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Smith- Rio+20: The Future We Want

Office of Hon Dr Nick Smith
Member of Parliament
Minister for the Environment
Minister for Climate Change Issues
Minister of Local Government

Thursday 8 March 2012

Rio+20: The Future We Want

• Good morning. Thank you to the organisers of today’s seminar for providing this opportunity for everyone involved in contributing to the Zero Draft Document for Rio+20 to get together and share ideas and information on these matters which are so critical to our future.

• I would like to acknowledge the distinguished speakers and guests, and especially acknowledge and thank all of you who have put many hours and much thought into your submissions.

• Of course, we are all here because in June this year, leaders of states, civil society and business will meet in Rio de Janeiro to map out the next steps for sustainable development. The “Rio+20” conference will be one of the largest international events this year.

• In the twenty years since the Rio Earth Summit, ground-breaking concepts contained in the Rio principles and Agenda 21 have been mainstreamed into our daily lives.

• Significant environmental agreements in climate change, biodiversity, and desertification grew out of that Summit, and work under these conventions continues to develop.

• This year’s Rio+20 conference on sustainable development will focus on two themes: the green economy in the context of poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

• It will consolidate progress made so far, but it also seeks to address current shortcomings and new challenges.

• In times of global economic uncertainty, it is tempting to downgrade or consider sustainable development as an “option”.

• This would be a mistake. There is vast potential in sustainable development, something this government recognises, not only for New Zealand but also in the Pacific and globally.

• The green economy and green growth are areas that New Zealand is focussing on to drive important economic, environmental and social growth. It is as much about how we grow as it is about how much we grow. There are complex issues and balancing of interests. It is clear that there is no one definition and no one-size fits all policy, for us or our neighbours.

• New Zealand already has many innovative businesses that leverage off our strong clean green reputation. There is the potential for more innovation leading to more jobs and wealth creation in New Zealand.

• Recognising the importance the need for New Zealand to further take up Green Growth opportunities; the Government established the Green Growth Advisory Group to provide advice on ways to green New Zealand’s growth. The Report was released last weekend and the Government is currently considering the recommendations of the group.

• In 2011 the Green Economy index was published analysing the performance and perception of 27 countries. New Zealand was ranked first for overall performance. The report states that “New Zealand’s best green performance in 2011 suggests that prioritising green in the political and economic spheres can transform smaller nations into global sector leaders”.

• We favour a broad approach to green growth that has all industries moving to more environmentally sustainable technologies.

• NZ’s focus us to bring together policies that support a strong, growing economy with sound stewardship of our national environment.

• The Ministry for the Environment is recognising work in Green Economy with 2012 the first year that the Green Ribbon Awards include a ‘Green Economy Category’. Nominations for these awards are now open. So if you know any individual or organisation in New Zealand that’s making a difference to our environment, please nominate them before 23 March.

• Within the Rio+20 process, as the submissions from governments and stakeholders show (all available online), there are a wide range of views on what sustainable development entails.

• We are aware that New Zealand stakeholders, either directly or through their international linkages, have made submissions as well as engaged with officials. We welcome this and encourage you to continue to provide feedback

• When faced with the multitude of issues presented - from sustainable agriculture, to education, food security, disaster preparation, to mountains and oceans, reasonable people will come to different views on what needs to be done and how.

• For New Zealand, our focus is on the areas that are most urgent, where we can add value, and where there are good prospects to make progress.

• The oceans, or “the green economy in a blue world” is one area where we believe significant advances can be made at Rio+20. Although the health of the oceans and sustainable use of fisheries and other marine resources was addressed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, implementation has been largely lacking.

• New Zealand is a nation surrounded by water and I am pleased to say that we are taking steps to improve the management of the environmental effects of activities far out at sea in our exclusive economic zone, through legislation now before Parliament.

• Oceans cover 70 percent of our earth, feed and provide employment for millions, many from least developed countries, and yet the state of this important life sustaining resource is threatened by pollution, overfishing and the effects of climate change. And yet there is a lack of coordinated, sciencebased collective management of our oceans.

• Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing continues unchecked in many parts of the world, sometimes even supported by Government subsidies. The FAO reports that 85 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion - the highest percentage since FAO began keeping records, and a 10 percent increase from four years ago. Things are heading in the wrong direction.

• Halting or slowing overfishing will be one goal, but restoring the oceans will be another. We support the call for a global network of representative Marine Protected Areas that can provide a natural refuge and be a regenerative resource for the oceans.

• For the Pacific, oceans issues are the top priority for Rio+20. Sustainable development in the Pacific cannot be separated from oceans and fisheries issues. Small Island Developing States in our region must receive a greater share of the benefits derived from those resources. Over 55 percent of our development assistance is focussed on the Pacific, and our efforts support long term sustainable development, including in oceans and fisheries.

• As Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, we have also highlighted the importance of progress in these areas in our statements and submissions on behalf of Pacific Island countries.

• Tackling fossil fuel subsidies reform is another priority area for New Zealand. Fossil fuel subsidies harm the environment and encourage wasteful consumption. The needs of the vulnerable can be better met by targeted assistance rather than broad subsidies that often have perverse effects on the environment.

• New Zealand, along with like-minded countries such as Ethiopia and Switzerland have been supporting international efforts for reforms as part of the “Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidies Reform”, and we hope to build on the work underway in APEC and the G20.

• New Zealand will push for specific outcomes in these areas, and we invite interested stakeholders to work with us on these issues, to provide your ideas on the best way forward.

• Although oceans and fossil fuel subsidies reform are key priorities, sustainable energy, agriculture and fresh water are also important areas we support. They are important not only to New Zealand, but are also key to development, whether in the Pacific or elsewhere.

• Sustainable Development Goals have been proposed as one possible form for specific commitments. These are likely to apply to both developing and developed countries, and we think they could be useful targets, as complements to the Millennium Development Goals.

• Sustainable energy and oceans are two front runners for possible goals.

• The reform of the institutional framework for sustainable development is also on the table for Rio+20.

• It is recognised that the current system has fragmented, uncoordinated and duplicative frameworks in place. Greater impact and effectiveness, not simply more money and more projects and programmes is needed. New Zealand is a strong supporter of the UN’s “delivering as one” initiative, which provides countries with one coordinated UN contact point, rather than the multitude of offices as in the past.

• Proposals that will be tested include strengthening existing mechanisms, such as the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Sustainable Development and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Other proposals centre on creation of new institutions, such as a Sustainable Development Council, a World Environment Organisation or a new specialised agency from the core of UNEP.

• What kind of framework does New Zealand seek? Though it is often stated, it makes it no less true - form should follow function. The form should ensure effective integration of the three pillars at all levels, eliminate duplication and overlap, produce measurable and monitorable outcomes, while being cost efficient.

• The pros and cons of each option need to be fully explored to see whether they will meet our needs for a coherent, coordinated, responsive and efficient institutional framework. The creation of yet another mechanism or entity without regard to the actual issues to be solved and the realities of the current environmental, economic and financial pressure is unlikely to progress sustainable development.

• Consider for example, the proposal to transform UNEP into a specialised agency to raise the status of the environment pillar. What problem are we addressing? Is there a risk that environment work could become further siloed? What is it that UNEP cannot do now that a new framework might allow? Is there a risk that a new institution could be weaker rather than stronger than what exists now? What might it cost? What are the implications for UNDP, which is the UN lead agency responsible for the development system? Will this answer the concerns of duplication in physical and intellectual resources with existing institutions, such as the United Nations Development Programme? What are the advantages of this proposal, as compared to strengthening any other institution or even the creation of a new World Environment Organisation?

• These are the questions that we must ask ourselves and others. We are listening carefully to stakeholders, and again invite your considered views and insights.

• New Zealand intends to play a constructive role at Rio+20, as it did at the original Rio Earth Summit and the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.

• We will not be the biggest and may not be the loudest voice at the conference, but we intend to be one of the most practical and relevant.

• The Rio+20 conference will consolidate and build upon the progress made since the original Summit. Perhaps it will not make the same headlines as the original ground-breaking Rio Earth Summit. If concrete measures and outcomes in key areas of oceans and subsidies reform are achieved, then we have played our part.


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