Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the Meeting of the Environment Policy Committee at Ministerial Level
29 March 2012
(As prepared for delivery)
Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Delegates:
Spring is in the air, and there may finally be grounds for cautious optimism on the economic front as well. Nevertheless, the scars of the global economic crisis are all too evident and many countries are struggling with slow growth, stretched public finances, and high levels of unemployment.
We are all well aware that in this economic context, it is not easy to keep environmental protection and the conservation of natural resources at the top of government policy priorities. However, we simply cannot afford to relegate these challenges to a secondary importance. The planet’s ability to support life is decreasing fast, while our demands from this planet are increasing even faster. We are on a collision course with nature.
Just think of this opening line from the recent book “MEGACHANGE: The World in 2050”: “it took 250,000 years to reach the population’s first billion, but it took only 12 years to add the latest billion”. How many more years can we keep growing at this rhythm, based on our current wasteful culture?
Secretary-General with Dr. Yoo, Young Sook, Minister of Environment of Korea.
Photo: OECD/Andrew Dean
It is time for a radical change. This EPOC meeting is a key opportunity to provide the intellectual inspiration and political leadership to produce this change.
We have made progress, but we are still far away from targets.
It is encouraging to see that your policies have led to significant reductions in air pollutants, improved in-land water quality, and strengthened international management of chemicals and the marine environment.
But in other respects we have failed to deliver. Water and other natural resources are still used wastefully, and biodiversity loss is continuing unabated. While across the OECD we have realised a relative decoupling of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from economic growth, global emissions are continuing to grow at rates never seen before.
If we fail to transform our policies and behavior now, the picture is more than grim. Our new OECD Environmental Outlook shows how our current demographic and economic trends to 2050 will affect four key areas of global concern – namely climate change, biodiversity, water and the health impacts of environmental pollution.
As expected, the results are alarming. The costs and consequences of inaction would be absolutely colossal, both in economic and human terms. Without immediate action, by 2050 we will see:
- a 50% increase in greenhouse gas emissions, with a disastrous impact on the quality of life of people worldwide;
- a doubling of premature deaths from exposure to particulate air pollution;
- 2.3 billion more people living in severely water-stressed areas, bringing the total to about 40% of the world’s population; and
- a further 10% decline in global terrestrial biodiversity.
These huge environmental challenges will not be overcome in isolation. They must be managed in the context of other global challenges, such as food and energy security, and poverty alleviation. Well designed policies to tackle one environmental problem could also help alleviate others, and contribute to growth and development.
Tackling these interrelated economic and environmental challenges to achieve long-term and sustainable growth requires a deep shift towards greener and more innovative sources of growth, and towards more sustainable consumption patterns.
Advancing greener growth is the only way forward.
We must make progress in promoting green growth. We must make green growth deliver. Our Environmental Outlook to 2050 reinforces the case for green growth policies across government, introducing bold policy options to help governments make pollution more costly; remove environmentally harmful subsidies; value and price the natural systems and ecosystem services; and encourage green innovation.
These are just some of the many proposals in this study, but it is essential that we all tune our views and experiences, on the base of our particular national and local realities. I am pleased to see that today and tomorrow, you will be discussing the different realities we face in "Making Green Growth Deliver". One of the key priorities of this Committee, and the OECD more broadly, is helping countries to identify and implement green growth strategies that are practical and targeted to individual country circumstances.
I know that EPOC contributed enormously to the development of the green growth and I thank you for that. But I also want to reassure you that you are not alone – this is equally a key priority for the Committees working on issues such as economic policy, science and innovation, trade, fiscal policy or statistics.
Green growth is truly a cross-cutting priority for the whole OECD. Taken together, the OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050 and the Green Growth Strategy provide a comprehensive call for action and a practical way forward. Together they will be the main contribution from the OECD to the Rio+20 Conference in June this year.
Encouragingly, Green Growth is also one of the priorities of the G20 under the Mexican Presidency. The G20 Los Cabos Summit, which will take place days before Rio+20, is expected to deliver on an ambitious agenda on incorporating green growth in structural economic reforms as well as development co-operation activities, adding a further impetus to your work.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Environmentally speaking, we have run out of time. “We have been borrowing from the future, and our debt has fallen due.” I invite you to keep this line by Paul Gilding in our heads throughout your meetings and discussions. Remember, the earth is pretty full and it will become even more crowded. Our society and economy are now so large that we have passed the limits of our planet’s capacity to support us, if we don't change our consumption patterns and demands on nature. It’s time for a big shift and this will only happen if we act together.
And here, in this EPOC meeting at the OECD, I feel we can make it happen. We have Ministers or their representatives from 41 countries, including Brazil, China, Colombia, Indonesia, Russian Federation and South Africa. This is a critical opportunity to further advance our understanding on green growth and sustainable development, to share policy experiences and to foster a new environmental consensus.
I wish you all fruitful discussions and a productive meeting – so that everyone will go home to their capitals with new ideas on how to make better environmental policies, in order to make people’s lives better.