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Green Economy and Trade - 8 Oct 2010
Staying on the subject of a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, I would like to share with you the highlights of my remarks at an Expert Meeting on the Green Economy organized by UNCTAD in close collaboration with UNEP and my Department. The meeting aims to explore ways in which the green economy, through trade-led growth, can become a pro-development, income-generating instrument which will directly contribute to sustainable development.
In my opening remarks at the meeting, I took a quick retrospective look at the journey that has brought us here today.
In Stockholm in 1972, the United Nations shone a spotlight on the state of the global environment. It raised the alarm then about the human impact on the environment. The follow-up to the Conference was timely, with many governments establishing a ministry of environment. The UN responded by creating UNEP.
Although there was significant action after Stockholm, the world economy remained heavily dependent on high consumptions of resources and high emissions and wastes, which resulted in worsening degradation of the environment and an increase in poverty.
In Rio in 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, or the Earth Summit) adopted the Rio Principles and Agenda 21. Sustainable development, with its three pillars and emphasis on integrated and balanced approach, has since provided an overarching policy framework for tackling development challenges.
Today, Rio continues to be regarded as perhaps the most historic UN conference in development, with the Rio Principles continuing to guide intergovernmental decision-making. Ten years after Rio, in Johannesburg in 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development focused on implementation and a reaffirmation of the three pillars of sustainable development.
Yet implementation remains a daunting challenge, especially in the aftermath of the financial, food, and fuel crises and the global impact of climate change. In this setting, the General Assembly has decided to convene the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, 20 years after the Rio, to focus on a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development.
Member States have identified the two themes as critical for accelerating implementation, through harmonizing the relations between growth and environment and through building up institutions for advancing implementation.
In that sense, a green economy is seen as holding the key to faster implementation of sustainable development. A green economy provides the missing entry point to accelerated progress. It offers new avenues and opportunities for pursuing the integration of the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development.
In this setting, I asked the question of how to make trade work for a green economy by ?greasing the wheels of a green economy?. Right now, one concern seems to be the need to ensure that a green economy will not become sand that clogs the channels of trade. An open multilateral trade regime with enhanced market access for developing countries is crucial ? both for accelerating their development and for ensuring the sustainability of that development.
Beyond the economic and social development benefits of an inclusive and open international trade system, trade is also ? together with investment ? a vital channel of green technology flows between countries. And the costs of those technologies are being driven down, in no small measure by large-scale production for a global market (as for example with solar photovoltaic panels and wind turbines). Trade offers benefits to the suppliers of green technologies in a larger market and to buyers in lower prices.
But concerns over a green economy transition remain, as it will mean structural changes in economies. How so? Think about the structural changes that occur during the process of economic development: Developing economies move from agricultural dependence towards a growing industrial orientation before services become the predominant sector at high levels of development. Some sectors grow, others shrink; jobs are created, jobs are destroyed; but incomes and living standards rise sustainably with overall productivity.
Transition to a green economy will involve similar changes. The important thing is that those changes promote economic diversification and yield sustainable improvements in well-being for all, now as well as in the future,
No doubt concerns are being voiced in various quarters ? and we must listen. There is concern that a green economy transition could become justification for interference with the rules of international trade, or ?green protectionism?. That if some countries move ahead of others with green economy policies, this may erode competitiveness in some sectors which will then seek protection. But this is not a new issue. It has long been a staple of trade and sustainable development debates.
What is clear is that an open and fair multilateral trade system is an integral part of the global sustainable development architecture. Discussions of how to promote a green economy cannot be separated from the multilateral trade system.
Only by addressing the concerns of all countries, developing countries in particular, can Rio+20 succeed in reaching agreement and producing shared and actionable outcomes.
I concluded my remarks by inviting experts to share new ideas, strategies and most of all, inspiration, for aligning government and business practices with the needs of our environment, and most importantly the needs of the poor and vulnerable in our societies so as to advance sustainable development for all.