Remarks by Achim Steiner to the Global Peace Initiative of Women Conference

March 2, 2012
United Nations Environment Programme




Dena Merriam, Founder, Global Peace Initiative of Women (USA);

Kuki Gallmann, Founder, Gallmann Memorial Foundation & Great Rift Valley Trust in Ol Ari Nyiro, Laikipia Nature Conservancy (Kenya);

H.H. Shinso Ito, Head Priest of Shinnyo-en (Japan);

Dr. Sekagya Yahaya, Traditional Leader and Healer (Uganda);

Welcome to the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), where only last week we celebrated, together with the world's ministers responsible for the environment, our 40th anniversary.

- Four decades after the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden;

- And two decades after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 where the peace dividend as a result of the end of the bipolar world would address the challenges built up over two centuries of industrialization, uneven and unsustainable development.

Your meeting here comes at an important time for the issues and themes that we mutually share and captured in your theme - awakening the healing heart.

In some four months' time the city of Rio de Janiero will again host a summit - Rio+20 - that holds the promise of re-awakening, refocusing and reinvigorating the means and the pathways towards sustainable development.

Development that if fully implemented could go a long towards healing the social, environmental and economic divides and that characterize our world in the early 21st century.

- Ones that are contributing to lost opportunities for young people everywhere to find decent jobs and livelihoods that can allow them to fulfill their potential.

- Ones that are driving species to extinction; damaging and degrading the soils, forests and freshwaters that underpin our very survival and health.

- Ones that are increasing the scarcity of natural resources and triggering emerging and challenging issues such as climate change and the acidification of the seas and oceans that if unaddressed may tip the planet into a far more unstable state.

Healing the planet and charting a transformative course requires solid science and far more creative and imaginative ways of running our economies in ways that factor in the true wealth of the natural world.

But it also requires a re-awakening of our common humanity and yes the re-awakening of the spirit and the spiritual side of humanity with all its potential for catalyzing positive and cooperative action.

Governments have a key role to play in terms of putting in place the kinds of transformational policies and programmes that can steer the lives and livelihoods of now seven billion people onto a more sustainable path.

But governments cannot do this on their own.

It is you, the faith leaders and women of the world along with all the other fibres and fabrics of society - from civic leaders to indigenous peoples - that in a very real sense give the politicians the courage and the license to legislate.

Since 2008, UNEP has in partnership with economists, academics, social thinkers and many UN organizations and agencies, been evolving the concept and developing the analysis of what we have termed the Green Economy.

In the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, it is now one of the two key themes for Rio+20.

Here in Kenya, one can see living proof of what a Green Economy is about. This country has one of the largest closed canopy forests in Africa - it is called the Mau forest complex.

Over the past 20 to 30 years it has lost some 25 per cent of its cover - recently UNEP assisted the Government of the Republic of Kenya in an analysis of just what the Mau is really worth to the people and the economy here.

The answer is US$1.5 billion a year in terms of the generating moisture for the tea industry and water feeding major river systems that flow to the Masai Mara; Lake Nakuru and other key tourism sites where visitors from across the globe come to marvel and be moved by beauty of Kenya's wildlife and landscapes.

- Water that also makes agriculture possible and hydro-power allowing at least some Kenyans to have electricity in order to study their homework and, yes, read the Bible, the Koran or the writings of the Buddha at night.

Kenya has also passed policies - called feed-in tariffs - that are encouraging a boom in renewable energy, including advanced plans for the largest wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa and sharply increasing capacity of its geothermal in the Great Rift Valley.

If Kenya keeps up this path, then perhaps it could one day soon become a zero emission economy.

And one where women and girls can spend less time looking for water and firewood and more time caring for themselves, their families and their children, including more time on education, productive livelihoods, personal reflection and the spiritual dimension of their lives.

Our work in the Green Economy is chronicling shining examples like these across all communities, countries and Continents - the challenge before world leaders in Rio is how to scale-up and accelerate these transformations and ensure social as well as environmental and economic outcomes.

Just before Rio+20, UNEP has the privilege and the pleasure of coordinating World Environment Day which falls on 5 June each year.

The theme we have chosen is the Green Economy - Does it Include You?

Ladies and Gentlemen, we would like it to include you and your organizations and associations because your influence and connectivity to your communities could play a decisive role in rallying the globe community to the kind of transformative outcome in Rio later in June.

Indeed, faith groups and women were among the elements of civil society that played a pivotal role in 1972 in terms of awakening the world to developmental challenges facing the world that in turn established UNEP.

Your predecessors also played a pivotal role in 1992 in terms of awakening the world to action in terms of laying out the instruments and the foundations of contemporary sustainable development.

In the run up to June and Rio+20 your voices, ideas, courage and wisdom are needed again in order to empower governments and the private sector to move sustainable development from theory and patchy implementation to a decisive and mature path to fairness, equity, stability and peace.

For, Ladies and Gentlemen, without that step change we face a future of increasing scarcity, rapidly and perhaps irreversible climate change and accelerating environmental decline and degradation that could literally tear the world apart.

With that step change, however, we have the chance of being true stewards of planet Earth; harvesting new opportunities for social inclusion and allowing seven billion people, rising to over nine billion by 2050, to reach their true potential in all the dimensions of what it means to be a human being.

I wish you well for your meeting.