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Our children’s grandchildren’s world

By Heikki Holmås

Rio+20 – will be a new opportunity to agree on how to achieve growth, welfare, and protect the environment.

Parents all over the world want to give their children and grandchildren a secure future.  This must also be the goal for the world’s leaders when we meet in Rio. This is why we must promote economic growth and create jobs and security for millions of people. We must encourage the use of more climate friendly technology and more sustainable development. And those who create most pollution must also do most to cut emissions.

This year it is 20 years since sustainable development first hit the agendas of world leaders, when Gro Harlem Brundtland launched this new approach to development and environment at the World Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In June, world leaders will once again gather in Rio. This next UN summit – Rio+20 – will be a new opportunity to agree on how to achieve growth and welfare and at the same time protect the environment.

Uganda aims at fast economic growth to become a middle income country by 2025, and to transform the economy through investments in infrastructure and Norway is pleased to support its efforts.

We need to find ways of making growth sustainable. We also need to distribute revenues more equitably as countries become richer. At the moment, every fifth person worldwide lacks access to electricity. Twice as many – three billion people – have to gather fuel to cook their food and heat their homes. The smoke from inefficient stoves is harmful and claims the lives of nearly two million people every year. This is unfair, it is a waste of resources, and is unsustainable. Instead, children should have time to go to school, and adults to take paid work.

In the rich world, electricity is wasted and more than a fair share of the planet’s energy resources are used. The widespread use of energy from oil, gas and coal is causing dangerous climate change. We are already beginning to feel the impacts of interference with the climate system. But the consequences for those who come after us will be far more serious.

Uganda has rich untapped resources for clean energy in the form of hydropower and sun. Through developing these resources Uganda aims at increasing electricity generation and access to all. Uganda and Norway are cooperating to increase access to sustainable energy and increase access to electricity in rural areas.

Food is another key area. According to UN figures, about a third of all food is thrown away or destroyed. Everyone in the rich part of the world throws away an average of 100 kg of food a year. In Norway alone, 500,000 tonnes of food goes into the bin. At the same time, more than a billion people are going hungry. Even in poor countries, a good deal of food is wasted, partly because of poor roads and inadequate storage facilities. If we are to feed all the children in the world properly, we must make some major changes. Uganda has the potential to become a major producer of food in the East African region.

These are some of the issues we will be discussing in Rio.  Governments, NGOs, researchers and representatives of the business sector from all over the world will work together to identify opportunities. We all agree that the way we are living today is not sustainable. But it is much more difficult to find solutions that everyone can agree to because the key is more equitable distribution. Aid from rich countries to poor countries is one way of improving the situation. But aid is most effective when it stimulates private investment and enables a country to develop its own solutions. Poor countries now have better opportunities to choose environmentally friendly solutions than we had during our industrialisation.

But this is far from enough. The financial crisis and elections in key countries are deflecting the attention of politicians  and the general public towards domestic problems and short-term prospects. Rio+20 reminds us that the most serious challenges require the ability to think along new lines. World leaders need to cooperate more closely. We must create the political will needed to ensure that Rio+20 is a milestone towards sustainable development. We must find solutions that make sustainable development profitable.

We cannot produce enough food for everyone simply by producing more food. We also need to look at the whole value chain from farm to fork. When food is lost during harvesting and storage, small farmers lose income and poor consumers must pay higher prices. We must therefore invest in better methods of food production, in infrastructure and in technology that will reduce food waste and bring more food to more people.

Norway is seeking to ensure that Rio+20 culminates in new goals for sustainable energy. We support UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s focus on energy for all. His aim is to double the use of renewable energy and the efficiency of existing energy use by 2030. To do this, we must all work together. The business sector is playing a decisive role in the implementation of the new technology that is needed to achieve these goals.

In the worst case, Rio+20 will be too much talk and not enough action. The pessimists are already pointing out that the UN has been unable to resolve major global problems on several occasions. But the UN is the only arena where all the countries of the world come together to address these issues.

We must all make use of Rio+20 as an opportunity to improve the UN’s ability to take action and stake out a pathway of equitable green growth. We are working towards an agreement on new goals for sustainable development. This will require both rich and poor countries to take appropriate steps at home. We must ensure that the world we leave to our children’s grandchildren is a place where everyone can afford to take part. That will require bold decisions at Rio+20 and in the coming years.

Heikki Holmås is the Norwegian Minister of International Development

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