Remarks by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director at TUNZA International Youth Conference 2013 Opening Mon, Feb 11, 2013

Health and the Environment

Nairobi, 11 February 2013 - Let me first say how delighted I am to see so many young people here at UNEP's headquarters for the Tunza Youth Conference.

Some of you have made marathon journeys to get here and others have made it by bus.

But no matter where you are from, you share a common passion and a common conviction to share ideas and make the change the world so urgently needs.

UNEP attaches great importance to its youth engagement - you are the future leaders, movers and shakers on a planet where the science tells us there is a great deal of fresh and forward-looking leadership needed.

Where we need to move at a far faster pace to resolve the challenges before seven billion people

And where sometimes we need to shake governments, business, cities and others out of complacency, past patterns of development and sometimes paralysis about what can be achieved.

Let's face it, no country is on a path to anywhere like a sustainable future - but let's also acknowledge that there is a lot more going on than many realize.

Just last week the Guardian newspaper reported that over the last three months in Spain wind farms produced more electricity than any other power source for the first time ever-amounting to a quarter of the country's power generation.

Carbon dioxide emissions fell by 13% in the past five years in the United States, because of new energy-saving technologies and a doubling in the take-up of renewable energy.

  • In 2011, nearly half of the 208 gigawatts of electric capacity added globally came from renewables - avoiding the need for 700 coal power plants

China is expected to investment over $1 trillion in the green economy including renewable over its latest five-year plan

  • In 2010, more than 200 million households worldwide used solar water heaters, compared to 50 million in 2007

As a result of government policy, the 50,000 solar water heaters in Barbados saved the country over $63 million in foreign exchange in 2010

In Germany, on 25 May 2012, solar power generated 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour, enough to meet half of national electricity demand

  • In 2011, investment in renewable energy surpassed investment in fossil fuel capacity, even though, globally, subsidies for renewables were $88 billion compared to $523 billion for fossil fuels.
  • By 2011, the renewable energy industry worldwide employed 5 million people, (about 3 times as many as in 2004); nearly 1.5 million additional jobs created in 2012
  • The 1.2 million rural solar home systems installed in Bangladesh by 2011 created an estimated 60,000 jobs in the solar sector
  • Actions to reduce deforestation rates in Brazil over recent years have made that country the one with perhaps the biggest emission reduction of any nation in the world.
  • In Kenya, there is a rapid expansion of geothermal electricity underway with the aim of more than 1,200 MW by 2018

There are many, many more encouraging signs that a transition to a low carbon Green Economy is underway.

Is it enough, no but it is good start towards the Future We Want which is where you come in.

We need renewable energy but the world needs your energy more than ever.

Indeed it is my desire that when you leave the Tunza conference here this week that you take the fire lit in your various meetings and debates and ignite it back home in your communities and countries.

It can be in organizing a youth moment, a lobbying organization or the setting up of a green entrepreneurial business like the many showcased in Tunza Acting for a Better World: GEO-5 for Youth which you are launching today.

Or perhaps through the world of academia in fields such as engineering or natural resource management or economics, you can catalyse positive change or perhaps as sports men and woman, musicians you can combine one love with the love for the environment.

I have, if you don't mind, a few asks around which I would hope you can mobilize.

Climate change - later this week we will have the pleasure of Christiana Figueres coming to the UNEP Governing Council.

Christiana is the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and she has a tough job right now trying to get over 190 countries agree to a new climate treaty by 2015.

Can we mobilize Tunza youth behind her endeavors so that a strong and meaningful agreement is swiftly put in place and nations are more accountable for what they have signed up to?

At the very least, use social media and other communication avenues to back her work and support her team as they navigate these deep waters over the next few and very short years.

We have to get a deal that really will keep a global temperature rise under 2 degrees C this century - combating climate is do-able: all the science and research UNEP is producing shows that to be the case.

Secondly Tunza magazine - I know you were asked to bring copies from your countries of your favourite youth publication.

During your brainstorming, please provide concrete and creative suggestions how we can make Tunza magazine more up to date and funky if you will.

And thirdly food waste.

A few weeks ago UNEP and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN launched Think-Eat-Save: Reduce Your Foodprint!

It is a new global campaign to reduce the 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost and wasted every year - at least a third of all the food grown simply never gets to peoples' tummies.

It is an ethical, economic and very much an environmental scandal and there are lots of reasons behind it.

Supermarkets that do not think we want to buy funny-shaped potatoes or bananas with a brown fleck on their skin.

Or labels that lead to us throwing perfectly good milk down the drain cause we think it is off - when it takes 1,000 litres of water to grow the crops, to feed the cow to make 1 litre of milk.

Or power outages in East Africa than means more than a fifth of all the fish caught off the coast spoils cause refrigeration systems go down.

We need the Tunza network to get behind this campaign to build awareness of this frankly stupid situation.

Please go to the web site to learn more

It will be the central theme of World Environment Day 2013 5 June.

And finally water - the UN Secretary General has requested youth world-wide to initiative a campaign on water - perhaps through the lens of the Think-Eat-Save campaign or another pathway you can support this aim.

All of these issues dovetail with the central theme of this conference - Health and the Environment.

Let me wrap up here by saying that I hope you find the next few days fun and inspirational and that you enjoy the grounds and atmosphere of this very unique UN headquarters.

And also by thanking our partner Bayer who have been supporting Tunza many years.

Next week the world's environment ministers will be here, meeting some eight months after Rio+20 where I know some of you were also in June last year.

Big UN conferences can sometimes prove frustrating when you know what the problem is but there seems to be a lack of energy or cooperation to fix things.

Yet Rio+20 did have a few positive outcomes which if really implemented could change our current unsustainable path.

The enablement of the Green Economy, a determination by a club of governments to start buying eco-friendly goods and services and a decision to work toward a new and more inclusive set of targets for the world - the Sustainable Development Goals.

Last but not least upgrading and strengthening UNEP - your platform for engagement, your headquarters for environmental action and very much your home this week and beyond.

I look forward to your youth statement to be presented to the 1st ever universal session of the UNEP governing council.

I want to thank each and every one of you for your participation at this conference and to our partners represented here for your continued support and work to strengthen young people's awareness and engagement on the environment.

And with these few remarks....I would like to call upon our partner Frans Labuschagne from Bayer to say some words.

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