Rebeca Grynspan: Remarks on the Launch of the World Centre for Sustainable Development

Jun 24, 2013

UNDP Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan speaks in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the launch of the World Centre for Sustainable Development. (Photo: Diego Amorim/RIO+)

International Seminar: “Towards implementation of the Rio+20 Conference: the Sustainable Development Goals”

Opening Remarks by

Ms. Rebeca Grynspan

U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNDP Associate Administrator

Rio de Janeiro

24 June 2013


I would like to begin by thanking the City and State of Rio de Janeiro and the Government of Brazil for their hospitality, is always a pleasure to come to this friendly country and this beautiful city.

Let me also thank Brazil for its leadership. Brazil has gained a special place in the global discussion towards a sustainable develoment agenda.  Ministra Teixeira, Ambasador Correia do Lago, let me take this opportunity to recognize once again your contribution: the sustainable development discussion will determine the world's own ability to achieve human development and wellbeing for all.

Let me also thank our UNDP Office in Brazil, Jorge Chediek our Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator and his team, and all the partners of the Centre who have believed in this idea.

Warm thanks go also to COPPE of the Universidad Federal de  Rio de Janeiro for generously providing us with an incubator office and of course to Dr. Rômulo Paes the Manager of the Centre and his Deputy, Ms. Layla Saad, for taking on this responsibility.

More than twenty years ago at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, leaders set out what today is conventional wisdom: human well-being — both social and economic — cannot be divorced from environmental protection. Unless they are advanced together, all will flounder or fail.

Last year world leaders and thousands of representatives from civil society, the private sector, governments, and a huge diversity of interested groups came together again here, at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, to debate, advocate, and commit to the implementation of a sustainable development agenda. The Conference was key because before it took place there was a general feeling that progress was very slow and we were losing the steam and commitment required.

The outcome document approved at Rio + 20 reasserted the inextricable link between economic, social and environmental policies for the achievement of sustainable development.  It brought about consensus on the need for and commitment to poverty eradication, changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development.

Human Development is only possible where we act to protect the environment while meeting the needs of the hundreds of millions of people that still live hungry and in extreme poverty.

In order to put the world on the right track, Rio+20 made the creation and adoption of Sustainable Development Goals - a priority on the international agenda and calling for them to be coherent with / and integrated into the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015.

Now that the High Level Panel of the U.N. Secretary-General has handled their report and that the Open Working Group held its fourth meeting last week we also need to celebrate the inauguration of this Center agreed in June 2012, that is a clear sign of concrete steps forward and an important landmark to make the Conference outcome document "the Future we Want" a guiding force for action.
The Rio+ Centre has emerged at a unique time in history, amidst an animated global political debate on sustainable development, poverty eradication, human rights, and social justice. This is clearly a precious opportunity to shift paradigms and trigger transformative change.  

This Centre was established to create something new, to redefine what is possible and to break the rules that no longer serve the good of people and communities.
The Center is designed to expand the frontiers of Knowledge on sustainable development, promote innovation and international debate and enlarge the participation of actors facilitating the exchange of resources, skills and expertise.

Let me summarize the Centre's contribution in 5 short points that show how the Centre will be a key actor in connecting issues, countries, actors and time!

1.  First, it will connect the three dimensions of Sustainable Development, the social, economic and environmental, and will help change the discourse from focusing on the trade offs to focusing on the triple wins. We don't believe that environmental sustainability is a limit or obstacle to growth or to poverty reduction.  If we focus on making wise and informed choices we can help accelerate economic and energy transformations, drive advances in technology, and spur the creation of new production models creating new goods, services, jobs and exports.  

More and more evidence points to the fact that unless we seriously address inequality and environmental sustainability, we won’t be able to replicate in the next 2 decades the progress we have been experiencing in Human development in the last 20 years.

In the Human Development Report of 2011 and 2013 we provide sound projections and scenarios that attest to these facts.

We also know that it is usually the poor and the vulnerable that are most affected, especially women, not only by recurrent and more severe natural disasters related to climate change, but also by ecosystems degradation. These ecosystems provide a safety net for 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty around the world.

Biodiversity loss, ecosystems degradation and recurrent natural disasters are undermining hard-won development gains, taxing societies and saddling the international community with extremely high costs.

UNDP’s core mission is to contribute to the eradication of extreme poverty and the reduction of inequality and exclusion: if this is to be achieved, the integration of environmental sustainability and natural resource management into the development and poverty reduction agenda is indispensable.

The good news is that solutions can be found.  We have the examples of Bolsa Verde in Brazil, the contributions of the Equator Initiative for example,  the winning 2012 program in Bali in Indonesia that created 70 artificial Biorock reefs which have restored fish stocks, marine biodiversity, incomes and jobs, and as this one many others. What we need is to scale up efforts and remove the obstacles and dis-incentives to do so.
2. Second, to connect the three dimensions of Sustainable development we need to connect the three communities of practice and the sectoral agendas.

This is simpler to say than to do. Sustainable development will require much more interaction, understanding and common research and innovation.  

Although progress has been made in bringing economist and social scientists, including political scientists to dialogue and build together, and the environment and economic practitioners and scientists are working more than before on climate change, externalities and determinants of long term growth, much more has to be done. Especially in connecting the poverty and environmental professional communities and practices.  We need to bring the Ministers of finance with the Ministers of the Environment because the discussion is essential to obtain the objectives of both!  The Center can make a contribution in this direction.

3.  Part of the success of this agenda will depend on how well we are going to be in connecting the short and the long term.

If we look at the horizon, shifting away from practices that achieve relatively short term economic growth at significant cost to long term development in natural capital, poverty reduction and growth itself. Finally we need to understand that the short and the long term start at the same time.

4. The centre has to connect countries and global experiences, bringing the different contexts, paths and policy options that can help define and drive sustainable development. They need to network with the different institutions and centres around the world.

5.  And finally it has to bring together the Private, Public and Civil society partners, and it has to do so at the global, regional national and local level.  The transformation that is needed will not happen if we don't bring the business community and change the content and pattern of investments, if Governments at the global, national and local levels don't assume their responsibility and if civil society and communities cannot contribute to a positive agenda with voice and participation.  What we do is important but how we do it is also key.

That is why one of the first actions of the Centre Rio+ will be to reactivate the Rio Dialogues that successfully engaged over 12,000 people in the lead up to Rio+20 last year.  It will also stand ready to contribute to, and advocate for, the adoption of ambitious and universal Sustainable Development Goals articulated with a post 2015 agenda.  

The UN-led global consultations on Post-2015 have also a lot to contribute to this global conversation.  So far, over 560,000 people from 194 countries have participated and have voted for the issues that would make the most difference to their lives. In Brazil, more than 16,200 people have voted until now, being the country in Latin America with the highest participation and with nearly as many votes as in the United States of America.

An analysis of preliminary findings of those results shows that participants believe overwhelmingly that sustainable development needs to be approached in an integrated way – addressing the economic, social, and environmental aspects simultaneously. They call for the universality of the goals, to governance, human rights and civil society involvement.

There is an emerging consensus that we need one framework aimed at achieving poverty eradication within the context of sustainable development.

In a context of shifting geopolitics; where global citizens create and use sophisticated networks to swiftly mobilize around issues and demand accountability, in a world where planetary realities are increasingly revealing the intertwined nature of environmental health, poverty, and social stability; it is clear that we all have the responsibility to urgently rethink the way we conduct business. UNDP is convinced that this Centre will be a powerful and positive force in bringing action and radical change.
In closing, I would like to take a minute to turn your attention to the new visual identity of the Centre Rio+ which has been designed by a prominent Brazilian designer.  It is a unique and contemporary design that juxtaposes the three letters of -RIO- drawing on the idea that we need integrated approaches when talking about sustainable development and we need to connect and join efforts beyond the classic boundaries that separate us in order to make it happen.

The world expects no less!  Thank you.

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