Opening Remark at UN-MOFA Joint Forum at Eco-Forum Global 2016

Opening Remark at UN-MOFA Joint Forum at Eco-Forum Global 2016

9 July 2016, Guiyang

Delivered by Mr. Ralf Bredel, Head of UNIDO’s Regional Office for China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Mongolia. on behalf Mr. Percy Misika, UN Resident Coordinator a.i.

Your Excellency Mr. Dai Bingguo, Former State Councilor, 
Your Excellency, Mr. Wu Hailong, President of Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs,
Your Excellency Madame Shen Yiqin, Deputy Secretary of the Guizhou Provincial Committee of the CPC, 
Dear colleagues and guests,

It is my pleasure to join all of you for our UN-MOFA Sub-forum on achieving the 2030 Agenda and an ecological civilization through innovative approaches and to speak on behalf of the UN System in China. Before starting, let me take the opportunity to convey the greetings of our Resident Coordinator a.i., Mr. Percy Misika, who is travelling with the Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, to Hangzhou as we are speaking.

It does not require much wisdom to say that, in the past, natural resources have too often been used inefficiently in both industrialized and developing countries. Environmental impact has been externalized. And too often our development paradigms have been focused on economic growth, with a mindset that resources will always be abundant and that waste and pollution come at no cost. If we don’t shift course, by 2050 we will need three planets earth to satisfy our world’s resource demands.
With the Sustainable Development Goals adopted last year, a new ear has begun where sustainability sets the pace of development. A new sense of responsibility, conviction and global commitment has led to the adoption of a number of important environmental frameworks in recent years. Besides the 2030 Agenda these include: The Nagoya Protocol and Aichi Targets for biodiversity, the Rio+20 outcome “The Future We Want”, the first and second UN Environmental Assemblies, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Paris Agreement adopted last year. In addition, the upcoming Habitat III Conference, in Quito this October, is expected to adopt a “new urban agenda” and provide guidance for urban development in the next 20 years. 

All of these frameworks direct us towards a new development paradigm where concepts such as mitigation and decarbonization, adaptation and resilience, resource efficiency and cleaner production, sustainable procurement, green jobs, renewable energy, climate finance, resilient infrastructure and green industry will be central.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is clear that the Asia and the Pacific region and China are key to the success of this global agenda. The region is home to 60% of the world’s population. It also accounts for 50% of global resource use, and consumption is rapidly rising as economies grow, infrastructure is built and the middle class expands. Despite weaker economic performance recently, many countries in the region are still experiencing impressive growth rates. But many of them are also under greater threat of climate change and environmental degradation than ever before. In China, air, soil and water pollution threaten to unravel years of growth and hard earned gains in improving incomes and livelihoods could be lost.

The good news is that the region has already started to recognize the urgency of embarking on a green economy pathway to sustainable development. It is already taking the lead in initiating a green transition. China’s determination to build an “Ecological Civilization” under the 13th Five Year Plan, and many national and local green growth strategies in other Asian countries are testimony to this fact. 

President Xi Jinping’s statement during the CPC Central Committee meeting in May 2013 that: ‘we should handle well the relationship between economic development and ecological conservation […and that] we must not sacrifice the environment to temporary economic growth’ is indeed very encouraging. 

Enhancing ecological functions and services and the improvement of environmental quality are at the core of the concept of eco-civilization. It foresees that in the future, resource consumption, environmental losses and ecological benefits will be key indicators in evaluating social and economic performance in China. To realize this transition, innovative approaches are needed. The designation of “main functional areas” across the country and the drawing of “ecological redlines” are a few existing examples of such innovation. Another innovation is the establishment of a system to hold senior officials accountable for ecological conditions under their responsibility, retroactively if necessary.  

During the recent second UN Environmental Assembly in May 2016, the UN released a report which carries the visionary title: ‘Green is Gold: The Strategy and Actions of China’s Ecological Civilization’. The title is in fact a quote of the Chinese’s President Xi Jinping himself. The report could not have been more timely as it reviews current progress of developing an eco-civilization in China, and showcases China’s corresponding practices to the world. I encourage all of you to read it. 

As the second largest economy in the world and the largest emerging country in Asia, China’s ambition to create an eco-civilization has a significant role to play in helping and motivating other countries’ transition towards a green economy. There are ample institutional and policy innovations in China already today that can be shared in this regard. 

The setting up of the New Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund demonstrate China’s commitment to take on a leadership role not only at the national level, but also at the regional and international levels. Clear evidence towards this role is also the announcement of President Xi Jinping during the UN Summit adopting the SDGs last year to establish a South-South Cooperation Fund to help developing countries implement the SDGs with an initial pledge of 2 billion USD. Another example is China’s current G20 Presidency which is putting forward a dedicated G20 Action Plan on the SDGs, and climate change issues have been made a particular priority by the Presidency too.  

There is indeed reason to be optimistic. In the future innovative tools to advance resource efficiency and cleaner production world-wide are likely derive from the so-called “new industrial revolution”, otherwise known as industry 4.0, which will transform conventional production processes and business models. Connecting people, machines and resources in a more intelligent way through convergence of Next Generation Information Technology and advanced manufacturing, this revolution will increasingly blurring the boundaries between the physical and the digital world. In so doing it has a potential to harness modern technologies for more efficient and environmentally friendly processes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One thing is clear: The transition to a green economy and eco-civilization will play out in a framework of increased urbanization everywhere. By the year 2050, the world urban population is expected to nearly double, posing massive sustainability challenges, in terms of housing, infrastructure, basic services, and jobs among others. The objective of the Chinese Government is to increase the population living in urban areas to 60% by 2020. There is a need to address the way cities and human settlements are planned, developed, governed and managed.

This is why for our forum today we have decided to focus discussions on two complementary themes: “Sustainable Urban Development” on the one hand, and “Green Development in Rural Areas” on the other. 

To realize the transition to an eco-civilization, we need liveable cities, in which nature and ecosystems are fully integrated to play a critical role for food and water security, for economic activities, for human health, increased quality of life and development. And just as importantly, we need rural areas that benefit economically from their sustainable use of natural resources — and from the innovations often brought on in cities. Dynamic and smart cities offer access to development in rural areas, through sustainable consumption and production patterns, and sustainable rural development is critical for healthy and secure cities.

As China is seeking to design its roadmap for an industrial transition towards an eco-civilization, further institutional reforms and capacity enhancement will likely be needed. The UN system in China stands ready to continue to provide support in this process - to turn environmental constrains into opportunities, to better manage natural resources and improve resource productivity. We look forward to working closely with the Government and all stakeholders to localize and implement the SDGs in China in the years to come, using the combined strength and mandates of all UN agencies. It is clear that moving forward the focus on green development and eco-civilization can only get stronger.

Educating on the SDGs, enhancing awareness and expanding knowledge will be vital for protecting the environment and for sustainable development at large. Our forum today will hopefully make a contribution to this important learning process. Let me, therefore, stop here and finish by wishing our event a great success and I look forward to our discussions. 

Thank you.

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