Keynote speech at the Conference 'Think green! The opportunities of sustainable development and of the green economy'

Dear guests,

The moment for this conference is very well chosen. Only some days ago negotiators from all over the world gathered again at United Nations headquarters in New York for so-called informal contacts trying to prepare agreements that enable the world community to shape the future we want.

Because we have to be aware that they are negotiating on our behalf and on behalf of our grand-children about the future we all want to have on our planet. Therefore they need to get our messages about what it is what we actually want and that we care and don't let them go home without a result!

With the ever more evident effects of the combined economic, financial, social and environmental crises, people are realizing that existing economic models and patterns do not work any more. That we not only have to talk sustainable development but that we have to act on our words.

World leaders in Rio de Janeiro this year have to commit to a concrete action plan leading to sustainable development and poverty eradication within the limits of the planet. And we feel this is urgent! This is why right from the start I have made "Engaging people for a sustainable Europe" my political message for the term of office and I have placed preparations for the Rio+20 Conference high on my political agenda.

We need to continue our public deliberations on the new kind of development we want to foster. We need open debates to promote public consensus on the measures we want our political leaders to take. And we need an active civil society showing which practical examples work, where we need to change established patterns and values and which political decisions are needed to enable civil society action towards sustainable development.

After a one year long effort of consultations with European civil society organisations we have agreed on a list of messages for EU and world leaders to take on board at the UN Rio+20 summit. We organized various hearings and organized a major European civil society conference "Go sustainable, be responsible" on 7 and 8 February 2012, at which some of you were present. At this conference a number of key messages were agreed, which were endorsed by an additional Rio+20 EESC opinion adopted in February 2012.

At the international level, we are discussing Rio-related topics and the list of messages European civil society agreed on with our counterparts in various parts of the world, like Brazil, China, Russia, India and the ACP region as examples.

Among the EESC's key messages for the Rio+20 Conference, I can mention a few, and in particular those messages related to green economy. I hope you have found our message for Rio+20 summit in your files.

We expect that EU leaders will negotiate for a more ambitious global roadmap on sustainable development with targets, timing, financing, legal commitment and follow-up. We have to speak with one voice to both the European public and the rest of the world.

Promoting a green economy must be part of an overarching sustainable development strategy, striking a balance between social, ecological and economic aspects while achieving distributional and intergenerational equity.

We do not need more recommendations, but a green economy roadmap which political leaders need to commit to, with clear goals and monitoring mechanisms, ensuring an economically efficient, socially just and environmentally sound transition to sustainable societies. The transition process must be based on continuous engagement with civil society, including social dialogue.

Political leaders have to agree at the Rio+20 conference on additional measures to improve effective civil society involvement and achieve empowerment at global, national and local level in the transition to sustainable societies. Legal and institutional frameworks ensuring public access to information, dialogue, democratic participation and scrutiny have to be established. Multi-stakeholder forums such as Economic and Social Councils and National Sustainability Councils have to be promoted as models to stimulate civil society debate. More awareness-raising campaigns and education programmes on sustainable development are needed.

Coming back to green economy, the Rio conference should generate a new political commitment to the transition to a green economy throughout the world. The Committee suggests that six main pillars could be included in a mandate for the further work of UN bodies on sustainable development:

  • measuring progress towards a green economy;
  • regulatory measures to encourage the transition to a green economy;
  • education about sustainability to promote a green economy;
  • fiscal policy instruments to promote a green economy;
  • public spending and investment in a green economy;
  • setting targets for a green economy.

The EU and its Member States have gained a wealth of experience in using policy instruments to promote sustainability. The EU should therefore actively bring this experience to bear at international level.

At the same time, while greening the economy, we need to phase out unsustainable consumption and production. Since European and other developed countries have by far the highest natural resource consumption rates, they will have to reduce their consumption substantially in order to free up resources for developing countries and future generations. A clear European commitment is necessary, to give the EU credibility in leading the way towards global sustainability.

In its opinion Beyond GDP - measurements for sustainable development, the EESC put forward ideas about the limitations of the GDP indicator, possible corrections and additions, and the need to develop new criteria on the basis of which additional indicators for welfare and (economic, social and ecological) sustainability could be established. Of course civil society needs to be in developing these indicators.

The summit should give a further impetus to national and international efforts to green the fiscal base by eliminating perverse subsidies and formulating taxation policy to facilitate job creation and inhibit pollution and the consumption of fossil fuels and other natural resources. The time is also ripe for launching a new initiative to tax financial transactions on a globally agreed basis, and to use the proceeds to fund sustainable development investments.

The transition to a green economy involves the creation of so-called green jobs and more environmentally friendly production processes for economies at all stages of development and in sectors and branches that are of key importance for further economic progress, such as renewable energy, sustainable transport and energy-efficient housing. Furthermore, all jobs should become greener, since the process means transforming the whole economy. However, reaping the social benefits of this transition needs active policy measures addressing social aspects and aiming to create decent work and high-quality jobs for the workforce.

Green jobs should provide decent work in terms of income, working conditions, social security, social rights and gender equality. Decent work as defined by the ILO is an essential factor in eradicating poverty and improving social cohesion and should become the ninth MDG.

Involving civil society at global, national and local levels is crucial for a successful transition to a green economy and sustainable societies. Policy-makers need to provide the enabling conditions, but in the end it is civil society actors' everyday decisions and actions that will bring about sustainable economies and lifestyles. Therefore, appropriate systems for dialogue and democratic participation should be established at each level. Current models of participation are not sufficient and have to be improved. The Rio+20 discussions on governance and the institutional framework for sustainable development should consider the participatory aspect. This is why we welcome the proposal to establish an ombudsman for future generations.

We know that these negotiations are not easy. As you know the current negotiation text is almost 300 pages thick. But negotiators should not get lost in all these details and especially they should not lose courage and ambition. They need to feel public awareness and pressure that these negotiations really count. They need to know what we want them to negotiate on behalf of our children and grandchildren!

I encourage civil society all over the world to continue pushing for a conference outcome capable of meeting the challenges we are facing. Civil society has to take global responsibility!

Please be assured that the European Economic and Social Committee will continue to push for an ambitious Rio+20 outcome and we will use our contacts and networks to ease our negotiators' work.