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Towards green growth: how can the Environment Policy Committee contribute?


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, at the Environment Policy Committee meeting (EPOC)

OECD, Paris, 21 October 2009

Dear colleagues, good morning.

It is a pleasure to open this meeting of EPOC. As we begin to see signs of economic recovery, policy debates are focusing on what kind of a post-crisis global economy we want. And the answer is “green”. EPOC’s work is already making valuable contributions to national and international policy discussions. This morning, I would like to appeal for your ideas and advice on how to further strengthen EPOC’s contribution to green growth for the benefit of OECD countries and beyond.

1. The G20: extending the OECD influence

These are exciting and challenging times in which the global governance architecture is being redefined. We are very proud to have been invited by President Obama to participate in the G20 Summit and the preparatory meetings.

Being in the G20 process has given, and will continue to give, more relevance and visibility to our work and more impact for our policy recommendations. For instance, we propose to put innovation and green growth at the centre of economic strategies, based on the ongoing OECD work.

A key outcome of the Pittsburgh G20 Summit for OECD was the request to build on the joint work of EPOC and the Economic Policy Committee on the economic and environmental benefits of removing fossil fuel subsidies. Your analysis and good judgment on the issues that matter to advance the environmental agenda struck the right chord in Pittsburgh, and as our colleagues in the US told us, the agreement to remove these subsidies was one of the outcomes that President Obama valued most. Our projections were used in the discussions to get the agreement from all countries sitting around the table. We need to continue our work on this field, as we were mandated, along with the IEA. But we also need to continue providing good analysis in many areas of the environment field.

To do this, we really need to upgrade our knowledge and understanding of emerging economies. In a way, the Enhanced Engagement mandate was a visionary strategy that has placed us in a good position, but we should do more to expand our work with these countries.

We also need to expand the room of comfort as Prime Minister Brown calls it. Some of these countries still regard the OECD and its policy recommendations with skepticism. For the OECD to stay relevant in the rapidly changing world economy, we need to more than just “engage” with partner countries. In this context, I am pleased to see South Africa participating in this meeting.

When you discuss the mainlines of your next Programme of Work, I invite you to consider how you might re-orient your programme or working methods to better involve South Africa and other Enhanced Engagement countries more directly in the work, starting with the Green Growth Strategy.

Of course, the enlargement of the OECD membership itself is also important. I am pleased to see that EPOC is making good progress, with examinations of three candidate countries completed and further progress to be made on a fourth country at this meeting.

2. The OECD and Green Growth

The Green Growth Strategy is the greatest effort we should make. We are the very first international organization that is defining it and is drawing the policy implications of the concept. This is a great contribution that you are making, not only to the OECD countries but to the world.

We should thank the Korean government and former Prime Minister Han for the trust they have shown in our capacities and for preaching by example.

Green growth is about promoting economic growth while reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, minimising inefficient use of natural resources, and maintaining biodiversity. It means making investments in environment a driver for growth. The OECD has a unique value-added to address green growth, given our expertise in examining the economy-environmental linkages and policies in many relevant areas. I look forward to your advice on how EPOC’s existing work might be re-focused, re-prioritised or extended to new work.

We have a new mandate thanks to the OECD Declaration on Green Growth, adopted at the Ministerial Council Meeting (MCM) in June by Ministers of Finance, Economy, Trade, and Foreign Affairs from 34 countries. At the 2008 EPOC Ministerial meeting, your Ministers stressed that greening of the economy needs other ministers’ participation.The Green Growth Declaration is the response to this call. It was only at your meeting last February that you had an initial exchange of country information on “green” stimulus measures. We have made quite a lot of progress since then!

3. Climate change: towards Copenhagen

Tackling climate change is a fundamental part of achieving green growth. At COP15, the world must come up with a bold and collective response. Yet, we are only 50 days away from COP15, and many questions still remain without answers. EPOC’s work is helping to provide policy-makers with the analytical support and economic rationale to help close the deal in Copenhagen.

Your work on the economics of climate mitigation and adaptation, eco-innovation and climate policy linkages, as well as work by the OECD-IEA Annex I Expert Group on issues on the negotiating agenda, are all important contributions.

The new publication The Economics of Climate Change Mitigation: Policies and Options for Global Action Beyond 2012, which I had the pleasure to launch at the Conference on the Economics of Climate Change on 18th September, contains analyses that are timely and of high political relevance. In particular, the results that removing fossil fuel subsidies could cut world greenhouse gas emissions by 10% in 2050 compared with business-as-usual was widely used to break a deal at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh.

G20 leaders committed to “rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption” and asked the OECD and others to “provide an analysis of the scope of energy subsidies and suggestions for the implementation of this initiative and report back at the next summit.” Another example of the impact of the OECD work is the OECD Policy Guidance on Integrating Adaptation into Development Co-operation, which was welcomed at the Joint High Level Meeting of EPOC and the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in May.

We must join forces to widely communicate OECD policy messages at every opportunity:

  • On the costs of inaction on climate change, and thus, on how to construct cost-effective policy mixes post-2012;
  • how to deliver finance and technology to support action by major emitters;
  • how to manage carbon leakage and competitiveness;
  • the need to invest in and spread low-carbon technologies, and on the importance of climate-proofing development. 

We are doing our part, for example,  at the UN Climate Summit called by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Greenland Dialogue hosted by Danish Minister Connie Hedegaard and the Round Table on Sustainable Development, in New York in September, where we assembled a large group of Ministers on the issue of Comparability of Efforts. earlier this month at the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings in Istanbul. And I look forward to being the messenger of the OECD “gospel” at COP15. We need your views on how we can best deliver the messages and results of EPOC’s work to support a successful post-2012 agreement.

4. Measuring the Progress of Societies

There have been many political demands for a new generation of statistics and indicators that can restore public trust in policy-making. The OECD has been working with other international bodies to support the Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies. The European Commission has recently launched a “communication” on “ Beyond GDP”.

Last month, the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, established by President Sarkozy and chaired by Professor Stiglitz, presented its report. The G20 Leaders encouraged further work on measurement methods that better account for the social and environmental dimensions of economic development.

OECD will continue to be at the centre of efforts to respond to these demands. I have accepted the request by France for the OECD to act as the international focal point for the follow-up to the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission. EPOC has been a pioneer in the area of environmental information and indicators, and I would encourage you to maintain this role. I will shortly  be sending all Committees an invitation to consider how you could best respond to these new demands.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank Lorents Lorentsen, the former Environment Director who recently returned to Norway, for his leadership over the past 6 years. I have asked Rob Visser to be Acting Director and Helen Mountford as Acting Deputy Director until Lorents’ successor is appointed.

EPOC is leading the way to find economically efficient and environmentally effective solutions to some of the most pressing challenges of our days. I count on your expertise and contributions to the new OECD initiative on green growth.

I wish you all a productive meeting.


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