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Opening of the Paris international conference “Towards New Global Governance for the Environment”

Published on February 3, 2012
Speech by Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Minister of Ecology, Sustainable development, Transport and Housing (excerpts)

Paris, January 31, 2012


First of all I would like to tell you how happy I am to open, here in Paris, this international conference on global environmental governance, barely a few months before the new Rio Earth Summit. (…)

1) What is the challenge for Rio?

(…) The 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit must be the time to set a new sustainable development agenda based on the green economy and taking into account the profound changes that have come about in the world. We must establish new mobilizing goals, such as access to sustainable energy, preservation of the oceans, sustainable cities and water quality. In this respect, France is delighted to host the sixth World Water Forum, in Marseille from 12 to 17 March, devoted to solutions and commitments. Marseille will be a decisive step before Rio: yes, there will have to be a place at the Earth Summit for the issue of water!

2) What is the purpose of our conference?

Today is not about seeking to tackle all the subjects that will be on the Rio agenda. (…) It is about laying the foundations for that great anniversary. (…)

Alain Juppé – who has had to go to New York due to the Syria crisis – and I have brought you together today to harvest your ideas, develop proposals and ensure your work yesterday and today constitutes – on a limited point, admittedly, but a crucial one – the “crucible” of Rio+20. (…)

3) Why a World Environment Organization?

The Rio meeting will be a success only if it proposes both an ambitious reform of the governance of sustainable development and an historic strengthening of its environmental pillar. This is a necessary ambition. And it is a realistic ambition. Because the plan for a World Environment Organization (WEO) is no longer being put forward solely by France, or even the European Union. In total, more than 100 countries, including developing countries, are in favour of it. They are well aware that between the weak and the strong, it is rules that protect and a lack of rules that oppresses.

We need rules to prevent conflicts over resources being settled purely through power relationships. We need rules to help developing countries implement environmental standards. We need rules to disseminate and share the best technological solutions.

Those who sincerely back the WEO cannot make its adoption conditional on progress in other fields.

We have realized the current system’s inadequacies. And everyone agrees about them.

The only valid question now is how to move forward.

How can we gradually move from more than 500 multilateral conventions and agreements to a single World Environment Organization? That body will guarantee the system’s coherence.

We must be both ambitious and pragmatic. It is not about creating from scratch a new institution that would add to the prevailing confusion. On the contrary, we must build on what exists. To that end, we must radically transform the resources and positioning of UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] to make it a specialized UN agency. That will provide it with not only autonomy but also the authority it currently lacks.

This new agency, which we could call the WEO, must provide solutions, and those solutions must be interdependent and lasting.

By interdependent I’m referring to solidarity between generations, between man and nature but also of course between nations.

It must be a place for diplomacy, creativity and reflexion, not a place for haggling or for consensus on the bare minimum.

The organization will be open to all states and will acquire the value and legitimacy of a world assembly.

4) The scientific dimension

The WEO will aim to offer a clear and accurate vision of the priorities at international level.

The main requirement in order to define these priorities pertinently is clearly a reliance on science.

Science must play a prominent role in a future WEO.

It will be responsible for providing information and proposing to us scenarios for the development of the global environment.

It must enable us to tackle the new challenges we cannot confront head-on due to the present compartmentalization of conventions and agreements – challenges such as ocean acidification and geo-engineering, to name but two.

I am profoundly convinced that, after guiding the negotiations on climate and biodiversity, scientists can and must play an essential role for Rio.

In this spirit, France has constantly worked – since the international conference on biodiversity and governance organized in Paris in 2005 – to facilitate the emergence of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). And France is ready to host it.

One of the WEO’s key functions should be to facilitate and protect scientists’ actions in every field. In recent years, scientists have suffered attacks and serious threats manifestly linked to their professional activities and their commitment to fighting climate change. Today I’m putting forward this idea: that protecting the work of scientists who act for the planet’s future should become, in Rio, a universal principle!

5) The democratic imperative

The WEO will draw its strength not only from its unity and the indisputable solidity of science, but also from its ability to bring together every type of actor involved in sustainable development and the planet’s future: governments, of course, but also civil society organizations, businesses, trade unions, local authorities and – I repeat – scientists. Everyone will have their say because everyone bears an inalienable share of truth and responsibility.

And genuine worldwide governance must get dialogue going between them, with due regard for their respective roles. Worldwide governance can’t tolerate a one-sided – and thus biased – approach, or blind spots.

Elected representatives must of course shoulder responsibility for decisions affecting the future of the people they represent. Civil society has been put on the lookout and must sound the alarm. It is not just the scientists who can perform this role! As for science itself, it must help us reduce uncertainty about the impact of human activity on the biosphere in order to mark out the route for political decisions.

What, basically, is the challenge? It is to allow the planet to speak with one voice in decisions involving its future. This obviously raises some tough questions. Who can claim to speak for the planet?

Governments alone? Obviously not. But how can non-state actors be organized and represented at global level? With what legitimacy?

How effectively? No one alone can claim to represent the voice of the planet. It is only together, through reflection and discussion, that we can devise a new governance which addresses this legitimate aspiration.

It is only together, too, for example, that we shall manage to stabilize the rise in average temperature at 2ºC.

So today we are at a turning point.

Not only because we are coming up to an anniversary. But because we need radical reform.

Because we have understood that we must be united if we want to be global. Gone are the days when only a handful of nations decided the world’s future. Gone are the days when the future of the world was separate from the future of the planet. Gone are the days when only governments had their say on everyone’s future, without involving civil society, scientists and every worried, informed voice.

I’m convinced that our work at this conference is going to help us not only grasp the extent of the emergency, but also encourage innovative proposals which will feed into the Rio+20 Earth Summit. I know that the President of the United Nations General Assembly, who does us the honour of being with us, and the great philosopher and sociologist Edgar Morin, whose work has anticipated a number of our questions and debates, will be assisting us in this necessary comprehensive transformation. (…)./.

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