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Remarks by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director to 30th Annual Conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA10)

"The Role of Impact Assessment in Transitioning to the Green Economy"

hosted by UNEP

International Conference Centre Geneva (CICG)

6-11th April 2010

Mrs. Michele Kunzler, State Council, Republic and State of Geneva,

Mr. Gerard Poffet, Vice-Director, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment

Mr. Lars Lundquist, Head of Packaging Science and Environment, Nestlé

Mr. Nick Taylor, President of IAIA

Mr Hussein Abaza, former head of UNEP's Economics and Trade Branch,

Sponsors, distinguished delegates, members of the United Nations family, ladies and gentlemen,

Today we make a little bit of history with UNEP being the first ever UN agency to host this important association and gathering of impact assessment professionals and experts.

There is every reason to imagine even more significant history to be made through a deeper alliance between you, UNEP and the United Nations in general.

The theme of this conference, "The Role of Impact Assessment in Transitioning to the Green Economy", echoes to the 21st century need to turn sustainability into a living, breathing reality for six billion people rising to over nine billion by 2050.

The challenges are legion, but so are the opportunities.

Indeed it is in part the starkness of the place in which the world finds itself in the second decade of this new century that has perhaps lifted the lids off the eyes of many to a fundamental reality.

The status quo, the economic models of the 20th century, are unlikely to assist in achieving the multiple goals the international community has set ranging from combating climate change to supplying freshwater, sufficient food and overcoming poverty.

Indeed it is clear that a fresh and more sophisticated lens and strategy is needed if we are collectively thrive, let alone survive over the coming years and decades.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am sure many of you in this room are familiar with the philosophy and with the context of the Green Economy Initiative.

So please indulge me if I briefly outline its genesis, its raison d'etre and its current dynamics and direction.

2008-the Launch of the Global Green New Deal/Green Economy Initiative

UNEP launched the Global Green New Deal/Green Economy Initiative in 2008 at the height of the global financial and economics crisis.

It came hard on the heels of the fuel and food, or food price crisis.

And it was also informed by the mounting scientific evidence underpinning the looming climate crisis and the natural resource scarcity one blipping on the radar.

The basic thrust was to bring the latest economics foreword to inform governments of two opportunities.

One: that a significant slice of the multi trillion dollar stimulus packages being lined up could, if targeted at environmental investments, be deployed to rev up or resuscitate the global economy while also assisting in addressing persistent and emerging challenges.

Two: that such investments, allied to smart market mechanisms and creative fiscal measures, could set the stage for a transition to a low carbon, far more resource efficient global Green Economy.

What has been the result?

The various reports, produced in collaboration with a wide range of partners including leading economists and economic think-tanks, have stimulated not only wide-ranging and searching debate, but real and in many places decisive action.

Indeed the principles, vision, goals and arguments have gained traction across capital cities world-wide.

A Global Green New Deal report, released to coincide with UNEP's annual gathering of environment ministers in February last year, recommended that one per cent of global GDP or somewhere under a third of the global stimulus packages, might assist in the transition.

The Republic of Korea, for example, is investing over 90 per cent of its stimulus in areas such as low carbon investments alongside ones in recycling to environmental protection.

Around a third of China's close to $650 billion is green in nature ranging from investment in high speed rail links to energy efficiency and renewables.

High percentage investments have also been earmarked in the European Union and in the United States.

There are many, many more examples and while there remains in many countries a gap between the recommendations and the ambition, a transformational start has certainly been made.

Furthermore, relevant bodies and fora from the G20 to the OECD ministerial meetings have underlined green growth and the green economy as an important new direction.

The UN Secretary-General and the UN system as a whole has also leant their wholehearted support.

From Global to National-from Theory to Implementation

Ladies and gentlemen, what started off as an idea at what one might call the meta level is now fast devolving down to the national setting.

Many economies, including a large number of developing ones, are now requesting assistance on how best to tailor a Green Economy to their often differing developmental, social and environmental departure points and circumstances.

And this is right across the sectors identified by the Green Economy partnership including clean energy and cities to transport and agriculture and what I would term ecological infrastructure-forests, wetlands, soils and so on.

At UNEP's last Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum held in Bali two months ago, the world's environment ministers requested impact assessments as one key to realizing a Green Economy.

The Green Economy will also take centre stage next month in New York when governments meet to prepare the Rio+20 conference scheduled for 2012.

To date, close to 30 countries have requested UNEP's assistance towards making the Green Economy a reality in their economic planning and development strategies.

Indeed today we are announcing a scoping study on the potential for sustainable agriculture-with an emphasis on organic production-for countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

One request among several being fulfilled.

This new initiative builds on several Integrated Assessment of Trade-related Policies and Biodiversity in the Agricultural Sector that have recently been shaping up.

Let me mention one:

With financial support from the European Commission and the Swedish development agency, six developing countries have been assisted in assessing agricultural policies and plans in the context of trade liberalization with a particular emphasis on the implications for biodiversity

The assessment process adopted a novel way of dovetailing with the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment so that broad aims were blended in order to jointly maximize profits and sustainability.

For example trade and agriculture were balanced with ecosystem services, biodiversity and human well-being.

In Cameroon the assessment looked at liberalization and growth strategies in the cocoa sector.

The potential biodiversity benefits of existing agro-forestry systems, as well as the potential for expansion of these has led to the development of a strategic plan for the promotion of products from agro-forestry.

In Madagascar the assessment has promoted the role of certification and quality standards in shrimp production that can maintain both high-quality shrimp and a promotion of sustainability standards.

An overall conclusion of the work is that systems for labeling and certification- while entailing some additional investment-can enhance market access, secure higher prices and promote the establishment of sustainable production systems that also support biodiversity targets.

The IAIA-the Role of the Professional in Embedding the Green Economy

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentleman this is something of a potted history.

But it hopefully brings us fairly and squarely to the point as to why UNEP is looking to this important association and its professional membership for support, guidance and indeed partnership.

The Green Economy has rapidly evolved from the theoretical and global, to the national and practical.

Its implementation depends in large part in a fresh framing of choices in terms of development so they capture the full suite of opportunities and challenges rather than a narrow set.

This in turn can assist a minister of environment to a minister of transport, planning, finance and indeed a president to make a far more informed decision that perhaps hitherto had been the case.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Some call them Strategic Environmental Assessments; others use the term Integrated Assessments and now I understand we are perhaps in the realm of Integrated Policymaking.

(UNEP's Economic and Trade Branch tell me they are now into Integrated Policy Assessments and only last week, during the first intergovernmental meeting to prepare UNEP's flagship Global Environment Outlook-5, the phase was Integrated Environmental Assessments!)

Whatever the term, the historical perspective has been to perhaps focus more on the down-side of a policy or development choice and perhaps mitigate these negative impacts.

How Might We Characterize a Brown Versus a Green Economy Impact Assessment?

Take fossil fuel subsidizes-an impact assessment of the old school might look at how such subsidizes actually increase fossil fuel use and carbon emissions.

Might also assess the impact on the public purse, the way they act as a disincentive for investments in renewable energy and how they might foster social inequity with the rich rather than the poor tending to benefit.

So how does an assessment in a Green Economy world differ?

Again I think the word is opportunity, and multiple opportunities at that: a sense of the wider, broader implications and benefits not just the draw-backs.

And perhaps a longer term perspective of choice: perhaps even notions of the intergenerational implications of policy-decisions taken by those responsible today.

The increasingly popular feed-in tariff might be an example:

Its economic and social impacts may include an increase in renewable energy; improved and rapid access to electricity; reduced air pollution with all the benefits to human health, freshwaters, forests and other ecosystems including agricultural ones.

Feed-in tariffs might also catalyze technology transfer and access to patented energy technologies.

However, such choices also have wider policy implications. For example unless the existing grid is up dated, a country may not be able to absorb the additional megawatts leading to financial waste.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am sure that this is an over simplification of where we are, and where we need to go.

I am also sure that there are already projects that are moving towards or factoring in these wider dimensions in order to inform decision-makers.

Mega infrastructure projects such as China's or America's planned high speed rail links need to be a case in point.

The Green Economy would favour these in principle: but which routes balance economic, social and environmental interests and which destinations?

There is a very live debate in Kenya, where UNEP is headquartered, concerning energy.

Some companies and policy-makers are keen to buy in fossil fuel power plants to bridge an urgent energy gap in the economy.

The economics look attractive at first glance. But fail to factor in the enormous running costs in a country without oil, gas or coal.

Whereas geothermal, solar and wind energy are abundant and essentially free, indigenous, natural fuels.

And what about dams, how far do the assessments factor in the livelihoods of those downstream versus the direct beneficiaries?

Ladies and gentlemen, many of you in the audience carry out the assessments.

These can surely only be as good as the consensus and ideally peer reviewed data available.

The economics of the environment are currently undergoing a revolution that in turn can inform those assessments such that an ever wider group of externalities are internalized.

UNEP's Green Economy Initiative is part of this learning curve.

And The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is another facet of this new knowledge generation.

Funded by among others the European Commission, Germany, Norway and the UK, it is taking the invisibility of the world's natural or nature-based assets into the visible spectrum.

TEEB's final report will be launched before the Convention on Biological Diversity's big meeting in Nagoya, Japan later in the year.

But let me perhaps leave you with one fact from TEEB's interim report.

Across the tropics, mangroves are being cleared for shrimp farms. On the surface the economics and perhaps the impacts look good, they favour farmed shrimp.

Indeed subsidized commercial shrimp farms can generate returns of around US$1,220 per hectare by clearing mangrove forests.

But according to a TEEB study from Thailand this does not take into account the deficits to local communities totaling over US$12,000 a hectare linked with losses of wood and non-wood forest products, fisheries and coastal protection services.

Nor does the profit to the commercial operators take into account the costs of rehabilitating the abandoned sites after five years of exploitation - estimated at over US$9,000 a hectare.

And perhaps I can add another tier of complexity here.

Last year, UNEP in partnership with scientists, the Food and Agricultural Organization and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and IUCN issued its Blue Carbon report.

It estimated that mangroves, sea grasses and salt marshes may be absorbing greenhouse gas emissions equal to half the world's transport emissions.

The report also estimated that up to seven percent of these 'blue carbon sinks' are being lost annually, or seven times the rate of loss of 50 years ago.

Again, do we have the true economics and the impact assessments right?

If you factor the fish nursery, coastal defense, water purification and now climate sequestration-functions of these marine ecosystems into the bottom line, it surely argues in favour of conservation rather than clearance.

Not on sentimental or protectionists ground, but on hard nose economic, wider impact evaluation and ultimately sustainability ones.

Surely governments and policy-makers need these kinds of factors, encapsulated in impact assessments, upon which to base decisions?

UNEP Providing Data-Professionals Making the Green Economy Case on the Ground

So ladies and gentlemen,

UNEP and its partners can assist in the data collection; the case studies and through our scientific networks the best available peer review.

You are our natural allies on bringing this to the regional and the national in terms of development policies and practical projects on the ground-small, large and mega.

The Green Economy is, certainly on my radar, emerging almost everywhere but at different speeds, scale and levels of enthusiasm.

It is time to catalyze and embed its take up across the globe from the international level down to the community project.

There will always be powerful, vested interests that try and dictate the future: that try and ride rough-shod over the future of the many in favour of the few.

The Green Economy can-if brought into the cabinet rooms, board rooms and town hall chambers with sufficient precision and inspiration-offer a reasoned, articulate anti-dote, to the vacuum of the status quo.

Together, and through impact assessments, it offers a powerful, clearer direction for the sustainability course that is the only possible key stone for more than 190 nations' mutual futures.

Thank you for inviting me to address you today. The Green Economy is potentially a new and sustainable engine for growth and decent employment.

Today we can embark on making it ever more operational and, like any thorough bred, set about the kind of fine-tuning that will ensure it stays the course.

Thank you