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Erik Solheim encourages positive can-do attitude at EU Summit on Sustainable Development


On 20 December 2016, Head  of UN Environment Erik Solheim took part in the European Commissions’ High-Level Policy Summit: "Europe's Response to Sustainability Challenges – Delivering the 2030 Agenda" hosted by The European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC).


The Summit, under the patronage of First European Commission Vice-President Frans TimmermansHer Majesty Queen Mathilde of the Belgians and Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, was organized as a follow-up to the European Commission's Communication on the Sustainable Development Goals, presented on 22 November 2016. This Communication lays out how EU policies and the Commission's 10 political priorities contribute to implementing the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It also sets out how the EU will meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the future.

Mr. Solheim participated in a panel discussion on Game Changers for Sustainable Development, alongside Marco Buti, Director-General, Economic and Financial Affairs, European Commission, Anita M. Schwarz, Lead Economist, Social Protection and Labor Global Practice, World Bank; Pieter Vanhuysse, Professor of Comparative Welfare State Research, University of Southern Denmark and Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer, AVIVA Investments.

Erik Solheim conveyed a message of hope and optimism before the current challenges the world is facing today.

In his view we are lucky to live in such times where we have the most educated generation ever and technological advancements. There is no challenge we are unable to face. As former United States President Franklin Roosevelt once said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

He stressed the significant meaning of a new vision for the European Union and the United Nations. Referring to the environment he underlined a plethora of best practices and the enormous progress made by countries, such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Morocco, India, China and Rwanda, that ought to inspire and motivate other states to implement effective environmental policies as well. The keyword should be “together” he said, “if we work together, we can solve everything.”

Mr Solheim outlined five overarching key priorities for UN Environment: pollution and human health; environment, conflict and migration; green finance and economy; wildlife protection and biodiversity, and oceans. According to predictions mentioned, the plastic pollution is so enormous that by 2050 there will be “more plastic in the global oceans than the weight of fish” and for this reason both states and the private sector should be mobilized. In relation to green finance he emphasized the need to move to green and  inclusive economies and “we need to regulate stock exchanges and central banks must regulate markets” in order to “drive this financial capital into green (economy)” as it provides enormous opportunities in the green agenda. After all, he stressed,  this is why the Paris Agreement was so important. It involved the business community’s sustainability ambitions alongside the creation of new jobs and prosperity.

In his view, the agenda may be wide and the challenges big; however with a positive can-do attitude, we are able to succeed again in the future, as we have done plenty of times during the past years. Finally, paraphrasing former United States President Abraham Lincoln, UN Environment Head closed his uplifting speech quoting that “if destroying mother Earth is not wrong, nothing is wrong”.

UN Environment’ work on Green financing was highlighted by other speakers in the panel. Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer, AVIVA Investments welcomed the groundbreaking work of UN Environment’s Inquiry into the development of sustainable financing, which he believed was the only UN initiative exploring and developing concrete action on this key issue.

To view a recording of Mr Solheim’s speech as well as the full conference click here.

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