July 22, 2015 - The UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner has shared his thoughts on implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the 28 EU Ministers of the Environment in a speech delivered at their Informal Council meeting in Luxembourg. His full intervention can be read below.
Honorable ministers, colleagues and friends: let me express my deepest appreciation to the Luxembourgian Presidency for inviting me to share some of thoughts from UNEP on the Post 2015 process and the SDGs.
And let me also thank the EU for its strong global leadership on sustainable development and climate change. With respect to the Rio+20 conference, the MDGs and the Post-2015 framework, in international negotiations and through developing and implementing concrete policies, the EU has shown a commitment to sustainability that EU member states should be proud of.
Not only has this leadership fueled increasing interest in the sustainability and the green economy domestically, it has served as a source of inspiration to other countries and regions in the world.
EU leadership has contributed to advancing the global agenda on sustainable development.
This leadership is needed now more than ever.
That’s because 2015 is a year with unprecedented opportunity for change.
At meetings in New York and Paris, the international community can finally take action to reach a universal agreement that keeps humanity on the right side of dangerous climate change, eradicates poverty and puts the world on a sustainable development path, living within the planet’s capacity.
The EU has a critical role to play in reinforcing the political vision of these conferences.
Before we talk about the years to come, let’s look at what’s come before and where we are today.
Over the last century we have seen astonishing progress. We have massively cut mortality rates, significantly reduced poverty and developed technologies we had only ever read about in science fiction.
Yet this progress has come at a price: the intensive use of our planet’s finite resources.
At our current pace of consumption there simply aren’t enough resources to sustain the expected 2050 global population of 9 billion people.
Annual global extraction of resources increased by a factor of eight in the 20th century.
By 2009 we were extracting 68 billion tonnes of resources, compared to 7 billion tonnes in 1900.
Under current trends of population growth and expanding middles classes, global extraction of resources is set to reach 140 billion tonnes by 2050.
This will likely exceed the carrying capacity of the planet to absorb the impacts of their extraction and use.
Our consumption has until recently largely been concentrated in the developed world. The average citizen in a developed country uses nearly 24 times the material resources and 12 times as much energy each year as the citizen of a developing country.
This consumption pattern has led to growing price volatility and increasing resource stress and volatility.
From 2000 to 2012, the price of metals rose by 176%.
Food prices rose 22.4% from 2000 to 2012, compared to 7.7% from 1990 to 1999.
Up to 25% of the world’s food production may be lost by 2050 due to climate change, land degradation, cropland losses and water scarcity.
And up to 1.4 billion hectares of land is used to produce the food that is lost and wasted each year
That’s correct - 1.4 billion hectares is used to produce 1.3 billion tonnes of food which is never consumed.
So, resource efficiency will be key for achieving the kind of transformation that is being envisaged in the post-2015 agenda.
Recognizing these realities, heads of state at Rio+20 called for “protecting and managing the natural resource base for economic and social development”.
The EU’s 7th Environmental Action Programme (EAP) has recognized the need for this efficiency as well. The EAP notes that preserving natural capital is essential for human well-being and economic prosperity.
And early last year, at the UN Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs, member states acknowledged the need to decouple resource use from economic growth.
This will be a central requirement for the shift towards more Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) patterns.
Last July, the OWG put forward its proposal for the SDGs.
And now we are very close to agreeing on the final parameters of the post-2015 agenda and a shared vision for a sustainable development future.
The agenda will comprise 4 parts: a declaration, SDGs and targets, means of implementation, and a framework for monitoring and review.
The proposed Sustainable Development Goals are transformative, people-centred and planet-sensitive.
They complete the unfinished business of the MDGs and go beyond it by including sustainable and inclusive economic development.
Not only is there a key goal explicitly referring to the need to ensure SCP patterns, but 13 out of the 17 goals refer to the need to maintain the health of natural resources in their associated targets.
This clearly reflects the importance that Member States give to natural resources and their efficient use.
Enhancing efficient resource use may be challenging, but as evidence shows not impossible.
There is still time to harness the remarkable ingenuity that has enabled us to progress at such a rapid rate.
We can turn the resource challenges we face into opportunities that will promote prosperous economies and a healthy planet for generations to come.
First, we must accept that there will only be enough resources for the world if we radically change our consumption and production patterns.
Then we can look at how resource efficiency can be an engine for development and job creation and a driver of innovation and economic prosperity.
According to the UNEP-hosted International Resource Panel (IRP), harnessing existing technologies and appropriate policies to increase resource productivity could save up to 3.7 trillion USD globally each year.
Electricity for lighting accounts for approximately 15% of global power consumption and 5% of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The UNEP en.lighten initiative has shown that a switch to efficient on-grid and off-grid lighting globally would save more than $140 billion and reduce CO2 emissions by 580 million tonnes every year.
The Global Fuel Economy Initiative says a move to better fuel economy could save over six billion barrels of oil per year and close to half of CO2 emissions from cars by 2050, all with existing, cost-effective technologies.
These are fiscal and climate change mitigation opportunities. But sustainable development represents more than that. The post-2015 agenda and SDGs speak to the shared objectives and the diversity of our community of nations.
Poverty remains a key focus for all of us. The SDGs reflect and address the complex challenge of achieving a life of dignity for all.
Sustainable development is at the center of the post-2015 agenda, and poverty eradication is its highest priority.
However, there is no magic bullet.
Poverty and climate change are interlinked.
That’s why today, we need an integrated approach to solve the current cross-cutting problems of economic, environmental and social issues.
Integrating environment into the poverty agenda is key towards leaving no one behind and ultimately poverty eradication.
70% of the world’s rural poor live on agriculture and over 1.4 billion people don't have access to electricity. Unsustainable agricultural practices and the use of and wood biomass in household consumption has degraded forests and increased GHG emissions. More than 170 million hectares of forest is projected to disappear by 2030, driving severe climate change and natural disasters.
At once, a single issue - rural poverty - touches on multiple SDGs in social, environmental and economic dimensions – not to forget the health impacts.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and associated 169 targets are a balanced, integrated agenda to end poverty, achieve shared prosperity and peace, protect the planet and leave no one behind.
This balance must be retained.
As demonstrated in the Presidency background paper, environmental aspects permeate all of the SDGs. No single environmental target could be equally effective as all SDGs combined.
To implement sustainable development, we must move away from a silo mentality.
Leaders must think of how to develop policy that includes the new green, circular economy and innovative financial instruments that foster prosperity and resource efficiency.
Currently, ecosystems, biodiversity and other environmental dimensions exist in a silo apart from development aspects like poverty, food security, gender and health.
We need a mind-shift.
Consider biodiversity, which many see as something to “safeguard”. This is insufficient. We should acknowledge that we can utilize, enhance and restore biodiversity for human well-being and the sustainability of societal and economic development.
Maintaining the diversity, quantity and quality of ecosystem goods and services depends on societal, institutional and individual choices made in development processes.
The SDG framework emphasizes the interconnectedness and relationship between human activities and biodiversity and ecosystems.
This mindset can act as a guide for a policy framework that mainstreams environmental and social considerations into all relevant sectoral policies. For the EU, this can lead to improved conditions for future reforms of the EU Common Agriculture Policy and land use policies, for example.
The upcoming review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and EU nature legislation (the Habitats and Bird Directives) provides excellent opportunities to make the necessary links to the relevant SDGs to strengthen the case for an improved EU framework for protected areas and species.
Goal 14 and 15, for instance, specifically call for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and ocean ecosystems.
The EU can lead this mind-shift by signifying commitment to the SDGs in your own national strategies.
We have already seen a number of specific commitments and initiatives related to resource efficiency, water, ecosystem services and biodiversity – all of which are captured in the proposed SDGs. I welcome these wholeheartedly.
The EU can go further by mainstreaming sustainable development into key EU policies like the EU 2020 Agenda, the Energy Union, the circular economy package, and major bilateral trade agreements.
At the EU, national and local levels, we will need effective governance mechanisms for implementation and monitoring to achieve the SDGs.
It is of course for the EU to decide on which governance structure to employ. But I offer the following food for thought:
1 - The Post 2015 process provides a great opportunity to integrate the SDG outcomes in the review of the EU 2020 Agenda. It’s also an opportunity to look beyond the 2020 horizon, and build on previous experiences relating to the EU Sustainable Development Strategy. This would require reform of the European Semester process, in particular to strengthen the environment and resource efficiency aspects.
Alternatively, the EU Sustainable Development Strategy adopted in 2006 can be revitalized and revised. This Strategy could become the instrument to provide long-term political guidance to promote the implementation of SDG agenda within the EU and externally.
2 - Following the adoption of the SDGs, all relevant Council formations, European Parliament Committees and European Commission Directorates could be invited to map the relevance of the SDGs in relation to current EU policies and initiatives, and outline a roadmap to promote the implementation of SDGs within their respective area.
3 - Specific initiatives can be actioned to improve mainstreaming of environmental (and social) considerations within all relevant policy areas, including within energy, agriculture and transport policies.
4 - New environment proposals and initiatives should be developed with SDG implementation in mind. For example, the upcoming new circular economy package - and the review of EU nature legislation - can help contribute to the implementation of several of the SDGs.
5 - Eurostat and the EEA could play a central role in monitoring and reporting on EU implementation of the SDGs, in close cooperation with national statistical agencies.
6 - The EU governance system for SDG implementation will also need to encompass a strong participatory component, to forge ownership and broad consultation as basis for the implementation.
7 - The EU member states have a critical role to play in the design of the follow-up and review of the SDGs. To measure progress a robust system of metrics needs to be put in place. One that is based on a global framework in which the environmental dimension is properly captured through improvements to our air, water, soils and ecosystems
The starting point remains a state-led process of reviews within the framework of the HLPF under the auspices of ECOSOC. This should be underpinned by basic criteria such as being universal, yet voluntary; participatory, and focused on supporting implementation.
Ultimately, the implementation must consider not only the integrated approach I mentioned, but also the universality of the SDGs.
That’s because the challenges that we are faced with today are clearly complex and interwoven.
The complexity and universality of the problems requires us to work together as global citizens.
This means the SDGs are applicable and relevant to all countries. Improving air quality and water in European cities is as important to citizens in Europe as it is in China
The EU can provide leadership by fully endorsing and supporting a universal post-2015 agenda.
We are global citizens. Mozambique has lost half its population of 20,000 elephants in just five years. It’s not the citizens of Mozambique who are buying the ivory. The interconnectedness of the world means other countries must act on problems outside their borders, as China has done in committing to phasing out its legalized domestic ivory industry.
Of course, not all countries will apply the SDGs the same way. But we’re starting to have some guidance on what they mean for developed countries like those in the EU.
The German Sustainable Development Council, in a recent report, said that “Germany has a responsibility to demonstrate the benefits that an ambitious sustainability policy can bring in serving the country’s best interests, including across the world.”
The GSDC goes on to say that it is “increasingly important for Germany to foster the implementation of the SDGs in other countries and to advance their means of implementation through support and commitment within international bodies.”
And in a recent Stakeholder Forum report, their analysis showed that achieving SDG 12, 7 and 13 - sustainable consumption and production, sustainable energy, and combatting climate change - are the three goals with the most transformational challenges facing developed countries. They also identified these three as the goals that the world at large needs to see the developed world act on in order to relieve the pressures humans are putting on the planet.
So if the developed world was feeling left out, believe me, the SDGs have something for everyone..
The post 2015 era marks a transformational shift in how we look at development processes. It is no longer about transfer of ODA to support developing countries in achieving the MDGs. It is about implementing the SDGs at home, and about forging true partnerships with other countries and stakeholders to achieve jointly shared objectives.
Countries and regions must lead by example, and support efforts outside their borders.
The EU’s strong record on fundamental human rights, freedom of speech and open markets - not to mention considerable human and economic resources and effective environmental legislation - means the EU can act as a “laboratory” for sustainable development.
The EU can be a world leader in implementing the Post 2015 agenda.
Effectively implementing the SDGs, of course, is a challenge not to be underestimated, or met with attempts to pick and choose those which are easiest to meet
Yet if we fully pool our common resources, public and private, national and international, there is no doubt that we can achieve very substantial progress in the coming 15 years.
Success will be determined more by the political commitment than real physical boundaries to knowledge and implementation.
In particular we need to create the right policies and economic incentives, phase out unsustainable subsidies, promote the right sustainable technologies, and reorient privately owned resources and investments.
This is all about policy integration – to ensure that one part of policy also contributes to achieving other policy goals.
There’s that word again - ‘integration’.
By honoring its commitments, supporting implementation in low income countries, and making trade work for sustainable development, the EU will demonstrate a strong and balanced contribution to implementing the agenda.
And so I welcome the focus of this informal environmental council. It is an important meeting in advance of the formal adoption of the SDGs.
As was last week’s Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa.
The Addis Action Agenda resulted in outcomes that are a step in the right direction.
More will be needed to tackle both the trillion-dollar annual gap in climate financing and the massive amount of finance needed for the development agenda.
Financing for development is a critical pillar to supporting the post 2015 development agenda.
Smart fiscal policy can spark investments and innovation from the private sector.
Indeed, private finance is essential for the transition to the resource-efficient economy.
Here, the EU can not only lead, but capitalize with macroeconomic policies promoting efficiency that will enhance competitiveness and reduce volatility.
Ambitious standards and norms, legislation and fiscal remedies can provide incentives to businesses and consumers that promote resource efficiency and sustainable lifestyles.
Creating greater access to science and technology will lead not only to innovation but also build a new generation of entrepreneurs able to respond to a resource efficient future
Existing barriers to decoupling can be removed, notably subsidies for energy and water use, outdated regulatory frameworks and technological biases.
Legislation and public-awareness campaigns can reduce waste.
Resource efficiency should be made a routine part of financial decision-making and capital must be channelled towards resource efficiency priorities.
Countries can use the following three tactics to achieve these ends:
Firstly, much can be done through the creativity of market innovation. This includes collective initiatives such as the $45 trillion in assets that support the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment.
Secondly, public finance can provide fiscal incentives for investments in resource efficiency.
Thirdly, financial policy and regulation can advance the resource efficiency imperative.
These tactics stem from research by UNEP’s Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System. The Inquiry is highlighting examples across banking, capital markets, insurance and investment where resource-efficient policy is delivering financial system health.
Examples include China's new 'green credit guidelines', the EU’s new rules on non-financial reporting and South Africa's changes to its pension legislation.
Finance options for developing countries have clearly changed.The dramatic increase in private finance clearly shows the potential contribution of private sector to financing for development.
This year’s European Report on Development says that since 2002 there has been a 272% rise in domestic public revenues in developing countries, a 114% rise in international public finance flows, a 415% rise in private domestic finance and a 297% rise in private international finance.
The report also highlights the importance of attracting private capital, saying that to achieve the SDGs, finance must be mobilized from private sources.
Markets are already responding to the need for private capital injection.
Banks hold the largest pool of global financial assets at some 139 trillion USD. Leadership by developing countries in 'green credit' regulations points to a new phase in international banking standards.
On the bond market, we saw a tripling of 'green bonds' issued in 2014.
Routine credit ratings are now starting to incorporate sustainability factors such as climate risk.
And global market demand for environmental goods and services is projected to rise from 584 billion USD in 2004 to close to 2 trillion USD by 2020.
It is important for countries to transform their financial systems to an inclusive sustainable economy. We need policy reforms and incentives for the financial markets to attract private sector investment in green economy.
Mobilizing diverse private resources will also complement the use of public policies and finance.
Transformative green financing already operates in some countries such as India, Brazil and Bangladesh.
India’s central bank requires commercial banks to allocate 40% of loans to key sustainable development priorities and provides more favourable lending limits for renewable energy projects.
In Brazil, around 12% of lending and 62% of assets under management in the pension system now requires sustainability assessments.
And In Bangladesh, the central bank provides reduced interest rates on loans for priority investments like green energy. And from 2016, the central bank will also requires every financial institution to allocate a minimum of 5% of their loan portfolio to green finance.
This afternoon, we will have the opportunity to discuss in more detail the mechanics of mobilizing private resources.
Now, I’d like to focus on counting natural capital into the national economy. This is a necessary means of resource mobilization for post-2015 development agenda.
Natural capital is a critical asset, but such resources are often left out of balance sheets.
However, natural capital brings economic value by supporting our livelihoods and businesses.
A recent UNEP study found that Zambia's forest ecosystems contribute 1.3 billion USD - roughly 6.3% of GDP - to the national economy.
Conserving natural capital creates jobs. In South Africa, since 1995, an estimated 486,000 job opportunities were created in environmental rehabilitation programs, including sustainable forest management and reducing invasive species.
Conserving natural capital also mitigates climate change and reduces disaster risk.
Providing the basis to account for a country’s natural capital in national accounts is important.
This may include identifying ecosystem service prospects and potential buyers, assessing institutional and technical capacity, and implementing ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ - or PES - agreements.
PES agreements provide a new source of income for land management, restoration, conservation, and sustainable-use activities. In doing so, they have significant potential to promote sustainable ecosystem management.
UNEP has been promoting PES to countries and our work has contributed to generating national income as well as ensuring robust ecological foundations in countries.
Funding mechanisms for remediation and conservation of natural resources like forests are also powerful.
The Green Fund in the Caribbean has amassed 450 million USD, and is incentivizing environmentally and economically beneficial initiatives.
Ecosystem management is important. Equally important is resource efficiency.
In 2005, the European Commission became a pace setter with the “Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources” which was followed by the “Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe”.
Many other countries have also declared their aim to increase resource productivity, invest in renewable energy systems and promote a circular economy.
In just eight years since 2005, the number of countries with clean energy targets nearly tripled from 48 to 138, half of which are developing countries.
Global investment in renewable power and fuels (excluding large hydro-electric projects) reached 279 billion USD in 2014, nearly 17% higher than 2013. This was the first increase for three years, and reflected several influences, including a boom in solar installations in China and Japan, and a record 19 billion USD of final investment decisions on offshore wind projects in Europe.
As these cases demonstrate, improving resource efficiency and energy productivity is a strategy to decouple economic growth from resource use and environmental degradation.
Today, 65 countries have embarked on green economy and related strategies.
48 of them are developing green economy plans as part of their sustainable development strategies.
And the Ten-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (10YFP), hosted by UNEP, is building more evidence and finding new solutions.
Its Sustainable Public Procurement, Consumer Information, Sustainable Tourism, and Sustainable Lifestyles and Education Programmes are engaging 143 governments, non-governmental organizations and business associations.
I hope these ideas and facts and figures have given you some sense of the potential of sustainable development in environmental, social, and economic terms.
I may sound like a broken record, but 2015 really is an unprecedented year. We can finally take far-reaching, long-overdue global action to secure our future well-being and sustainable development.
It is a year when the Post-2015 agenda, the Paris climate meeting, and the Financing for Development Process will come together.
It is my hope we will be ringing in 2016 with the knowledge that we’ve agreed on an ambitious, implementable and common agenda for a sustainable world.
UNEP is committed to continue to work with you to facilitate, support and inform this year’s processes in order to ensure the best possible outcome – for people, for our planet and for our common future.
I join the Secretary-General in calling on you all to seize this opportunity and to continue to lead this process with a vision, passion and ambition.