Germany and the EU hope that the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) will accelerate the global transition to a green economy. Specific targets, in this context referred to as Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, need to be adopted for this purpose. Different countries will have to choose different approaches to achieve a green economy. Advice specifically tailored to the differing needs should therefore be offered to interested governments. The United Nations is not yet adequately equipped to accomplish this task, and for this reason the UN's organisational structures in the field of sustainability need to be reformed.


2030 Agenda

Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs

I. Basis

The upcoming Rio+20 is often compared to the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, also referred to as Earth Summit.

The 1992 Earth Summit covered a much wider range of topics than this year's conference. It was in 1992 that the international sustainability process, the Rio process, was initiated and important new negotiation tracks for global environmental policy were laid down. These include:

  • Agenda 21, which is made up of 40 chapters that contain comprehensive recommendations for action covering all policy areas relevant for sustainability,
  • the Rio Declaration, consisting of the fundamental principles of environmental and development policies,
  • the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and
  • the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Only shortly after the end of the Cold War, the spirit of Rio was thus generated in an atmosphere that can by no means be compared to today's environmental, economic or geo-political situation.

Ten years later in 2002, Agenda 21 was supplemented with the Johannesburg Action Plan at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. This Action Plan details more recommendations for action with a view to implementation, and sets targets for the entire range of sustainable development, in particular globalisation and environment, biodiversity, chemicals, water, sanitation and energy. Above all, the Johannesburg Summit gave impetus to the swift expansion of renewable energies.

II. Agenda of Rio+20

On the proposal of Brazil two main topics were laid down for Rio+20:

  • Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and
  • Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development.

Rio+20 also aims to come to a decision on drawing up

  • Sustainable Development Goals.

This agenda offers the opportunity to ensure swift progress in the global transition to a green economy. In line with the previous intervals between these major UN conferences on sustainability, the next conference of this kind will probably be held in 2022.

III. Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication

III.1: The central idea

The idea behind greening the economy is to achieve human well-being and equal opportunities in the long term without submitting future generations to major environmental risks or scarcity of ecological resources. A green economy is therefore a crucial instrument of sustainability policies. A key element of green economy is to increase resource efficiency in order to decouple resource consumption from economic growth.

There is no doubt that every country has to find its own way to transform its economy, depending on the specific economic conditions and the structure of its society. This is an opportunity for developing and emerging countries to shorten the phase of emission and resource intensive industrialisation. As a result, the social and economic development of large shares of the population can be achieved in an environmentally sound way, and it is possible to ensure public services.

National economies benefit from an environmentally sound and resource saving management which takes account of ecosystem processes. Investments in nature conservation, environmental protection, the energy system and transport infrastructure do not conflict with the economic development of a country or region. Rather, they contribute to easing the burden on the global economy, developing green jobs and eradicating poverty. The European Commission's Low Carbon Economy Roadmap 2050, for example, calculates that EU member states could save up to 320 billion euros every year by reducing their use of coal, oil and gas and at the same time create up to 1.5 million new jobs.

Turning a conventional economy into an inclusive green economy is the only way to achieve ambitious international climate and environmental goals such as global eradication of poverty and a secure food supply. If we do not use this window of opportunity now it will be too late.

III.2 EU priorities

Germany and the EU aim to significantly accelerate the transformation of national economies worldwide into an inclusive green economy. The EU calls for

  • specified timeframes in the areas of energy, water, resource efficiency, sustainable land, biodiversity and oceans (see EU outreach paper Main EU Priorities) and
  • capacity building for interested governments through country-specific advice (see EU outreach paper Capacity Development Scheme).

The Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) developed the Capacity Development Scheme as an implementation and support tool for transformation processes around the world.

III.3 Business initiative Making it Happen

Transformation is also at the heart of the BMU's business initiative Making it Happen in which the private sector offers consultations for companies in developing countries. By mid-June 2012, Deutsche Bank, Siemens and Puma had joined the initiative, and it remains open for other companies as well.

IV. Sustainable Development Goals

Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Peru proposed that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be drawn up. The SDGs are to apply universally and include all three aspects of sustainable development. The process of drawing up the SDGs should be harmonised with the post-2015 process of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which will start in 2013. Consequently, it is expected that a process for developing SDGs and coordinating them with the MDG process will be launched in Rio.

The initiative Sustainable Energy for All, launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is also along the lines of the SDGs. It is a partnership between the UN and the private sector with the specific aim to ensure universal access to modern energy supply and to double both the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and the global share of renewable energies by 2030.

V. Germany as a pioneer

Germany has made progress in many aspects of sustainable management. Now it is important to systematically and sustainably interlink economy and ecology and build on the results achieved so far: Germany has succeeded in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26.5 percent since 1990. This is not only due to what some call wall-fall profit: There was an increase of 38.6 percent in energy productivity and of as much as 46.8 percent in raw material productivity. The transformation of the energy system is at the heart of ecological modernisation in Germany. Germany took decisions on restructuring its energy supply and in doing so has opened the door to a new energy era. The targets for 2050 are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 percent and reach a minimum share of 80 percent of renewable energies in electricity generation.

VI. Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development

Germany and the EU are of the opinion that the efforts to achieve a sustainable economy require a fundamental reform of the UN's sustainability structures. A key requirement of the EU is to upgrade UNEP to a specialised agency in Nairobi.

VI.1 Reform of the UN's environmental structures

General agreement was reached on the functions of an upgraded UN environmental organisation during an informal international consultation of ministers in Helsinki in November 2010. Calls were made for

  • enhanced interconnection of financing mechanisms and political structures,
  • expansion of synergies between multilateral environmental agreements and between environmental UN organisations,
  • inclusion of environmental experts in UN offices in developing countries and
  • increased use of regional structures for strategic planning UN environmental protection efforts.

These measures aim to strengthen UNEP's position as a global authoritative voice for the environment.

Since 2005, the EU has been calling for UNEP to be upgraded to a specialised organisation (UN environmental organisation – UNEO) comparable to WHO, ILO or FAO. The European Council and the Environment Council confirmed this in March 2012.

At the level of heads of state and government, the African Union has also voiced its support for upgrading UNEP.

VI.2 Reform of the UN's sustainability structures

With regard to reforming the UN structures for sustainable development in New York, there is largely agreement that the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) does not work efficiently and should be substituted by a body better suited to the task. The CSD was established in Rio in 1992 as a central institution for drawing up political guidelines and monitoring the implementation of the international agenda for sustainability. When the last two sessions of the CSD in 2007 and 2011 failed to produce results, it became obvious that the CSD is unable to fulfil its tasks.

The dissatisfaction with the CSD was one of the reasons why the Brazilian government organised this year's Rio conference.

So far, UN member states have not settled on a clear preference regarding a new structure. Options range from an enhanced CSD to an independent UN sustainability council which reports directly to the General Assembly. The German government would prefer the latter. In Germany's view, it is important to have a well-functioning review mechanism and a high-level representative for sustainable development and future generations, as proposed by the EU.

This representative would be the face and powerful voice of sustainability and use his or her prominence to draw public attention to negative developments. Success of this kind has been achieved in the field of human rights through the role of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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