Public policies must be reformed to meet sustainable development goals UN-wide report calls for “people-centered” green economy

New York – 14 December 2011 – With growing evidence of lingering economic instability, the United Nations today called for a fundamental restructuring of public spending and policies to accelerate a transition to a more balanced and inclusive green economy.

In the first-ever inter-agency report on the green economy, the Environment Management Group, representing the work of UN agencies, the Bretton Woods Institutions and other intergovernmental bodies – many of whom have a human and social development mandate, outlined steps that both UN entities and its member states can take to generate more sustainable and equitable economic growth.

Such action will require investing in not only clean-technologies and natural capital, but also in human and social capital, including education, health care, cultural development and social protection, which the report acknowledges are all legitimate investments in their own right, apart from their contributions to a green economy.

The report, Working towards a Balanced and Inclusive Green Economy, reflects a growing recognition of the shortcomings of business-as-usual practiced by both the public and private sector institutions over the last two decades. It highlights the need for more integrated approaches between different international agencies and government departments, as well as more targeted investments across the environmental, economic and social domains.

Urging both agencies and governments to use the forthcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (or Rio+20) to turn their commitments into reality, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:

“United Nations entities are keenly aware of the resource challenges that countries face in meeting the needs of a growing and urbanizing world population. The human and economic toll of natural disasters and the volatility of commodity prices reflect worrying trends in global climate change, the growing scarcity of some natural resources and the decline of many ecosystems.

“This report highlights how these challenges can and must be addressed as part of integrated development models that focus on poverty and human well-being.”

Promoting a common UN-wide understanding of the green economy approach to achieve sustainable development, the report offers a range of instruments that governments can use to impact investment choices and consumer behavior. These include finance advice, full cost pricing, regulatory instruments, sustainable trade and green markets, innovation
and technology, investment and trade policies, and indicators for measuring progress towards a global transition.

“There is ample evidence today that business as usual is simply not an option for the decades and generations to come,” said Mr Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Chair of the Environment Management Group.

“The report highlights the fact that policies and policy mixes need to be reoriented and implemented better. The need for regulatory reform is evident, ensuring that market signals are better aligned with the sustainability imperative,” said Mr Steiner.

Public spending can be used to leverage private investments in social and environmental projects, while at the same time providing positive incentives through public finance.

The report calls for public spending to target public goods and services, including green infrastructure, and research and development, that can spur green technologies and innovation, as well as better health care and education.

In addition, governments need to align their laws, regulations, standards, taxes, labeling and reporting requirements to reinforce the incentives for the private sector to direct their finance and investments towards a green economy.

“The absence of appropriate regulation and pricing is causing a failure to create markets in carbon trading, ecosystem services and environmental goods and services,” the report states.

Many governments have responded to the global economic crisis with stimulus packages, which are paving the way for policy reform. Investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, sustainable transport and agriculture, as well as other areas, can contribute to the global economic recovery, apart from generating environmental and social benefits, says the report.

Such investments also have the potential to create new growth paths and avoid locking capital in carbon-intensive, inefficient and polluting technologies.

In developing countries, the World Bank estimates the need for investments in greening infrastructure, such as buildings, energy and transport sectors, could reach US$ 264-$563 billion by 2030. An additional US$ 100 million might be needed for climate adaptation.

While the UN agencies, programmes, regional commissions and funds contribute to different aspects of sustainable development, including humanitarian, business and trade aspects, most of these activities reflect the national economic realities, priorities and decisions of its member states.

The report notes numerous UN-backed initiatives already underway, such as:
Climate Smart Agriculture by FAO
Green ICT standards of the ITU
Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECP) by UNEP and UNIDO

Education for Sustainable Development by UNESCO

Safe Access to Fuel and Alternative Energy (SAFE) by WFP

Green Intellectual Property by WIPO

Green Jobs by ILO

Greening the Health Sector by WHO

Green Tourism by the UN WTO

Climate Change and Cities by UN-Habitat.
As a result, the report finds that the UN entities, along with the Bretton Woods Institutions and other intergovernmental agencies, are well-positioned to support the movement towards a balanced and inclusive green economy at the national level, where they can provide a range of technical advice and capacity support to governments.

Furthermore, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 will be an important milestone along this journey.

“The Rio+20 Summit is an opportunity to adopt the green economy approach as a practical solution to multiple challenges facing a world in economic recovery,” the report states, and calls on member states’ to make collective commitments that will facilitate a global transition.

For more information on the event click here.

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