Rio+20 – The U.S. outlook to a ‘green economy’

31 May 2012

“Rio is an opportunity to shape the sustainable development vision going forward and a chance to reconcile all three pillars: environmental, economic and social,” said Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, United States Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

“Rio is a chance to reenergise discussions on sustainable development – the agenda is very broad. It’s a chance to think about pragmatic solutions. Demonstrate to citizens what’s happening and how they are contributing,” Jones said.

She said the summit would discuss the institutional governance framework on sustainable development, explaining that the behaviour of individuals, grassroots action, the private sector and local government all had key roles to play.

“It’s not just something for national governments,” Jones stressed.

“Youth will be affected by these issues, so involve them. Look at the role of women as leaders as well as participants. They are often the heads of families, so they see on the ground which technologies do and don’t work. Empower, involve and educate them,” the US official said.

She encouraged leaders to define the ‘green economy’, because at the moment there was “no one hard and fast definition”.

Jones argued that the green economy includes finding means to value ecosystems, developing clean energy technologies, improving energy efficiency and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.

“Engage the private sector, because the trajectory of where industry is heading is crucial. Create an environment in which green technology gets out quickly. Offer tax incentives. Look at cleaner production practices – and include them in free-trade agreements,” she advised.

“Rio is a huge topic that covers many sectors and interests. It’s a chance for the international community to shape the agenda going forward,” Jones concluded.

“Working together with civil society and the private sector – and involving women and young people – is a very good place to start. But is it enough?” asked Alan Seatter, deputy director-general of DG Environment at the European Commission.

“The EU approach could be characterised as being very top-down. The US one is very bottom-up. The EU has a menu but no ingredients. The US has bought the ingredients, but there’s no menu,” Seatter said.

“We need to invest in technologies that allow a new kind of development. But no signal of that is being given to the private sector. There’s no market for saving water or maintaining ecosystems,” said the Commission official, arguing that such things should be given a price.

“The same applies to clean air, which has a huge benefit-to-cost ratio,” he insisted.

The EU believes signals must be set for water, land, energy, waste and oceans, Seatter explained.

“The benefits of all this are very large,” he said, referring to research which had found that cutting out food waste, tackling water leakage and addressing land degradation could bring benefits of €500 billion a year.

“We need to define goals that create signals for investment,” Seatter argued.

“Mobilise the private sector. Institutional engagement is crucial too,” he said, making the case for strengthening UNEP (the United Nations Environment Programme).

He concluded by saying “the EU and the US must work together to combine our two approaches and generate the right signals for investment to take place”.