Poto?nik to test Rio ideas at UNEP forum

Women filling buckets with water from a well. [F. Lefebvre/ UNICEF]

Women filling buckets with water from a well. [F. Lefebvre/ UNICEF]

The EU's Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik says he will “test the waters” on his priorities for the June Earth Summit during ministerial meetings in Nairobi that began today (20 February).

Poto?nik told journalists on Friday (17 February) that he hopes the UN Conference on Sustainable Development will produce global “targets, timeframes and political direction” to protect oceans and ecosystems and create a “zero-waste economy.”

The Global Ministerial Environment Forum is being held in Nairobi to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the UN Environment Programme, which is based in the Kenyan capital. Attention is also expected to focus on preparations for the 20-22 June conference in Rio de Janeiro.

The EU’s positions for Rio are still evolving and are scheduled to be discussed at the upcoming 1-2 March leaders' summit in Brussels. But already the EU executive is proposing a realignment of development assistance to boost renewable energy and sustainable growth that are amongst the focus topics on the emerging Rio agenda.

Andris Piebalgs, the commissioner for international development, has proposed an ‘Agenda for Change’ that would shift overseas aid to ‘green growth’. He has also called for backing UN initiatives to provide electricity to developing countries by using aid to spur growth of renewable energy.

Sustainable energy for all

“The Agenda for Change we have proposed to heighten EU development policy's impact and effectiveness strongly supports inclusive and sustainable growth,” he said at the European launch of UN's Year of Sustainable Energy for All on 8 February.

The development commissioner called sustainable energy “a key driver” of growth and poverty reduction.

The EU collectively provided more than €50 billion in development aid in 2010, some 54% of global assistance to the neediest countries, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Aid levels are forecast to rise in the 2014-2020 EU budget, and EU finance ministers are expected on Tuesday to renew the EU’s commitment to help finance a $100-billion (€75.6-billion) fund to aid developing countries adapt to climate change.

Poto?nik said before leaving to Nairobi that the EU would not waiver in its aid commitments to help developing countries despite Europe’s economic and sovereign debt challenges.

“We are clear. We want to stick to our commitments even in the times where the economic crisis in Europe is huge,” he said.

But he urged that more aid go toward investments in sustainable development and reducing waste of food, water and other resources, and called for “mobilizing the private sector” to strengthen public-sector aid and investments.

In Nairobi, the commissioner said he would “test the waters” to see what kind of reception he gets for priorities that also include protecting ecosystems and oceans. He also planned to add the EU’s weight to calls for giving the UNEP more resources and a higher profile in the UN system.

The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development - or 'Rio+20' – is being held exactly two decades after a landmark international conference in Rio de Janeiro.

Nicknamed the 'Earth Summit', the 1992 conference agreed a plan of action (Agenda 21) and a declaration setting out the principles underpinning sustainable development.

A follow-up meeting 10 years later in Johannesburg recognised that fundamental changes in the way societies produce and consume were essential to achieving global sustainable development. All governments were invited to promote sustainable consumption and production and a plan to reinforce the implementation of the Agenda 21 was adopted.

Hosted by Brazil, the 2012 summit will seek to secure a renewed commitment to sustainable development and assess progress made over the past two decades.


  • 20-22 Feb.:  12th Special Session of the Governing Council / Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi
  • 20-22 June: UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


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