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Address by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director at the First Official Meeting of Ministers of Environment of the BRICS Countries

Developing Green Economies for Sustainability and Competitiveness    

Moscow, 22 APRIL, 2015- Your Excellency Sergey Donskoy, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation.

Your Excellencies:

Izabella Teixeira, Minister of Environment, Brazil;

Shri Prakash Javadekar, Minister of State for the Environment, Forest & Climate Change, India;

Chen Jining. Minister of Environmental Protection, the People's Republic of China

Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, the Republic of South Africa

Esteemed guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

To begin, I would like to offer your Excellencies my warmest congratulations for the convening of the first BRICS Ministerial meeting on the Environment. I wish this inspiring initiative, whose seeds were sown at the inaugural UNEA last June, enduring success.

It is indeed a privilege to address this distinguished gathering and I extend my appreciation to you and the Russian Federation, our generous hosts, for this kind invitation.

UNEP has worked closely with BRICS nations though the past years, witnessing first-hand the leadership, vision and determination by BRICS governments to embrace a bold transition towards low carbon resource efficiency, inclusive green economic growth and overall sustainable development.

From Russia's energy-saving policies and India's ambitious renewable energy targets and forest-based budgeting to South Africa's Green Fund, Brazil's Sao Paulo sub-national green economy initiative and China's implementation of the Ecological Civilization, BRICS nations have been pioneering the green economy transition.

The establishment of environmental public-private partnership mechanisms in the context of the BRICS, taking the Saint Petersburg Initiative into account, will undoubtedly expedite and further strengthen the transition and will serve as a platform for knowledge sharing, technology transfer and investment.

Innovative financial mechanisms under the BRICS, such as the soon-to-be launched New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserves Arrangement, have the potential to not only ease short-term liquidity pressure and contribute to international financial stability, but also has the potential to construct an enduring green infrastructure, longer term competitiveness for the BRICS economies and strengthen South-South cooperation.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

2015 is a momentous year for sustainable development.

The coming months will determine how the development priorities of developing and emerging economies are articulated and reflected in the context of global negotiations.

In July, the world will hopefully agree on new means to align global financing with sustainable development priorities (at the 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa), just months ahead of the crucial SDGs Summit in New York, which will define a path for the next generation of development. At the year's end, a new legally-binding and universal agreement on climate change will be negotiated and hopefully agreed at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP21, in Paris.

The work undertaken through the BRICS platform will undoubtedly influence these processes, unlocking myriad opportunities for future welfare, prosperity and development.

I recall in this context the Fortaleza Declaration and Action Plan, adopted at the Sixth BRICS Summit last July, where leaders reaffirmed their commitments to cooperate on environmental issues, including a successful agreement on climate change at COP21; a commitment to support the SDG process and Post-2015 Development Agenda - in line with the Rio principles on sustainable development; and to promote the deployment of clean energy and energy efficient technologies - taking into account national policies, priorities and resources.

Unlocking Climate Finance

As world governments intensify efforts to achieve a global agreement on climate change in time for the Paris Conference, it is no exaggeration that success in Paris will largely depend on progress and agreement on the issue of climate finance; and the prospect of mobilizing it at the required pace and scale.

Tackling climate change requires economic transformation and a re-channeling of private finance.

There is no silver bullet for the mobilisation of private climate finance, which ranges from micro-scale roof-top solar voltaic installations to large-scale offshore wind parks; from the restoration of ecosystems such as mangrove systems to the climate-proofing of large man-made infrastructure.

Equally varied is the private financial landscape spanning everything from micro-finance institutions, from domestic banks to large infrastructure financiers and institutional investors.

Pathways to Scale

Following the financial crisis, increasing focus is being placed on how the financial system can fulfill its underlying purpose to serve the long-term health of the global economy.

If brought to scale, the US $300+ trillion global financial system could help close the widening gap in sustainable development investment.

Yet, financial markets do not tend to effectively price environmental resources, with the result that the value of natural capital stocks such as clean air, productive soils and abundant water continues to fall in 116 out of 140 countries across the world.

This comes clear in the work of UNEP's Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, which draws on work undertaken in 12 countries and across a range of critical sectors such as banking, insurance, investment and securities.

The Inquiry, launched in early 2014, explores what will potentially be one of the most important contemporary changes in our international economic and development landscape: in other words, the reshaping of our global financial system to fit the needs of sustainable development financing.

Our aim is clear: to speed the transition to an inclusive sustainable economy.

To do so, we need to channel trillions of dollars annually into green investment and many more trillions away from pollutant and natural resource-intensive investment.

The fact remains that today`s financial systems - the banks and the pension funds among others - are financing increasing amounts of environmentally damaging investments, and inadequate green investments.

Meeting this challenge, in a nutshell, requires the mobilization of large amounts of private capital.

Even China, with one of the world`s strongest fiscal positions, estimates that less than 20 per cent of its annual US S$350 billion incremental green-financing needs can be met through the use of public revenues.

In a marked break with the past, developing nations are playing a leading role in this all-important reshaping, notably those with major economies and rapidly developing financial and capital markets.

Brazil`s central bank has established environmental risk management requirements for banks, and is working with market actors in establishing how environmental lender liability might improve both environmental outcomes to Brazil and financial returns to the banks.

The People`s Bank of China has established a Green Finance Task Force, co-convened with the UNEP Inquiry, and is working with dozens of public agencies and market actors on developing 14 sets of proposals for enhancing green financing through policy, regulatory and market innovations.

South Africa`s stock exchange has led globally in requiring listed companies to report on their sustainability performance, The country`s pension fund legislation has led the way in requiring pension fund trustees to take sustainability factors into account in making investment decisions on behalf of intended beneficiaries.

Beyond the BRICS nations, Indonesia`s integrated financial regulator, OJK, has delivered a world-first in establishing a ten year Roadmap for Sustainable Finance.

Perhaps it is not surprising that developing countries are leading the way. After all, it is these countries that experience the worst effects of environmental degradation and climate change; impacting health, livelihoods and costing life.

Beyond this, however, are two further reasons for such leadership that I would like to highlight:

Firstly, development banks in emerging economies are built on the principle that financial systems exist to promote development. This is distinct from the OECD model that sees the financial system mainly as an economic sector rather than a development enabler.

Secondly, financial systems in developing countries are evolving rapidly, and so the challenge is to design forward routes, not to retro fit highly developed systems that are present across much of the OECD.

Green bonds, for example, can become part of the development of China`s bond markets, just as environmental and social considerations can be designed from the outset, and so more effectively, into the BRICS New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank.

In a year such as 2015 when securing financing for sustainability - both broadly and for climate related actions - is such a critical theme and ambition, the opportunity exists to go beyond identifying additional resources for sustainable development' to shaping the contours of a new international financial system; one that is fit for the needs of an inclusive, sustainable, 21st century economy.

Opportunities Ahead

Financial Initiatives

The innovative financial initiatives set by the BRICS present significant opportunities for building sustainable development and resilience across the BRICS nations, as well as in the context of broader South-South cooperation.

Environmental Goods and Services

At the same time, it is estimated that the global market demand for environmental goods and services is projected to rise from US $584 billion in 2004 to close to US $2 trillion by 2020, in particular the global market in low-carbon and energy-efficient technologies.

This presents yet another economic opportunity, especially for emerging economies.

Embracing such potential can help shift labour and resource intensive economies towards a greener model that is more sustainable, competitive and knowledge-based.

Renewable Energy

Some experts still predict that fossil fuels will supply the majority of our energy 'for decades to come', but the evidence strongly points in another direction.

According to UNEP's Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2015, once again in 2014 renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide. Major expansion of solar installations in China and Japan and record investments in offshore wind projects in Europe helped propel global investments to US $270 billion, a 17 per cent surge from 2013 figures.

These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.

In developing countries, where renewables are best positioned to address the chronic lack of energy access, clean energy investment rose 36 per cent to US $131 billion. It's well on track to surpass investment in developed countries, which amounted to US $139 billion, last year.

Much of the surge by developing economies over recent years has been thanks to investment in China.

This raced up from just $3 billion in 2004 to $83.3 billion in 2014, helped by supportive government policies aimed at boosting power generation in the country, at providing demand for domestic wind and solar manufacturing industries, and - especially recently - at offering an alternative to pollution-inducing fossil fuel generation.

However, the advance of the developing nations in renewable energy has not been only about China. In 2014, Brazil ($7.6 billion), India ($7.4 billion) and South Africa ($5.5 billion) were all in the top 10 of investing countries, while Mexico, Chile, Indonesia, Kenya and Turkey were all in the $1 billion plus club and several others were challenging to join them.

The proportion of world electricity generated from this cumulative installed renewable power capacity rose from 8.5% in 2013 to 9.1% in 2014. The 9.1% of global generation achieved by renewables excluding large hydro in 2014 resulted in an estimated 1.3 gigatonnes fewer CO2 emissions by the world's power system.

Yet, the growth of renewable generation faces a mixture of old and new barriers, sometimes because of the very success of renewables. Coping with 25 per cent or more variable generation is more difficult for grids and utilities than managing a 5 per cent proportion.

If the positive investment trends in renewables are to continue, it is important that major market reforms in the electricity sector are implemented - of the sort that Germany is now attempting with its Energiwende energy transition.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

A clean energy, resource efficient future is not just possible and desirable; it is imperative.

On a vital, basic level, our decisions and actions today will determine whether the 'Anthropocene' will be an age in which human ingenuity and responsibility will allow 10 billion people to have access to a sustainable future tomorrow, without compromising the vital life support systems of our planet.

As custodians of the future, it is our responsibility to make the right choices and seize every opportunity for a greener and more sustainable future.

Thank you.

The Swiss Expedition "Race for Water Odyssey" Reaches New York

New York, 9 April 2015 - The Race for Water Odyssey (R4WO) reached New York City on Thursday, concluding its Atlantic crossing in a journey that will take its crew over 40,000 nautical miles as they attempt to draw up the first global assessment of plastic pollution in the oceans.

After completing the crossing of the Atlantic-which was turbulent due to several large depressions-the expedition has now arrived in New York, where it is welcomed and supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Swiss Consulate, among others. The crew members will be in New York until April 15th, participating in numerous outreach events including an open forum organized by UNEP to highlight the issue of plastic debris in the oceans.

The R4WO will be the guest of honor this afternoon at a plenary session regarding the "Global Partnership on Marine Litter" (GPML), organized by UNEP at the United Nations headquarters-undoubtedly the defining moment of the New York stopover. Launched at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, the GPML aims to coordinate and support private and public action in the fight against marine pollution. During this session, an open forum will take place in honor of the R4WO, with remarks by Patricia Beneke, Director of the Regional Office for North America, UNEP, Nancy Wallace, member of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Chair of the GPML; and H.E. May-Elin Stener, Deputy Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations. At the same time, outreach activities for young audiences will be held aboard the "MOD70 Race for Water" trimaran.

"The world's oceans receive an enormous amount of litter each year, much of which is persistent and creates marine pollution that is global and intergenerational," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director. "Collaboration between governments, the private sector, civil society and academia is key to stemming the flow of waste into this fragile environment."

"The Race for Water Odyssey is a pioneering and inspiring expedition that is helping to uncover the true impact of pollution in the world's oceans, 80 per cent of which comes from human activities. Through their bold mission to extend our limited knowledge of waste gyres, and the major environmental threat they pose, the Odyssey's crew are inspiring us all to take action and speak up for the oceans, the lifeblood of our blue planet."

After leaving Bordeaux, France on March 15th, the R4WO made an initial stopover in the Azores before heading to the Bermuda islands, located in the center of a plastic gyre, to conduct the first of 11 scientific analyses.

Heading for Necker Island, Panama, then Valparaiso (Chile)

The R4WO crew will remain in New York before heading to Necker Island (British Virgin Islands). The expedition is invited there to participate in the Leadership Program developed by Virgin United and its famous founder, Richard Branson. The "MOD70 Race for Water" will subsequently enter the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal and continue on to Valparaiso. A second series of analyses will be conducted on the island beaches, which are found in the trash gyre of the South Pacific.

About the Race for Water Odyssey (R4WO)

Initiated by the Race for Water foundation, the "Race for Water Odyssey" is a unique expedition that aims to draw up the first global assessment of plastic pollution in the ocean by visiting island beaches situated in the 5 trash vortexes. In less than 300 days, over 40,000 nautical miles will be traveled, punctuated by 11 scientific stopovers and 9 outreach stopovers, involving a total of 13 countries. The Race for Water Odyssey benefits from the support of ISAF, Duke University, Oregon State University, senseFly, Swisscom and Swissnex.

About the Race for Water Foundation

Founded in Lausanne in 2010, the "Race for Water" Foundation's mission is to preserve our planet's most valuable resource: water. The foundation is an officially recognized non-profit organization seeking to implement concrete and sustainable actions, focusing on two main themes: protecting oceans and freshwater. "Race for Water" initiates projects aimed at raising awareness and taking concrete action on the ground. These actions are directed at four target audiences: economic players, political bodies, the scientific community, and the general public-with particular emphasis on future generations. "Race for Water" collaborates with organizations such as UNESCO, UNEP, IUCN, WWF, and WBCSD.

About UNEP

UNEP, established in 1972, is the voice for the environment within the United Nations system. UNEP acts as a catalyst, advocate, educator and facilitator to promote the wise use and sustainable development of the global environment. UNEP work encompasses: Assessing global, regional and national environmental conditions and trends, developing international and national environmental instruments and strengthening institutions for the wise management of the environment. UNEP is the Secretariat for the Global Partnership on Marine Litter. www.unep.org

About the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML)

The GPML was launched in June 2012 at Rio + 20 in Brazil. The GPML, besides being supportive of the Global Partnership on Waste Management, seeks to protect human health and the global environment by the reduction and management of marine litter as its main goal, through several specific objectives. The GPML is a voluntary multi-stakeholder coordination mechanism gathering international agencies, Governments, NGOs, academia, private sector, and civil society in which all partners agree to work together to further reduce and better manage marine litter.


For more information or to obtain imagery:

Lucie Gerber - Press Attaché


+ 41 79 419 86 60

Laura Fuller, Information Officer, UNEP Regional Office for North America

(202) 255-2228, laura.fuller@unep.org

UNEP News Desk


Italy to Lead Global Celebrations of World Environment Day 2015

Nairobi/Rome, 7 April 2015 - Italy has today been named host of this year’s World Environment Day (WED) global celebrations on 5 June, in a joint announcement made by the Government of Italy and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The theme of this year's World Environment Day is resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production in the context of the planet’s regenerative capacity, as captured in the slogan ‘Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care’. Affirming WED as a global public outreach platform, this slogan emerged as the top choice by the global community through social media voting.

The 2015 global WED celebrations will be organized at the world famous Universal Exhibition, which attracts over 20 million visitors. Expo Milano 2015 will run from May 1 to October 31 and is expected to include over 140 countries plus a significant number of international organizations.

One of three UN Days that the UN Expo Team has chosen to mark at the Milan Expo this year, WED will support and complement the Expo theme of ‘Feeding the Planet - Energy for Life’, which showcases state-of-the-art technology, ideas and solutions that can help guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium.

“It is an honour for Italy to work together with UNEP in leading the global celebrations for World Environment Day 2015,” said Italian Minister for the Environment Gian Luca Galletti. “This year, WED will focus on the need to respect the carrying capacity of the planet and to manage natural resources efficiently—all aspects that are of utmost importance if really we want to ensure prosperity and wellbeing globally.”

“I firmly believe in the benefits offered by sustainable consumption and production models in terms of economic opportunities, inclusiveness, employment, resiliency and quality of life,” he said. “We have a unique opportunity to take advantage of the international and multidimensional arena represented by EXPO 2015 to stimulate greater thinking and action on these topics in view of the crucial decisions that will be taken later this year: the launch of the Post-2015 Development Agenda in September and the new agreement on Climate Change in December.”

Announcing World Environment Day 2015, UN-Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “While industrialized countries account for the bulk of the world’s resource consumption, unsustainable consumption patterns are becoming more prevalent worldwide, with 3 billion middle class consumers expected to be added to the global population by 2030 - many of them from emerging economies.”

“Food production is one of the most obvious examples of unsustainable consumption patterns, with 1.3 billion tons of food being wasted every year, while almost 1 billion people go undernourished,” he added. “This is an issue that UNEP is helping to address with partners like the UN Food and Agriculture Organization through our joint campaign against food waste, Think.Eat.Save. We are glad the Expo’s theme also focuses on sustainable food systems.”

“World Environment Day provides us with an important opportunity to identify solutions for re-engineering our consumer culture to create a sustainable society in which everyone has enough to live well while staying within the planet’s regenerative capacity. It is time to look seriously at what our appetite-for-more is costing the planet, our health, our future, and the future of our children.” he said.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea of Italy, the UN Expo Team and the Milan Expo, this year’s WED programme will involve various activities organized with partners such as FAO, International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme, Slow Food, WWF Italy, Cinemambiente and the Green Film Network, and the national delegations and other international organizations that will be present at the Expo.

About World Environment Day

World Environment Day (WED) is the largest, most celebrated global day for positive environmental action. Established by the UN General Assembly in 1972, WED is celebrated every year on 5 June. WED is the principal vehicle through which the UN stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment, and encourages political attention and action. WED gives a human perspective to environmental issues, empowers people to become active agents of sustainable development and advocates multi-stakeholder partnerships in support of the environment.

For more information contact:

Isabelle Valentiny – Information Officer for UNEP in Europe – tel. +41 79 251 82 36 –


Newsdesk at unepnewsdesk@unep.org

For UNEP global news, click here
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