A United Nations-sponsored meeting on a green economy and inclusive growth opened in New Delhi, India, today with a senior official warning that a summit on sustainable development in Brazil next year will not succeed without renewed political commitment on a global scale.
“As an international community and as national policy makers, we need to refocus,” Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang said, citing high unemployment, the risk of a new global recession, rising food prices and worsening hunger, climate-related stresses and increased frequency and severity of disasters among the challenges threatening to undermine progress towards poverty eradication and social and economic development.
Mr. Sha is Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20, taking place in Rio de Janeiro in June next year to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in the same city, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Many heads of State and government are expected to attend Rio+20, which aims to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and examine remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges. Mr. Sha said he expected the two-day New Delhi meeting to play an important preparatory role.
He stressed that Rio+20 must be about integration, implementation and coherence. Integration requires coherence among the social, economic and environmental pillars, a task that is not easy in light of the specialization of international and national organizations and necessitates holistic thinking, planning and acting.
Implementation is, above all, about political will, Mr. Sha stressed.
“Rio+20 is meant to mobilize renewed political commitment for sustainable development. If it cannot do this, it would be hard to call Rio+20 a success,” he said, noting that the agenda for sustainable development has been known in broad terms at least since 1992.
The New Delhi meeting, organized by India and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), is addressing the costs and benefits of a green economy transition, focusing specifically on two fundamental needs – food and energy security, both of which depend critically on sustainable management and use of natural resources.
While praising the green revolution which has benefited hundreds of millions of people in India and South Asia, Mr. Sha stressed that those benefits had not reached everyone either in the subcontinent or in much of sub-Saharan Africa, and had also taken an environmental toll on soils, water, fisheries and biodiversity.
“As we look forward to feeding nine billion people by mid-century with nutritious and healthy diets, we will need another revolution,” he said. “One of the eminent speakers at this dialogue calls it an ‘evergreen’ revolution. The conditions are not favourable. For example, climate change is increasing stress on agricultural production in many developing countries.
“To tackle the food and nutrition challenge, the best agricultural science will need to be wedded to the best traditional knowledge. And the outcome needs to benefit smallholders, especially women farmers,” he added, calling for a knowledge-sharing platform to help countries address the intersecting challenges of water, energy, nutritious and affordable food, and climate change adaptation.