The Green Economy: From Rochdale to Rio+20 Thu, Mar 29, 2012

Remarks By Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, at the SEED Symposium 2012 in Pretoria, South Africa.

Pretoria (South Africa), 29 March 2012—Thank you for inviting me to address the SEED Symposium.

Dr. AgostinhoZacarias, UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative

Richard Young, EU Delegation to South Africa

Valerie Geen, National Business Initiative

NomceboManzini, Regional Programme Director UN Women

Helen Marquad, Director of the SEED initiative

This Symposium and this awards ceremony means a lot to me personally as it connects winners from all around the world and the city of Pretoria with in many ways my home town of Rochdale in the County of Lancashire in the North of England.

For it was here, as a result of the poverty linked with aspects of the Industrial Revolution, that a movement called the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was born in 1844 to provide reasonably priced, healthy food to workers in the town to fend off starvation and privation.

The Rochdaleset of principles of co-operation provide the foundation for the principles on which co-ops around the world operate to this day.

Many of the SEED winners in this room will I am sure nod in empathy at the struggle of the 30 founding fathers of the Pioneers—it took them four months to raise the necessary 28 pounds sterling to get going.

But today co-operatives flourish right across the globe and the supermarket chain in the UK that bears the Co-Operative name still operates under those founding principles including new ones on the environment.

They were a potential SEED winner of their time—and living proof of what can be achieved from humble roots with a big idea that serves the needs of communities and tackles fundamental challenges.

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

UNEP attaches great importance to the SEED initiative and the social entrepreneurship which it fosters, supports, encourages and showcases.

I would like to thank the partners, UNDP and IUCN and also the financial support of the European Union and the high tech company Hisense for backing the awards and this Symposium.

It is one of the achievements of the partnership orientated World Summit on Sustainable Development of 2002 held in Johannesburg—which came ten years after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today's events come some three months before another landmark: Rio+20—20 years after that Rio Earth Summit that set the course of contemporary sustainable development.

It also comes in a world beset by challenges—environmental degradation, economic uncertainty and social unrest not least among the young facing high levels of unemployment and underemployment across the developing but also the developed world.

Yet equally a world alight with opportunities, many of which are illuminated by the fresh thinking, determination, vision and courage of the enterprises involved in SEED.

How can Rio+20 deliver new energy and purpose while providing the transformational policies, the creative financing and the options needed to implement the ideals and foundations laid in Rio two decades ago?

And do this in ways that minimize the challenges and the risks while unlocking the potential of seven billion people, rising to over nine billion by 2050.

UNEP's contribution to the debate and to the analysis has been to catalyze a broad based initiative called the Green Economy.

Indeed one of the two overarching themes for Rio+20 has become a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

Any new concept is, if powerful and persuasive open to sometimes fierce debate because in its own seeds are disruption to existing mind sets, ways of doing business and comfort zones.

The Green Economy is no exception –for some it has been perceived as pathways towards implementation of sustainable development.

For other it has been viewed variously as the Emperor's green new clothes or a way of 'commoditzing' nature.

Last month, ministers responsible for the environment met in UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya for their annual meeting known as the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum.

It was clear that while the debate continues, it is less focused on polarized views of the Green Economy and more on ways of realizing it.

For much of Africa, the traction in favour of the aims and directions of a Green Economy hasfound wide-spread support for some time now.

In part because Africa understands the wealth of its natural and nature-based resources and the way the past and existing economic models have all too often undervalued that weath and the multi-trillion dollar services it provides to this Continent and the world.

And in part, because and with Africa's development now taking off, its leaders, private sector and civil society are glimpsing a development path that can leap frog the dirty development path of the industrialized world.

Indeed many African states have been pursuing aspects of the Green Economy across many of its ten key sectors for more than two years including in the host country of the SEED Symposium, South Africa where policies are being put in place to boost the uptake of renewable energy to more sophisticated management of key ecosystems.

UNEP is delighted to have been asked by the government of South Africa to join them on this journey and since 2011 have been supporting the government with Green Economy Advisory Services.

South Africa's new UN Development Assistance Framework or UNDAF includes a green economy dimension.

It is a similar story elsewhere, from the introduction of feed-in tariffs in Kenya that are catalyzing geothermal and wind power to ones in Uganda that have made it one of the global powerhouses for the cultivation of organic produce—and in doing so raised farmers' incomes three fold in many cases, assisted in overcoming poverty and reducing environmental degradation.

What the Green Economy work is in many ways underlining, is that simply putting profit as the sole barometer or measure of progress is short changing the social and environmental pillars of sustainable development.

An economy that fails to generate jobs or fails to generate social outcomes is unlikely to be a successful economy over the medium to long term.

Equally an economy that grows at the expense of its environmental assets—life support systems—is also unlikely to flourish as scarcities and shocks disrupt its productive base.

Ladies and gentlemen, governments have a core responsibility to lay out a landscape that encourages sustainability.

But it is the businesses, local authorities and communities that in many ways have to realize that sustainability in the context of government policies and realities on the ground.

In the past the world looked to multinationals and national champions to in many ways be the engines of growth.

But in many parts of the world the innovation and the answers to a sustainable century are emerging among the small and socially aware enterprises that are recognized through awards like SEED.

The challenge for the international community and for government policy is how to assist such enterprises overcome the not inconsiderable hurdles that existing economic and developmental models can all too often put in their way.

From sustainable financing to access to markets—from currency exchange risks that can discourage overseas investors to skills shortage or marketing skills.

Meanwhile, how does the world accelerate and scale-up the transformations so self-evident and showcased by SEED winners and others pursuing similar paths.

This is at the heart of the challenge but also the opportunity of Rio+20 under the Green Economy but also the other overarching theme—an institutional framework for sustainable development.

For while we need a bottom up to use the jargon, we also need a top to which grassroots and bottom up approaches can aim.

The good news about Rio+20 is that it will not be a summit of negotiating the minutiae of documents and texts—the aim is for broad but transformational cooperative agreements between governments on so called 'big ticket' items.

Phasing down or phasing out fossil fuel subsidizes that can liberate some $600 billion a year for investments in renewable energies, or schools or other socially, economically and environmental desirable activities.

Agreeing that a new indicator of wealth, beyond the narrowness of GDP, is needed to capture all three pillars of sustainable development is another likely outcome.

Over the coming few, remaining months the voice of business both small and large needs to be articulated and heard as does the voice of civil society including women, indigenous peoples and cities.

To date those voices have been somewhat muted, especially when compared with the Rio Earth Summit of 1992.

In a world of increasing water scarcity, rising land degradation and loss or productive farm land and where extreme weather events can disrupt supply chains at a stroke driving up food prices almost overnight, countries, communities and enterprises that become more resource efficient and who support their communities are likely to be the ones that thrive in a 21st century world.

This will happen by design or default—you as part of the SEED initiative network already have many of the big ideas designed, tested and working in the real world.

I would encourage you to bring your collective, wisdom, your acumen and your voices to the Rio+20 table in order to enrich the dialogue and inspire a new generation of leaders to make the kind of decisions that will fulfill the ambition and the promises of a previous generation that met two decades ago.

Thank You

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