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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

"Giving the World a Sustainable Future"

Brussels Sustainable Development Summit

Brussels, 18 December 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Two of the most pressing challenges facing the world within the next generation are: eliminating poverty and ensuring progress that is sustainable. Over 1.5 billion people are still living in extreme poverty, especially in Africa, and access to food and energy is not secure, with hunger actually increasing in some parts of the world. At the same time, two-thirds of the services provided by nature – fertile soil, clean water and air – are in decline, and climate change and biodiversity are estimated to be close to the limits our planet can bear.

Without a clear sense of direction and action to back it up, a decent life will still be far beyond the reach of many; while for others, even maintaining a decent life will become increasingly difficult. These two fundamental challenges are interrelated –they need to be dealt with each in their own right, but action on both, working together, is necessary to reach the overall goal of a decent life and a sustainable future for all.

I was in Rio this year and I know many people left disappointed. I can understand why. But I also saw hope and determination to succeed and the more time goes by, the more we understand about the potential of the agreement we reached. So I still believe that ensuring a sustainable future for all is possible. That eliminating poverty across the globe in a generation is within reach. That it can be done. And these should be our primary objectives as we work towards and overarching framework that will bring together the results of two processes – working towards the Sustainable Development Goals, as our leaders agreed we would in Rio, and creating the post 2015 development agenda, work which will start in the UN General Assembly in September next year. Two processes with one common goal: To create the prosperity required to lift people out of poverty and to make sure we stay within the limits of the planet. To create prosperity, not misery, for all.

The strong interlinkages between global sustainable development and poverty and how they affect different countries, make it clear in my mind that taking action on one objective will not bring lasting success, unless, the other is addressed at the same time. Many aspects of social exclusion, inequality and other factors have a direct bearing on the emergence of poverty and need to be tackled in particular in developing countries and emerging economies. At the same time, although the effects of unsustainable patterns of current economic development on the environment and the natural resource base are determined, to a large extent, by developed countries and emerging economies (which jointly constitute around 98% of global GDP), the impacts are often disproportionately felt by least developed countries, and therefore need to be tackled in all three.

An overarching policy framework can help define a pathway towards prosperity and well-being for all countries by focusing on the main drivers for inclusive sustainable growth, with progress remaining within planetary boundaries. Along that pathway, countries can tackle the objective of poverty eradication by addressing basic human development needs and living standards below which no citizen should fall. Such an overarching framework should bring together the three dimensions of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental - and should be based on priorities that apply to everyone. It should encourage prosperity and well-being for all in a way that will last, as well as trace a path out of poverty for those most in need. It should be based on a full range of requirements for human progress, such as food, clean water and clean air, health, employment, education, a resilient natural environment and participation in a free and fair society.

The European Commission is working on inputs needed to discuss with our Member States on how the EU should best contribute to a successful follow up to the agreements we reached in Rio+20, on how we should shape the post Millennium Development Goals development agenda and on how we should contribute to international consensus on the overarching framework, that I spoke about in my introduction. We are hoping that the results of this work will be made public early next year. But I am very happy to have the honour to contribute some personal thoughts on how one of the two processes, the shaping of the Sustainable Development Goals, could look like.

I believe the elaboration of Sustinable Development Goals requires 3 things: (1) identifying priority areas that really require global action (2) making this action effective by defining goals that are actionable and (3) developing indicators to help us understand if we are making progress.

The goals should guide economic transformation and promote social progress in a way that the natural resources which form the pillars of human life – water, air, energy, land, biodiversity, oceans – are sustainable. Social inclusion, decent jobs, equality and respect for human rights must be an integral part of this economic transformation.

Personally, I would expect that they should help us achieve progress towards making our economies low carbon and resource efficient and support the creation of employment and decent jobs. Given the current global mega trends, I would certainly expect that others would help us address the massive challenge of food security in a world of 9 billion, which means in particular focusing our efforts on moving towards a land degradation-neutral world, as agreed in Rio, and protecting and restoring the health of oceans. These, together with moving towards sustainable, resilient cities, are three topics that really came out strongly in Rio from almost all corners of the world.

To make them a reality, I would imagine that Sustainable Development Goals would need to incorporate actions or quantifiable objectives in areas such as: energy efficiency, water efficiency, the reduction, re-use and recycling of waste including marine litter, improving soil quality and the health of marine ecosystems, ensuring the sustainability of fish stocks, food security and nutrition for all countries… they would also need to include targets on job creation, on youth employment and education, gender balance, and decent working conditions, as well as on health and safety in cities guaranteeing clean air, clean water, adequate sanitation and disaster preparedness.

These are examples that illustrate well some of the features that we already agreed on, or should find little difficulty to agree on: They are universal, easy to understand, they mobilize action and they allow to measure progress. They should guide and inspire people, companies, organizations and countries.

And most importantly they should lead us into the sustainable future we so vocally called for in Rio.

Thank you for your attention.


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