Remarks by Achim Steiner to Annual Meeting of the Eco-Forum Global 2013 Mon, Jul 22, 2013

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director

Guiyang, 20 July 2013 - Thank you for inviting me to address the 5th Eco-Forum.

I have been asked to address the issue of the Green Economy-or to give it its full title from the outcome of last year's Rio+20 Summit in Brazil, the Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

These elements are important because the greening of the economy is not just an environmental agenda. It is a vehicle for delivering growth and prosperity that also provides positive social outcomes such as improved human health and decent jobs.

It is also a vehicle and a pathway towards a world in which natural capital or nature-based assets are well-managed rather than mined, and are understood as among the fundamentals underpinning wealth across cultures and society.

China's concept of eco-civilization also echoes to a further dimension that should not be ignored?namely the cultural and spiritual values of nature and human dignity within societies.

These are concepts that many intuitively understand in China and beyond.

It is good to give them expression in your over-arching theme because they are values and concepts of quality, not just quantity of life, that unite us all and link generations. They are beyond profit and loss.

Let me also congratulate the leaders of the city of Guiyang?an urban centre in a rapidly developing economy that is part of a worldwide cities movement towards the aims and aspirations of a low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy.

Honourable delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

We meet here just over a year after the Rio+20 Summit and its outcomes, and less than two years from two major and intertwined events.

These are the launching of a suite of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that build on the Millennium Development Goals while forming part of the post-2015 development agenda, and the urgent need to deliver a universal and meaningful climate agreement by 2015 so that it can become operational in 2020.

The global challenge and opportunity underpinning both of these is this: how do we grow economies while decoupling that development from natural resource use?

The UNEP-hosted International Resource Panel estimates that on current trends the world will triple that resource use by 2050?an unsustainable path if ever there was one.

Rio+20 has given the international community new or modernized tools to achieve this:

  • The Green Economy, which speaks in many ways to the policies, financial flows and pathways needed to achieve this: from feed-in tariffs for renewables to subsidies reforms in respect to fisheries.

  • The 10 Year Framework of Programmes (10YFP) for Sustainable Consumption and Production, given the green light in Rio, is taking forward specific actions, project and initiatives in support of these aims.

UNEP and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN earlier this year launched Think Eat Save: Reduce Your Foodprint?an international campaign to cut the at least one third of all food that is currently wasted and lost.

This is in direct support of the agri-food theme of the 10 YFP and I would like to thank the estimated half a billion people in China who have supported and are supporting us through, for example, 'Operation Clean up Your Empty Plates'?a social media campaign on Weibo?in the run up to, during and since World Environment Day 2013.

There will be many foundations, pillars and building blocks to a green economy and an ecological civilization; food and the way we manage agriculture and food supplies will be a critical one.

The issue here at this meeting for China and for countries worldwide is where do we go from here?

China and the Green Economy

China is showing real leadership on a wide range of activities contributing to a green economy transition - from wind, solar and other renewable energies to the environmental industry sector.

A UNEP report to be released shortly will confirm this by revealing the following:

  • In 2012 alone, renewable energy investment in China totaled US$ 67.7 billion - the highest in the world and double the level the country was investing in 2009.

  • Investments in industrial energy efficiency have been particularly effective, resulting in a 19.1 per cent fall in energy intensity per unit of GDP between 2006 and 2010.

  • The cement sector, a major contributor to CO2 emissions, was successful in increasing its efficiency; for example, the energy required to produce a tonne of cement fell by over 40 per cent during this time.

  • For the first time, China's Five Year Plan, its 12th, has introduced a target for carbon emissions. This target calls for reducing the carbon intensity per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels.

  • China also plans to produce 15 per cent of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020 and only a few days ago it was announced that China will quadruple its solar power.

  • Recent announcements also include plans to build a unified certification system for low-carbon products that will boost green goods, while lowering energy consumption and carbon emissions.

  • The Ministry of Environmental Protection also recently announced plans to impose pollution emission caps on six industries and coal-fired furnace plants in 47 major cities. Those failing to comply with the new standards risk being closed.

China has also developed forward-looking policy frameworks to support a green economy transformation. For example, incentives such as feed-in-tariffs, subsidies and tax advantages already exist and are helping stimulate green investment, as are strict regulations to help phase out inefficient plants, halt water pollution and improve waste management.

However significant challenges remain, as you all know.

For example China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases - accounting for 10 per cent of the world's output in 2011.

Local pollution, particularly to air but also to water, is putting a strain on China's growth. It is estimated that 90 per cent of the country's urban water bodies are polluted, and outdoor pollution is estimated to contribute to 1.2 million premature deaths per year.

So while a green economy transformation is underway, the challenge is to accelerate and scale-up this transition and transformation.

Earlier this year, UNEP launched a new UN-wide Partnership for Action on Green Economy called PAGE, along with ILO, UNIDO and UNITAR.

Between now and 2020, this partnership aims to help 30 countries' accelerate their transition to socially inclusive, resource efficient and low carbon economies by offering them a comprehensive suite of tools and resources to reach their sustainable development goals.

Last month, Mongolia was announced as the first PAGE country, and others will follow in the coming months.

Meanwhile many countries in Africa like Kenya and South Africa are jump-starting their economies with green strategies and polices. In South America, several countries such as Peru have put "natural capital" and the environment at the heart of their development plans.

In the Asia-Pacific region, numerous countries such as the Republic of Korea and Vietnam are developing their own unique green economy plans.

China is also playing a significant role in South-South Cooperation and is a key contributor to this year's Global South-South Development Expo, which will be held at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi.

The evolution of the green economy to what one might term green economy 2.0 is now a priority for UNEP in respect to its engagement with partners such as the Government of China.

The policies and actions here and across the globe can assist member states of the UN as they devise and refine their plans for the Sustainable Development Goals, not least by underpinning them with green economy pathways and indicators.

The green economy can also underpin support and a sense of optimism that greenhouse gas emissions can be brought down to levels that will keep a global temperature rise this century under 2 degrees C.

UNEP would like to congratulate China on achievements to date, its openness to engage on these critical global issues and its commitment to seek solutions.

UNEP looks forward to continuing its long-time partnership with China, as the country continues to drive innovation and investment in building green economic models that will support a global transition to a sustainable eco-civilization. Thank you.

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