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Let's all grow sustainably! by Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action


Connie Hedegaard

The social and economic achievements we have seen in Brazil over the last years are just remarkable. We need even more people to be included in the global future. We cannot set limits for growth. But which kind of growth do we need? An economic growth at any cost?

Growth in itself is neither our enemy, nor our problem. It is the way we have grown, and the way we continue to grow that is our common challenge.

A child born today is one out of seven billion, and during his lifetime, he will see the world's population grow with another 3 billion. More people will enter the global middle class, not least in Brazil.

This is good news. But by the time this child, born today, will turn 18 in 2030, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water. Every day, 24,000 football fields of forests are being trapped or burned. In 20 years from now, our water supply will satisfy only 60% of world demand. These are the kind of challenges we are facing today.

With these figures in mind, it is clear that business as usual is not an option. It would be wrong to believe that is the cheap option. It is not. On the contrary, it is very expensive.

This is why we need a more sustainable growth model. This is one of the key recommendations from the new report of the UN High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability of which I had the honour of being a member. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched this Panel and invited us to prepare a long-term vision in view of the Rio+20 sustainable development conference in June in Brazil.

So, we need to redefine growth. And tackling climate change is a crucial part to achieve this sustainable growth model. Climate change is a threat multiplier and without climate action, future growth is itself at stake.

Climate-friendly growth must be intelligent by producing more with less. Getting more output with less input. We will all benefit from that. Not least Brazil.

It is important that all countries, including emerging economies, contribute to make the world reduce emissions.

It is clear that different countries with different economies will have to do different things. But the point is that all contribute with more efficient use of resources.

In Europe we reduce our emission already now. We have binding targets for emissions reductions and renewables, a price on carbon, and energy efficiency measures. And we are looking at smarter ways of taxing less what we earn and more what we burn.

Two important lessons we have learned in Europe. Firstly, binding targets work. They help governments remain focused even when other political priorities emerge. Secondly, price signal helps. It drives innovation and investment by creating a permanent incentive to reduce emissions, even during the worst economic crisis in decades.

This is why putting a price on environmental pollution it's so crucial to build a sustainable model for global growth. The Panel on Global Sustainability recommends that by 2020 all governments should establish price signals that value sustainability to guide the consumption and investment decisions of households, businesses and the public sector.

We must make polluters pay. But we must do this in a smart way, through innovative pricing mechanisms and carbon markets. In this way, we can also raise additional money for investments in sustainable development, especially in developing countries.

The Durban climate conference at the end of last year was an important step forward to face the climate challenge.

Brazil was an active, constructive force for a successful outcome: an agreement to launch negotiations on a new truly global legal framework for climate action. An agreement that reflects the reality of today's mutually interdependent world.

This is important not only because Brazil is especially vulnerable to more severe and frequent extreme weather. It is also because the transition to a low-carbon global economy presents a huge opportunity to modernise our economies, stimulate growth and create jobs.

So the good news for all is that going sustainable does not have to happen at the expense of economic growth. Going sustainable is about maintaining and improving our quality of life while ensuring pollution does not undermine economic growth. It is about more intelligent ways of producing, and it is about smarter cities with cleaner air and less pollution, less noise and less congestion. It is about building energy efficient homes. It is about lower energy bills.

The world's leaders must use the Rio+20 summit in June to bring sustainable development to the heart of the global economic agenda. This is where it belongs rather than in the environment silo isolated from the key economic decisions.

As we did in Durban, now the task for the EU and Brazil is to work together towards truly global solutions, confident and proud of our leadership in this field. Let's use the upcoming Rio+20 summit to kick off this global transition towards a sustainable growth model for the 21st century that the world so badly needs.

Last update: 27/06/2013 | Top