Remarks by Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs
The Road to Rio: Regions Building the Green Economy Conference
Geneva International Conference Center
March 7, 2012
Good morning and thank you Chris [Christopher Nuttall, R20 Executive Director] for that very kind introduction. I am happy to be here today to offer some remarks along with this esteemed panel to open the “Road to Rio” Conference. I applaud the R20 and the Assembly of European Regions for co-hosting this event to highlight the important role that regional governments play in creating a sustainable global future in advance of the United Nations’ Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) which will take place in Rio de Janeiro in June.
I would like to congratulate Governor Schwarzenegger for the foresight to lead the way forward in establishing R20, and I am delighted that he is here today to add his energy to this conference. It was a pleasure to participate in the Governor’s Global Climate Summit 3 (GGCS3) at the University of California-Davis in November 2010. The GGCS3 fostered compelling climate conversations and broadened partnerships with local leaders. I also would like to take this opportunity to thank Chris for his leadership in implementing the R20 agenda.
The U.S. Department of State is collaborating with state and local leaders and their counterparts abroad to meet its foreign policy objectives through the Office of the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs. I accepted Secretary Clinton’s invitation in 2010 to serve as the first Special Representative in this new office. In furtherance of Secretary Clinton’s vision of 21st century diplomacy, our office amplifies a multitude of U.S. foreign policy priorities by providing leadership in building relationships and conducting outreach to local leaders around the world to address challenges such as economic development, sustainability, security, health, food and water.
As we look forward to the UN sustainable development conference in June, we face a daunting challenge. We are heading toward an urbanized planet. By 2050, approximately 9 billion people will share the earth. Continued rapid urbanization will lead to 3 billion new urban dwellers. Over the next 40 years, we will have to build the same urban capacity as we have built over the past 4,000 years.
I believe we have the ability to meet all of these needs and to build a sustainable future. We have the tools and the understanding, and we have the necessary commitment to global cooperation and collaboration.
We can no longer just make incremental changes to the status quo. True sustainable development will demand the integration of our economic, social, and environmental priorities. Our history shows that without balance between these three things, we risk losing all three. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges, but it is important that we remember that sustainable development also provides great opportunities. We have opportunities to improve the lives and health of people around the world. We also have opportunities for innovation, new technologies and enhanced collaboration.
This summer, the world will come to Rio de Janeiro to re-energize global sustainable development efforts. We are engaged in the process at the UN to produce an outcome that will inspire and motivate.
Rio+20 is about the future. The United States believes that Rio+20 should be a different kind of meeting, one that transforms the multilateral approach to sustainable development and incorporates its concepts across all sectors. It is our hope that Rio+20 will be truly inclusive of a broad collection of stakeholders, including state and local officials, civil society and the private sector.
While national level responses to crises and challenges, as well as national and regional cooperation, is very important, the hand that helps needs to be near. The case for regional involvement in sustainable development policy is obvious.
Any discussion of sustainability must encompass the critical role of states and cities. They can, and must, take a leading role in greening our economies and achieving sustainability. Hundreds of cities in the United States and around the world have developed blueprints for sustainability that encompass environmental, economic, social and governance goals.
And, cities across the United States are implementing sustainable development programs. Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; San Francisco, California; Chicago, Illinois; and New York City are notable examples of cities that have developed successful policies and initiatives around building, transportation, food, energy, waste and toxic reductions to make their cities greener and more sustainable places for their citizens to live.
For example, in 2010, Portland’s total carbon emissions – even with rapid population growth fell to six percent below 1990 levels. This continues downward trends in carbon emissions over the last few years. No single action, nor even a single entity – public private, non-profit, or individual – is responsible for these accomplishments. Instead, they are the result of many thousands of businesses, organizations and people taking action every day at home, at work, and at play.
This approach to climate action is leading the way for other cities around the globe. With the support of USAID and the Institute for Sustainable Communities, Portland’s Climate Action Plan was translated into Chinese and is being taught throughout Jiangsu Province.
Other U.S. cities have been hard at work coordinating and developing policies and initiatives. Seattle maintains an active urban forest restoration program. The Chicago Center for Green Technology, a rehabilitated municipal building, is the most comprehensive educational resource in the Midwest for green technology and design, and sustainable building and living practices. At the same time, San Francisco is home to some of the world’s most innovative environmental legislation and initiatives. From proper tree pruning techniques to building strategies that save energy, water and money, San Francisco provides a host of services to protect the environment. In keeping with Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiatives, New York acts to green the city while putting in place essential elements to achieve the city’s 2030 sustainability objectives. PlaNYC includes aggressive emission goals – a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
States and cities do not face a choice between green and growth: they can and must pursue both. There is no “one-size-fits-all” model for implementing sustainability, and strategies will differ across regions as they do across countries. However, we firmly believe that local government leadership bears the fundamental responsibility to support urban sustainability. [As Mayor Bloomberg once said, “If we don’t act now, when? And, if we don’t act, who will?”]
I commend the vision and commitment of R20 to partner with cities and regional governments around the world to implement meaningful and sustainable climate-related actions. Programs which bring together local leaders, businesses, financial and academic institutions, non-profit organizations are crucial. Best practice sharing, technical training and networking opportunities for regional governments is essential to building sustainable economies.
The people in this room today come from many different countries, many different professions and many perspectives. But we all share the desire to improve not only the world we live in, but the world our children and grandchildren will live in as well. Opportunities to truly change the world and to make a difference that will benefit billions of people are rare. As Rio+20, the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit approaches in June, we have the opportunity to build local partnerships that can reshape the economic and environmental future of our planet.
I look forward to working with all of you. Thank you.