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Keynote Speech

2007-11-28author:source:

  Minister Zhou, esteemed Co-Chairs, Secretary General, dear colleagues and China Council,

  Minister Zhou invited me this morning to briefly respond to his speech and some of the major messages that we have been briefed and briefed about and listened to during the past two days, and as always, it is a great privilege for me to be part of the China Council and part of a circle of, I think, international concerned people who both care about China’s development, who are also engaged on the challenge of facing environmentally sustainable development in the global context.

  To me it has been intriguing both this morning listening to you Minister Zhou and also yesterday to Premier Wen Jiabao and to the Vice Premier speaking about a new thinking, in fact it was Premier Wen Jiabao, Claus, you may recall after your remarks, who said that the forth pillar that we are looking for is a new way of thinking. We have heard about a new paradigm. I believe if you read carefully the report by President Hu Jintao to the 17th Congress, there’re truly signals of a paradigm shift in how we look upon the reality of the environment, natural resources and sustainability in the context of the development discourse, the scientific approach to the development in China.

  As I briefly said yesterday during our meeting with the Premier, I believe in many ways China’s evolution of thinking reflects an experience that is shared by many countries, but interesting enough, often not as clearly articulated as it is now being articulated in China. We have lived for the last twenty, thirty, fifty years, depending on where you live in the world, with the notion of the environment essentially being a clean-up operation. Our generation is paying the price for a lack of intelligent development of the last 50-100 years, whether you point to local situations, Minister Zhou, you were just referring to rivers and lakes, whether you refer to whole ecosystems, whether you refer to what is happening to our fish stocks across the oceans, whether you refer to the atmosphere in global warming. Clearly our generation is already a generation that is paying a price for a lack of intelligent development. This clean-up phase has unfortunately turned the environmental dimension of development very often to an account that is drawing down resources. It is viewed as a taxiing development, because as you are trying to run forward you have to take money to clean up, first of all, the track on the train trying to run, and for much of the last twenty, thirty years, I have always been intrigued by how when we talk about investing in environmental sustainability, when we do so in the context of development, and let me emphasize here, not only in developing countries, the same is true in the more industrialized nations, environmental investment have been viewed as somehow distraction from your objectives of economic growth, economic development and progress.

  As we reach some of the limits and critical points that’s so called ticking point, the thresholds in what our planet can sustain, in terms of drawing down its capital, its natural capital, in terms of pollution, or in terms of degradation. We’re beginning to see that in many different countries and economies you are entering into a transitional phase, and I believe that this is perhaps the most important moment in which a society, an economy, its key players start looking at the environment not as a marginal issue, but rather as an increasingly central part of sustaining human well being and sustaining economic progress.

  In much of what we have heard during the last two days, China admits of rethinking the role of the environment and the role of its environmental sustainability dimension in future economic development, that second phase, the transitional phase when, on the one hand, you have an economic engine, pulling the train at the fascinating speed in China is accompanied alongside the clean-up operation also with a sense of new opportunities in the economy. And I think the third phase ultimately is when we do manage to transform the economies with which we are trying to sustain an ever growing population, an ever growing demand for services, for commodities, for human well being, for the comforts of life in the broader sense of the word. In that sense, the term environmental protection may also need to evolve in the development discourse that we have not only in China but worldwide, because the future of environmental dimensions of development should not only be restricted to the notion of protection. It is in fact in some ways an investment with great future returns in economic terms.

  The notions of sustainable development that we have worked with for around 30 years now ultimately try to capture that linkage. But if you are honest to this day, we have not quite completed that process beyond the theoretical paradigms and the experimental phase. I believe that China is now the forefront of helping the world to interpret the environment in the context of development more as a driver for development. And if you take the issue of climate change, on the one hand, it is truly a sovereign scenario that we now face in the year 2007 after the IPCC report and many other national reports have been put on the tables of decision-makers and our societies, we have truly succeeded as a global community of human beings to take this planet close to some thresholds which would have been unimaginable just ten or fifteen years ago. But in every crisis lies an opportunity. It may seem a quasi statement but there’s no issue that can capture this more clearly than climate change. Because I truly believe that as we move forward in facing the realities that are now before us, what we’ll see is that climate change and by extension also the environmental dimension of development is turning from being a taxing development, perhaps being the greatest driver, in terms of innovation, in terms of efficiency in our economies, in terms of productivity, in terms of job creation, and indeed as a driver in the transformational processes that you have here in China often articulated in a far more powerful and essentially simple set of terms, whether it is the five balances or the three transformations, the notions of a circular economy, a harmonious society. I believe that these terms will shape the discourse on development far more powerfully in the very narrow and to some extent simplistic notions of GDP growth, per capita income, and productivity in the sense of unilateral production. Perhaps I’ve been optimistic but I think whenever you look at the moment that is the trend that is emerging. It does not mean that it is yet the central paradigm; I think it was one of our Chinese colleagues yesterday who said that at the end of the day we have to accept that it is the economic paradigm and economic growth which will continue to capture the attention of decision makers and also the society. Yes indeed. But the differences that as we meet here today the environmental dimension of development can express itself in terms of the variables of economic growth. I think the notion that somehow environmental protection and economic growth and development are trains pulling to different directions remains one of the great mis-readings of the twentieth century.

  In that sense, climate change, always posing major challenges in the transformational context and phase are becoming the drivers of an economy and society that ultimately will have a much greater viability into the future. If you look at already what is happening in China, and Mr. Zhou just referred to it, I’m always intrigued how the notion of common wisdom that is being propagandized sometimes for very particular interests in much of the media world today of two power stations building weekly in China, why is there not a comma that mentions the other half of the story, which is that is it replacing old capacity? That China today already has twice the amount of renewable energy in its energy mix than the world average. China can sell 20% of total investment in renewable energy worldwide, and we could go on, we have heard the number of figures that indicate how far that transition is already under way here. This should not distract from the fact and now I go back toward what Hanson said on the first day. China is both a nation, a country, an economy, and an environmental reality that is deeply troubling, first and foremost, to China’s people and to China’s leadership. We have spent years in this Council, confronting the very sovereign reality from pollution to land degradation, desertification, the challenges of waters, and this morning Mr. Zhou referred to a major effort to address also the future of clean rivers and water systems. But we have also been witnessed of a nation capable of accepting reality, willing to confront the challenge, and most importantly, beginning to act on it. I personally have not followed a nation that has made a transition from recognizing a problem to measuring it and then to begin to manage it as quickly as in China, just in these five or six years that I have been part of the China Council. It strikes something that I once learned from business: if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.

  In China, it has become part of a nation’s commitment to trying to address these issues. But climate change is not only a driver in the macro economic context, it is also a major driver in terms of job creation, in terms of industrial progress. There’re companies today in China that are dominating already on the global market in fields of photo-voltage cells, equally in countries like India, we have wind power companies that are today global market leaders, that are vertically integrating technology development with mass scale production and also the expansion of renewable energy economy that is based on an ever reducing cost of production per unit.

  China has the possibility also in the context of international decisions such as in the Montreal Protocol, which will trigger the introduction of a whole new generation of, for example air conditioning equipment, to become a major player in the global market place on the back of environmentally driven technology advance. I know that there’re companies in China who have technology in their draws that will reduce by half the energy consumption of classical air conditioning equipment. If we can indeed move forward with international policies that shape a global market place, the environmental drivers are everything but a distraction from economic development prospects on the country they are part of underpinning a new market place in which innovation can actually be part of job creation and economic growth. And that logic extends also to the natural capital because in these times of climate change it is sometimes tempting to forget that we are also talking about the eco-systems on our planet. UNEP published, and this is still in a sense Claus’s product because it began in his tenure as Executive Director, we published this year the Global Environment Outlook 4. It took the perspective of the last twenty years, and may I say, to my own surprise, reading that document was one of the most sovereign experiences in my time in UNEP, because even though all of us deal with these issues more or less every day, if you take GEO 4, and you take a twenty-year perspective between the Brundtland Commission first laid out some of the major sustainability variables for the future of our planet, and you look at them twenty years later, it is a very sovereign conclusion in which none of them have we as a global community turned the corner, and what is even more frustrating is that behind that truth lies a wealth of examples of how we could do it differently if only we scale it up, if only that transformation that we talk about where to take place. So in the times of climate change, we should not forget that eco-system, eco-goods and services are an integral part of the sustainability agenda, and in fact, to cope with climate change, we must understand that the resilience of eco-systems is perhaps as critical for us to be able to live in a world of global warming and adaptation as the mitigation agenda, it is in that sense I hope that also the China Council we will have to keep that holistic perspective and not to only narrow it down to in a sense a climate change mitigation technology agenda.

  Let me end by again saying that we have heard of the last two days, Minister Zhou, you just summarized the three thrusts that you say also in terms of the international agenda in China’s engagement; that these are extremely positive signals. I believe we have served in this Council those words we served in previous Council a far greater pragmatism, openness, and willingness to recognize that, yes, on the one hand as Premier Wen Jiabao said if 1.3 billion Chinese people can lead a more sustainable life, this is good for the world. And therefore, the domestic agenda of dealing with issues that you laid out this morning, Mr. Zhou, are the first priority at the center of our attention. But you have also shown and the 17th Party Congress has shown that China recognizes that it is a global player. We heard about the ecological footprint of China in this context. We know about the supply chains, we also know about the power of Chinese products beginning to become first-order products in a world where governments will have a green procurement policy, where energy efficiency and sustainable use of raw materials will become criteria on the global market place.

  And in that sense, I believe that China’s active engagement and we in the China Council becoming actively engaged in discussing theses issues will serve not only the domestic agenda, but indeed the understanding of the international community of how China can play a role. And then by saying that in the words of President Hu Jintao, it is when countries help each other when they cooperate that we have the greatest possibility of indeed making a difference. In a few days’ time the world will meet in Bali, we know that what is likely to occur in Bali. It’s going to a challenge, because we’re meeting as a community of 190-plus nations, with very different economic interests and indeed very different perspectives. I think the United Nations will be under tremendous pressure, but ultimately will be down to the member states whether they can respect the role that the platform such as the United Nations has to play, in this case, in the context of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. We are confronted with a history and a legacy on the climate change, and we are confronted with a challenge of future emissions.

  We have two years in which the world can forge a different kind of agreement. Unfortunately, the conversation of the last five to ten years has been characterized by delegating responsibility to others in order for action in one’s own home yard. I think the conversation that we need to have in Bali will hopefully be characterized by a different viewpoint, one that we’ll accept the reality of climate change, secondly that each one takes their responsibility and their possibility seriously of addressing it, and that thirdly, this becomes the basis upon which the industrialized world will commit itself to taking its responsibility to lead with significant emissions reductions, at the same time supporting developing nations in investing in technology transfer, Minister Zhou you mentioned as an important part of the three points at the end of your speech. I believe this is fundamental for us ensuring that we do not lose by 2009 the best hope we have of having a global framework for responding to climate change. Without that, not only is our capacity to deal with global warming severely constrained, we may very well find ourselves at the other spectrum of a prospect in which a world is not able to work collaboratively and collectively on this issue, and then the scenarios of climate change, and global security and geopolitics will kick in. And I can assure you whatever you read at the moment in that direction, it will be a grim world in which we would have to live with each other, not working together but rather against each other in facing a challenge that as you put it and also the President put it in his speech, we can only work collaboratively by helping each other to address it.

  I end my speech by saying that I also hope that we in the China Council can by part of creating a different climate for conversation and dialogue. The climate change negotiations in the next two years will often face the risk of drifting in the wrong direction of nations drifting apart. I think we in the China Council must play an active role in helping the world to understand that when China talks about its development interests, it is no different than when America talks about its development interests, when Europe talks about its development interests; and that we also help the world to understand that climate action is not something that is not happening in China, but rather that one conditions the other in terms of accelerating the pace, and this is my appeal also to the Chinese leadership that it protects both the Secretary-General’s intent to help convene a world response to climate change , and it protects the role of the United Nations, because it requires member states to look after the United Nations, to look after an instrument like the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. Because if member states do not guard this instrument, we may well face risk and lose it, and in that sense I convey also from the Secretary General’s perspective, his interests and his great passion for trying to use his offices and use the office of the United Nations to try bringing to this process of negotiation a prospective that ultimately touches on the core of our common humanity and the future of life on this planet.

  Thank you very much.

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