In less than two months, world leaders will gather
in Rio de Janeiro for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. It is 20
years since the last Rio conference, and Rio 2012 is an opportunity to assess
the progress made toward sustainable development since 1992 and begin building
a Green Economy.
Speaking in Copenhagen at a conference organised by
the ethical investment research group EIRIS, Jacqueline McGlade, Executive
Director of the European Environment Agency, today addressed the subject of ‘Investing sustainably: Rio+20 and
A lot has happened in the past 20 years. The
telecommunications and internet revolutions, the financial crisis, and the rise
of the developing world have radically altered the foundations of policymaking
that existed in 1992. Is the idea of sustainable development still relevant in
a world where western countries lack money to invest? Is it relevant in a world
where billions of people seek to enjoy the comfort of middle class lifestyles,
which so often involve unsustainable consumption?
The answer is yes. Sustainable development is more
relevant now than ever.
The world has certainly become more complex since
1992. 20 years ago, policy-makers were only starting to link environmental
problems with development issues. But we now have ample evidence of just how
interlinked these issues are. Further complexity has been added by the
financial crisis, and by the growing awareness of our dependency on a dwindling
stock of natural resources. But this complexity has also brought clarity.
We now know we must address all these issues together.
The idea of a ‘Green Economy’ is one of the concepts
to have emerged in recent years as a way of thinking about sustainable
development. Although there are several definitions of what a green
economy is, it has three key aims:
By 2050 the world’s population will be 9 billion
people, up from 7 billion today. There will be 3 billion extra middle class
consumers by 2030 and their raised living standards will put strain on the
planet’s resources. The green economy provides a framework for our future
development in a world that is facing ever-greater demand for food, land,
water, materials and energy.
The technical challenges in creating a green economy
are great, but they are surmountable. In fact, the greatest immediate challenge
is financial. Most economies in the developed world are still reeling from the
financial crisis, and almost all are embarking on austerity programmes. This
climate of retrenchment is affecting appetite for investment in much-needed
clean-technology. Investment in clean-tech, already insufficient before the
financial crisis, is now falling even further.
If we are to create a green economy, we must
overcome these barriers. Governments must create the right incentives to
encourage the investment needed, while at the same time re-assessing what
public-private partnerships might help to further the goal of sustainable
Rio 2012 is an opportunity for the world’s
policy-makers to adopt a green economy roadmap for sustainable development for
the next 20 years and beyond. It should contain specific goals and timetables
as well as the policy actions these goals will require.
If we achieve this, we will be able to look back on
the Rio conference as the point that the global economy was set on a green, inclusive
and sustainable footing.
2 May, 2012.