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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Poverty eradication and sustainable development after 2015

Opening the Stakeholder Conference organized with EESC "A new global partnership – European Civil Society Positions on the Post-2015 Framework"

Brussels, 13 February 2014

Chairman,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished panel,

I was yesterday in CoR discussing resource efficiency issues. As you know, resource efficiency and the post 2015 framework are two topics close to my heart.

I am grateful to the EESC for organising this conference. EESC has been a great partner in Rio+20, and now again for post 2015.

Post 2015 will not only affect many of us, it will also require efforts from many parts of society, well beyond national governments alone. For this reason I value highly the opportunity to exchange views with you.

I am happy to be here this morning also with the co-chair of the Open Working Group, Ambassador Kőrösi. You are doing a great job in collecting and synthesising views on SDGs in a range of thematic areas, well covering all dimensions of sustainable development. The work of the Open Working Group has become the centre of gravity for all discussions on SDGs. Roadmap is clear and we have to build it in our approach.

The task of balancing and bringing together all the views expressed at the Open Working Group so far is not an easy one – yet an essential one. We are now looking to the forthcoming compendium of goals and targets and the focal areas with great expectations.

We all need a well-balanced and effective proposal on possible goals and targets for the UNGA as of September 2014. The EU and its Member States should of course contribute actively in this process.

As part of the overall process we need stakeholders to play a maximal role – both here in Brussels and in New York.

Stakeholder views count and can influence outcomes and decisions in a way that looks "outside of the box" of governments and international institutions. This is an essential contribution to ensuring an "Open society" and ownership.

Single framework

We cannot underestimate how important the opportunity ahead of us is: we have a chance to influence the agenda of all countries for the next 15 years and beyond to act on the challenges of poverty eradication and sustainable development simultaneously.

And this is the key point here: we need to ensure that we really address both these concerns together in a single framework: they are simply two sides of the same coin.

The UN is clearly moving towards a single framework with one single set of global goals to tackle the challenges of poverty eradication and sustainable development together. On the EU side, we have advocated exactly this approach, as we set out in our Communication "A Decent Life for All" and Council Conclusions last year.

Priority areas

As well as the general notion of bringing together the work on poverty eradication and sustainable development, the EU also argued that the post‑2015 framework should focus on five main elements: basic living standards; inclusive and sustainable growth; sustainable management of natural resources; equity, equality and justice; and peace and security.

However, covering the right areas is necessary but not sufficient. In the very near future we will also have to address how goals and targets will help trigger change explicitly. And how they will work together and not against each other. We need to avoid goals – for example related to the economic aspects - that will work against environmental ones. We will need to have positive resonance between all goals and targets that must all work together to achieve poverty eradication and sustainable development.

Need for transformation

A wealth of ideas and specific suggestions for priority areas are being put forward in New York in the UN system, from many individual countries and regions, NGOs, professional associations, business, etc. And, amongst them are many that we can wholeheartedly support.

However, saying that, there are several grounds for caution.

Many countries have still to be convinced that we need more than an improved version of the MDGs; they feel if we can "fix" the MDGs, this is already a major step.

Others are not convinced that all countries should play their part, and wish to remain in the world as it was 20 years ago, refusing to recognise that political and economic balance has shifted significantly.

Some wrongly assume that the developed countries won't be affected because the goals which will be agreed will mostly address only the poorest countries.

And finally there is a large group that does not yet fully accept the fact that economic development lifting people out of poverty will in the long run only work if we fully respect the planetary boundaries. For instance, maintaining forests and healthy soil - especially grassland - will ensure they continue to provide essential services such as protection of water resources, mitigating climate change, help maintaining resilience to disasters and hosting many species. Since 2 billion of the poorest people depend on forests and grassland for their livelihoods, this is essential to achieve poverty eradication and sustainable development.

In my view, if we really wish to bring poverty eradication and sustainable development together in one framework, we will need to devise goals and targets that bring about transformation towards a more sustainable, inclusive economy.

Universality

And in order to make this single framework work, we need to have all countries on board in this endeavour. Making the new framework universal is of fundamental importance. It brings the original values of the United Nations back to their essence: to act for the benefit of all people and the whole planet. Post 2015 framework could be as big a landmark in human history like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In practice this means that goals and targets should be universal in aspiration yet with flexibility to take national contexts and priorities into account.

But we would not want a completely different set of goals and targets for the developed world and another set for the emerging and developing countries.

Universality also means that this agenda will also apply to the developed world, such as us in the EU, and to emerging economies such as China and India.

We must make sure that there will be challenges for everybody, particularly on issues of sustainable development.

Let me give you just one specific example to consider – the "consumption explosion". Overall, the majority of negative environmental impacts of over-consumption come from the developed world and increasingly also from the emerging countries. Aspects of resource efficiency, waste, recycling, company sustainability, and so on, must be considered if this agenda is to be forward looking. This means looking not only at current levels of consumption impacts but also at likely predictions of future ones up to and beyond the period 2030.

Concluding remarks

I look forward to discussing with all of you on your views for the post 2015 agenda. I hope that in your reflections today and tomorrow there will be also an opportunity to think about transformation and universality in practice and how to bring about the change.

All of us, in governments and in civil society, policy makers at international, national and regional levels, consumers and businesses need to recognise that there is a role for us to play in ensuring an inclusive, sustainable future for all on our planet equally, and not just for a few. The responsibility lies with each one of us, in the developed countries as well as in the emerging and poorest economies.

***

Ladies and Gentlemen,

21st century is the century of fragility. Our task is to turn it into a century of sustainability. The stakes are high and our responsibility is enormous and increasing.

We cannot afford to miss this unique opportunity. EU is determined to be a constructive partner, delivering its fair share in this unavoidable global transformation to sustainability. The role of civil society in this transformation is crucial.

Thank you for your attention.


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