UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner at New Environmentalism Summit: Environmentalists are on "the right side of history"
Brussels, 3 June 2014 –UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner was invited to speak at the New Environmentalism Summit on 3 June 2014, the first day of the European Commission-organised Green Week conference. The purpose of the summit was to bring together celebrities, former politicians, business leaders, media, and other personalities to discuss why we have not collectively made the necessary breakthroughs in dealing with environmental challenges and how we might do so in the future.
Speaking alongside other environmentalist figures such as European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnick, Professor and UN Special Adviser on the Millennium Development Goals Jeffrey Sachs, Director General of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Marco Lambertini, and filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Mr. Steiner reassured the efforts of environmental activists as being on the “right side of history.” He gave an optimistic perspective on the future of environmentalism, which he explained should be more focused on integrating humans in nature and all processes associated to it. “It is the people who will be at the centre of trying to determine whether an environmentally sustainable future will happen or not.“
“But as always we need to evolve our narrative,” he said. He went on to say: “Environmentalism today is less and less about choice – the choice we used to have about ‘do we protect this forest? do we protect this wetland? do we clean this river?’ - they have become imperatives, imperatives for survival, economic, business imperatives even if some have not yet accepted it (…) It is also about moving beyond the notion of demonizing economics.” We need to make best use of economics to try to explain why we act in a certain way.
"We are faced with a civilisational challenge" he told the audience and the decisions to be taken today will have an impact on the future of five generations from now. This new era of environmentalism calls for a new consciousness, one that brings us back to a fundamental ethic, a responsibility to act for one another.
While the problems such as climate change are known, we must now articulate more the solutions, "and we are actually quite good at it", Mr Steiner said, noting the breakthroughs in developing new renewable energy infrastructure for instance.
For transformation to succeed, he advocated to look also in particular at how to change the rules of the game of capital financial markets in order “to address the fact that no government is able to finance the necessary transition in the energy, transport, urban infrastructure, needed, through public financing alone,” and announced a study he commissioned that will come out next year entitled “Inquiry into sustainable financing.” He called to become more intelligent in addressing the issue of financing. In his view we can guide where the money will be invested to make the change.
Mr Steiner further embraced the extraordinary technological advances and communications networking possibilities of our times, that “provide an extraordinary array of positive and forward looking opportunities."
Finally, he told of his admiration for those who have moved and shaped the new environmentalism over time, already back in the 70s. The environmentalism of the 21st century to which James Murray refers, is gaining in strength every day he said. "This tradition is one of the innovative forces of our society" and “each one of you should be extremely proud of being part of if you are, or extremely attracted to if you are not yet” he concluded.