2013 Meeting of the Environment Policy Committee (EPOC)


Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, Paris, Tuesday 29 October 2013

Esteemed Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to today’s meeting of the OECD Environment Policy Committee (EPOC). You have a very interesting agenda ahead of you, to which I would like to provide a backdrop of broader trends, goals and opportunities to promote green policies.

Current Economic Outlook

In spite of recent uncertainties generated by the US political deadlock, there may finally be grounds for cautious optimism on the economic front. However, we are not out of the woods yet! Several downside risks remain in Europe and the US that could still threaten global economic recovery. Many countries continue to struggle with slow growth, stretched public finances, and high levels of unemployment.

Climate Change / Green Growth

While the recovery process takes hold, we risk that short-term economic pressures shift policy-makers’ attention away from environmental concerns. But we need to continue pushing for green growth and cannot afford to delay our fight against climate change.

As I emphasized in my recent climate lecture on 9 October in London – at the invitation of Lord Stern and the London School of Economics – our understanding of the scale of the risks posed by environmental challenges and climate change is now much better developed than it used to be.

At this stage there should not be any more doubt about the need to change our behaviour and policies. Our planet’s ability to support life is decreasing fast, while our demands on the planet continue to increase.

In my lecture, I called for a move towards zero-net emissions by the second half of the century. I also highlighted the need for carbon pricing to be at the centre of countries’ policy mix for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. 

We now need to identify the economic opportunities that this transition to a zero emission economy provides. This will be crucial in our quest for a new growth model that is more holistic and takes into account the interconnectedness of policy challenges.


OECD activities and tools to make the transition happen

This is something the EPOC’s CIRCLE project is working on which will provide us with insights on the economic growth implications of several environmental challenges and resource scarcity – both in terms of the “costs of inaction” and the “benefits of policy action”.

Preliminary results of the project will feed into the work of our New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) Initiative, which aims at strengthening our analytical frameworks to better address interconnected global trends and policy challenges. They will be included in the final NAEC Synthesis as well as the NAEC Report to be delivered to the MCM 2014.

An important part of the transition is also to shift infrastructure investment towards green infrastructure, for example in housing and transportation. The transport sector is today the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and a major source of local air pollution affecting human health.

In May, I was in Leipzig at the International Transport Forum Annual Summit to launch the report “Mobilising Private Investment in Sustainable Transport”. It is critical to move private investment towards building right, not just building more.

But environment is not only about energy and climate change. The OECD has been very active on other issues, such as water. On 2 September, at the World Water Week in Stockholm, I launched two of our flagship publications, TO BE DELETED CONTENT, and Water and Climate Change Adaptation: Policies to Navigate Uncharted Waters. These are major contributions to the wider international community, including for the post-2015 development agenda.

Next steps going forward

We have to continue with these efforts and there are a number of upcoming opportunities in the near future to push this agenda further.

At COP 19 in Warsaw next month, I will be hosting an OECD side-event on policies for achieving climate targets cost-effectively and mobilising private finance. I will also be opening an OECD high-level breakfast on long-term investors and green infrastructure.

The MCM theme of 2013 was “It’s all about people: Jobs, Equality and Trust”. Preparations for MCM 2014 are now underway and we are already exploring possible themes with Japan, the MCM Chair this year.

One possible cross-cutting theme will be the notion of “Resilience”, and the need for a new growth model that promotes more Balanced, Inclusive and Greener Growth (BIG). EPOC work will be central to these efforts.

The OECD also continues to adapt to the evolving global environment and increasingly engages with non-OECD countries in a more structured way (Accession, regional and country programmes, contributions to the G8 and G20 processes etc.)

Yesterday’s review of Colombia’s Environmental Performance Review (Monday 28 Oct) by the Working Party on Environmental Performance (+ EPOC delegates) shows that you are also engaged in that process.

I will now hand the floor over to Mr. Simon Upton, who will go in detail over your agenda for the next two days. You have a very interesting programme of work ahead of you and I wish you a very productive meeting.

Thank you.