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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Speech: Towards universal prosperity and well-being within our planetary boundaries

Ministerial roundtable discussion on "Environmental challenges within sustainable development and the UNEP's contribution to Sustainable Development Goals, Promoting sustainable consumption and production", at the 27th Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme / Nairobi, Kenya

19 February 2013

Eradicating poverty and ensuring that prosperity and well-being are sustainable are two of the most pressing challenges the world faces today.

These challenges are universal and inter-related and need to be addressed together by all countries. I always advocated that it is not sufficient to address them separately – a unified international policy framework is absolutely necessary.

We now have the opportunity to develop such an overarching policy framework - with global goals – for post 2015. The European Commission will set out its views about this overarching framework at the end of this month in more detail.

In our view, such a framework should set out a path from poverty towards prosperity and well-being, for all people and all countries, with progress remaining within planetary boundaries. Global goals should act as "guiding lights", giving direction for action needed for sustainable development for all. This objective is within our reach within one generation.

Key to success of such framework and a major novelty is universality. It needs to steer action not only in the development of the poorest economies but also to steer economic transformation in developed and emerging economies. It should encourage innovative approaches to enable people to get out of poverty; it should encourage universal aspiration towards prosperity and well-being, and at the same time ensure we don't threaten these very aspirations by breaching planetary boundaries.

I would to mention the elements that make up such an overarching framework for post 2015

Firstly; building on the experiences of the MDGs, we know that setting clear and precise human development goals and targets can have enormous transformative effect. We have to finish the work started by the MDGs, and establish new, modernised goals, learning from the MDGs, establishing "Floors to Living Standards" under which no citizen should fall by 2030. These updated MDGs should be qualitative as well as quantitative, and apply to each and every citizen irrespective of where they live.

Secondly, the new framework should not focus simply on alleviating poverty, it also needs to focus on empowerment; ensuring that all citizens have the basic tools to pull themselves out of poverty; through energy, IT, infrastructure and sustainable energy and agriculture. This is where joint initiatives of UN agencies can help: to provide the tools and build capacity for policy that ensures integration of sustainable development thinking into all relevant policy areas.

Thirdly, we know that ending poverty and ensuring a decent life requires also equity, justice, democratic governance, and human rights.

Fourth, the Good Stewardship of Natural Resources must be a key element in ensuring that developing countries reach their potential. Climate change, biodiversity loss, the degradation of oceans, freshwater resources and land and soil have negative impact especially the poor. Resources, the "pillars of life" the EU talked about in the run up to Rio, should be exploited in a sustainable manner but also on the basis of open, transparent governance.

Finally, Peace and Security also have to figure in the post-2015 framework. It is a fact that the countries affected by violent conflict in recent years have almost universally failed to achieve a single MDG. This does not mean that the new Framework should seek to re-invent existing mechanisms to resolve conflicts; it should focus on prevention.

Following the pathway to sustainability is a must for all to pursue. Goals will guide and provide stimulus all along that pathway. Goals should be set on a 2030 timescale and address the overarching objectives of sustainable development: poverty eradication, changing unsustainable consumption and production patterns and protecting and managing the natural resource basis.

On the EU side, we are joining forces between the environment and the development side, along with the foreign affairs community. We believe moving out of silos is the only way to arrive at a meaningful framework to help eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development for all.

Let me for a moment talk about sustainable production and consumption. UNEP played a key role in that work internationally and has built up good expertise. Rio+20 finally adopted the 10 year framework and appointed UNEP as secretariat. So it makes only sense that we talk today about future UNEP work in this area.

From the EU side we have been very active already for the last two decades, developing labelling tools, promoted the use of environment management systems, green public procurement and other instruments designed to influence the behaviour of consumers and producers. The EU and its Member States have also implemented legislation that results in less wasteful, more efficient and safer production methods. Persistence is called for on SCP-policies: our labelling instrument dates back to 1989 only in recent years it becomes more visible on the market.

In recent years we have put strong emphasis on resource efficiency, which has the potential to be the key to environmental, economic and social challenges. Energy is one example, where efficiency gains can avoid negative impact on the environment, help competitiveness of industry and maintain affordable price levels for consumers, also in the long run.

Food is another example where resource efficiency can be the key to more sustainable production and consumption. This can be through avoiding the huge levels of food waste both on the production and consumption side, by promoting agricultural practices that reduce impact on soils and require less water and fertilizer. If pursued in a comprehensive manner, this will help to provide nutrition for a fast increasing world population, help to keep prices in check, and remain within boundaries of what nature allows.

As the UNEP paper shows, efforts need to be made on a range of policies, through a range of approaches, at national and international level. SCP policies need to be holistic if they are to be effective.

SCP policies need to have a strong resource efficiency focus. A lot of work remains to be done to turn a concept like resource efficiency into practical policy advice, integrate it into programmes designed to support developing countries, and into policy and legislation in any country.

Thank you.


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