institutional reform is the decision to establish a new High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which will replace the Commission on Sustainable Development. It should allow the regular participation of Heads of State in reviewing progress of all our commitments. The EU has ensured that it will have most of the functions required and it will be important to make sure that this reform brings real change.


At Rio, we reaffirmed that we share the same planet and that we share a common responsibility towards future generations. None of the countries and regions present at Rio achieved in full what was wanted initially. This also applies to the EU. But we have worked together with all the other countries to develop common ground. It is a fact that the document would be less ambitious and less concrete without the work of those on the EU side.  

Rio+20 has not gone as far as most of Europeans would have wanted, but the key message today is that we agreed on many useful elements, many more than first reactions would lead us to believe. And this is why we should now focus on implementing them and building on them.

Fate of the question of whether Rio+20 was a failure or a success is still in our hands. It will depend on what we do with it from this point in time in implementing it in full.

The European Commission intends to do the necessary to build on what has been agreed at the highest level. We are looking forward to the European Parliament's views on how this can be best done and count on you to keep the ambition and positive energy generated in the run up to Rio alive in the years to come at international, national and local level.

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