Blog by Rio+20 Secretary-General, Mr. Sha Zukang
New and Emerging Challenges - 13 Jul 2011
A few weeks ago, at the National Press Club in Washington D.C, I spoke to an enthusiastic audience on Rio+20. In my speech I elaborated on new and emerging challenges, as well as the two main themes of Rio+20. It is the first time that I dwelled on new and emerging challenges. While the speech itself is posted online, I would like to share with you in this space a recap of the main points I made on new and emerging challenges.
I underscored the following challenges that Member States and other stakeholders had highlighted for priority attention. They include:
- green jobs and social inclusion;
- energy access, efficiency and sustainability;
- food security and sustainable agriculture;
- sound water management;
- sustainable cities;
- management of the oceans; and
- improved resilience and disaster preparedness.
Climate change cuts across all of these areas, as well as being a high priority in its own right.
In addition, I drew attention to another cross-cutting priority that is particularly relevant for developing countries - the means of implementation, including technology, financing and capacity building.
While these are not really new challenges, they have taken on more serious dimensions in recent years. Let me highlight a few observations I made in Washington D.C. on each of these challenges.
First, on green jobs and social inclusion.
We have made progress on the social pillar of sustainable development, but it still remains weak. Job creation is a big challenge facing all countries today. Unemployment is a scourge not only for those without work, but for their families.
At Rio, Governments need to share lessons on what policies related to a green economy can create the most jobs. Rio+20 is not just about environment. It is also about social development. Rio+20 is a summit about people?s lives and livelihoods and it a summit about action to create more jobs, better jobs and more green jobs.
Second, on energy access and energy security.
While there is a lot of emphasis on energy security and energy independence, and rightly so, we often forget that energy poverty is still widespread in Africa and South Asia. Some 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity and almost twice that number of people continue to rely on biomass for cooking.
There is a proposal to launch at Rio+20 a global initiative for universal energy access by 2030. Ambitious goals for energy efficiency and renewable energy are also part of the package. If the international community can endorse such an initiative it would be a milestone. A genuine win-win, by bringing environment and development benefits together.
Third, food security.
Even with the great advances of the Green Revolution, nearly one billion people are still hungry or undernourished. Now, farmers around the world experiment with integrated soil, water and plant management methods. These methods blend modern science and traditional knowledge.
At Rio+20, we should aim to accelerate an ?evergreen revolution.? This revolution will meet the growing global food demand while protecting soils, water and biodiversity. This is the way of the future.
Fourth, sound water management.
Water is essential to life and is the lifeblood of farmers. It has long been taken for granted. This must change. Rising demand is running up against greater scarcity. In many places, desertification and drought are becoming more severe. This is happening even as flooding takes a heavy toll on lives and livelihoods.
The risk of conflict over scarce water looms large. As does the challenge of coping with water stress. Closer international cooperation will be needed to avert conflict. Rio+20 offers an opportunity for forward-looking action on integrated water resource management.
Fifth, the challenge of urbanization.
Cities are concentrations of human energy and creativity. They are both the source of sustainable development problems and the laboratories for solving them. Most of the developing world?s population will live in cities and towns by 2020. Three-quarters of the developed world?s population already does. This means that urban planners and managers, transport planners, real estate developers, architects and engineers all have a crucial role in shaping a sustainable planet.
It is estimated that buildings alone account for roughly 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Add transport and the manufacturing of building materials ? and the number rises to the 20-25 per cent range.
Next June, I hope to see the world?s mayors and local authorities at Rio to scale up successful experiences and to set more ambitious goals.
Sixth, our marine resources.
The world?s oceans are too heavily exploited and too little managed. The dire state of many fisheries is hard evidence. Many would like to see forceful actions agreed at Rio to accelerate implementation of chapter 17 of Agenda 21 on protection of the oceans. This is long overdue.
Seventh, enhancing disaster preparedness.
Significant environmental changes are already upon us, often affecting vast areas at a time. Natural disasters occur more frequently and their impact are becoming more severe. Many economies and societies are under stress. They must adapt to difficult circumstances.
Building resilience is crucial. We need earth observation and early warning systems. Also crucial are enhanced prevention and preparedness. At Rio+20, governments and others could commit to work together more closely to strengthen international management of natural disasters and support resilience building efforts in vulnerable developing countries.
Eighth, means of implementation.
To effectively meet these new and emerging challenges, developing countries will need international support. Technology cooperation, capacity development and finance will be crucial. The biggest challenges and opportunities are clearly in the fast growing economies of the developing world.
So-called green technologies will need to be deployed widely in the developing economies. This will provide them the opportunity to take a greener path to development than was taken by wealthier countries.
To acquire technologies to build greener infrastructure and industries, finance will be needed. Much of the financing for building greener economies will be mobilized by developing countries themselves. But, international financial support will be needed to move towards greener development, especially in the least developed countries. Perhaps Rio+20 will launch a new public and private financing initiative, like a global green economy fund.
Combined, these challenges will represent a tall agenda for world leaders at Rio. But, as I told my audience, humanity stands at a crossroads. Nature waits for no one, and nature?s warning signs are flashing. Sustainable development is the only path that allows all of humanity to share a decent life on this, one planet.