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Maurice Strong" This is not just a technical issue. Everybody's actions are motivated by their inner life, their moral, spiritual and ethical values. Global agreements will be effective when they are rooted in the individual commitment of people, which arises from their own inner life."

Pathway to Rio+20 and the Green Economy


Keynote speech of Maurice F. Strong at Inaugural Section of Delhi Ministerial Dialogue in preparation for Rio+20, New Delhi, India, on 3 October 2011.

I am honoured by the opportunity to speak to this eminent Forum and share with you some of my thoughts and concerns as to the prospects of Rio+20 and how this important Dialogue can contribute to them. I commend the Government of India and the United Nations under the leadership of Rio+20 Secretary-General Sha Zukang for convening this Dialogue and giving us the opportunity to participate in it. 

I view these issues and the urgency, indeed imperative, of producing milestone results at Rio+20 in the context of the long association I have had with them beginning with the Stockholm Conference in 1972. The progress we have made since then in our understanding of the issues and our capacity to address them effectively is impressive. But lack of sufficient progress in implementation of the commitments made by governments at the Earth Summit in 1992 and related fora have left us on a course that is unsustainable and indeed threatens the very future of humankind. Yet current economic and political difficulties now pre-empt the attention of governments and the public undermining the prospects of effective action at Rio+20 to establish the green economy that is the key to sustainability. 

Our host country, India, has had a uniquely influential role in dealing with these issues since Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came to Stockholm and delivered her message that “Poverty is the greatest polluter”. She made the case on behalf of all developing countries that the environment must contribute to and not distract from their priority need for development and relief of poverty. Since then India’s remarkable economic development has made it one of the world’s most rapidly growing economies while continuing to champion the cause of all developing countries. 

The “green economy” is not just a slogan: Rio+20 must produce strong new impetus to its achievement at national, local and global levels. 

The key to this is an immense increase in economic efficiency – efficiency in the production of goods and services, efficiency in the use of energy and in the development, use and re-use of resources. The experience of a number of nations, notably Japan, Germany and other European countries has demonstrated that this is not only feasible. It produces significant economic as well as environment benefits.
The more developed countries which have contributed most to global environmental problems have a responsibility and an interest to fulfill the commitments they have made of to provide developing countries with access to the finances and technologies they require to green their economies. Rio+20 must give real and substantive effect to this concept which is at the heart of the relationship between more developed and less developed countries. 

Rio+20 must go beyond the re-statement of past commitments which have not been implemented and new commitments without any means of accountability for them. It must, I contend, present governments with some radical and innovative challenges of which I offer some examples: 

1) At the High-level Symposium in Beijing, there was broad support for the initiative led by IUCN and the Stakeholders Forum to have civil society organizations in each country assess the performance of their countries in implementation of the commitments they have made and what they should be expected to agree to at Rio+20. I propose that this Dialogue call for the establishment of a mechanism for continuing and objective evaluation of the performance of countries in implementing of their commitments. This would generate strong incentives for governments to do more to implement them;

2) The need for the new and additional financial resources has continued to be a primary requirement for less developed countries to make the transition to what we now call the Green Economy. However, under current economic and political conditions the prospects of obtaining substantial new financial commitments from governments are limited. We should now tap private sources giving them opportunities to invest in the green economy. This was introduced at the Beijing Symposium and is now being further developed;

3) Another means by which countries can make significant progress in the greening of their economy is to make much greater use of the legal system. This is not a new idea but one which deserves much greater attention and more universal application. Principle 21 agreed at the Stockholm Conference provides that “States have, ……, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources, ……, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction”. Principle 22 requires that “State shall cooperate to develop further the international law regarding liability and compensation for the victims of the pollution and other environmental damage caused by activities within the jurisdiction or control of such States to areas beyond their jurisdiction”. 

This Principle has been invoked in a number of instances dating back to the famous Trail Smelter case in which pollution from a major project in Canada was causing damage in the United States. According victims of environment damage in one country access to the courts of the country in which such damage originated to obtain compensation for it would give practical effect to the Stockholm Principles. Special measures will be required to ensure that the poor who are often the main victims of such damage have full access to this recourse. It could be a powerful and effective tool for bringing the poor and the disadvantaged into the green economy and obtaining a fair share of its benefits. 

I am impressed with the degree to which India has already taken pioneering steps to develop a body of “Green Environmental Law”, notably in passing its “National Green Tribunal Act” in 2010. This specifically refers to the decisions taken at Stockholm in 1992 as well as at Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Although my Indian friends tell me that its implementation is still a work in progress, the extensive consideration and dialogue accompanying it places India in a good position to take a lead in extending this concept internationally. Australia also has had a Land and Environment Court since 1979 and New Zealand since in 1991. 

There is therefore already a substantial body of experience and knowledge to call upon in extending this concept internationally. Rio+20 could make a unique and important contribution to realization of the green economy and ensuring that its benefits are fully and fairly shared by the poor and disadvantaged by giving new impetus to this process. IUCN’s Commission on Environmental Law with its international network of legal experts could make an important contribution to it. 

This Delhi Dialogue may wish to consider recommending the setting up a special Commission to develop this for presentation at Rio+20.

Cities are the centers of our civilization - the principal sources of environmental deterioration and the risks we face from it as well as the principal sources of solutions. The greening of our cities must be at the center of our priorities. Many countries have realized that the other measures we undertake must be systemically integrated into the greening of our cities and their impacts on the hinterlands with which they are so interdependent. Many countries are already responding to this challenge. China, where I spend so much my time, is giving high priority to the greening of its cities and the establishment of some 500 new green cities. 

It is important that Rio+20 give strong impetus to the key role of cities as the center piece of the new economy.

Other events which would help to focus public attention on Rio+20 would be to hold an “Earth Gala” with some of the world’s leading artists to coincide with the Summit, and to present prestigious awards for outstanding contributions to sustainable development.

These are some examples of the kind of innovative measures which could make Rio+20 the important milestone on the pathway to the green economy which is the key to the future for all the Earth’s people. 

I commend these thoughts for your consideration.