16 Mar 2017 Speech Resource efficiency

Speech delivered at G20 Opening Session on Resource Efficiency: Using resource efficiency to deliver the 2030 Agenda

Good Morning All!

Let me just quickly start by thanking the German Government for their strong leadership on environmental issues and climate change.

As President of the G7 for the summit at Elmau Castle, Germany put resource efficiency on the agenda for the first time. Germany recognized the incredible opportunities this under-exploited field offers, not only for the Member States, but for all nations committed to the 2030 Agenda. They have steered the G7 on course to unlock the full potential of sustainable development, especially in climate protection, value chain management and pollution.

That conviction led to important decisions on sustainable and consumption production, like creating the G7 alliance that was mentioned earlier in the morning; the Kobe Action Plan to reduce, reuse and recycle - thank you Japan, if you are in the room; and asking the International Resource Panel for a scientific evaluation of the challenges and highlighting promising solutions.

These efforts are already an important step towards protecting our natural resources, through more efficient use and a better understanding of their true value. But now, under the German G20 Presidency, we see this work expanding to another level, through the Green Invest platform to engage developing countries on green finance needs and opportunities, and the launch of the G7 resource efficiency report at this event

For example, just last week, we saw the consequences of failing to manage our resources efficiently or even safely. The media reports that over 100 people were killed and dozens injured at the Koshe rubbish tip in Addis Ababa, when nearly 5 decades of garbage swept over the families who try to scratch a living from it.

Every day, the Dandora tip in Nairobi receives 2,000 tonnes of waste. That includes fresh supplies of heavy metals, like lead and mercury from electronic waste, which makes its way into the soil, the air and the people. A UN Environment study showed that half of the school children nearby had respiratory problems and about a third had blood abnormalities from heavy-metal poisoning.

In fact, the World Health Organisation says that nearly 5 million children below the age of 5 die from environmentally related illnesses every year. If you do the count, it means since I have started talking, at least 15 children have died from pollution or other sources of environment problems.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be a choice between whether the waste will kill you quickly or slowly. Environmental problems for our health and our economy are avoidable - if we make tougher choices about how to exploit the true potential of our resources.

Take the small town of Capannori in Northern Italy, which has about 50,000 residents. Mr. Rossano Ercolini was a teacher there when he heard about plans to build a waste incinerator nearby. Concerned by the health risks, he mobilized his community to adopt a ‘pay as you throw’ system. Together, they reduced the waste being generated by nearly 40% and increased the amount being recycled to over 90%.

Still determined to eliminate waste completely, Capannori continues to identify what else they can prevent or re-use through alternatives that are better for the local economy and the local environment. For example, they are getting rid of disposable nappies by working with local businesses that provide a washable service; adopting compost collection schemes that generate additional revenue; and even engaging with companies like Nespresso to make coffee capsules easier to recycle.

There is no small saving. Quite literally, Capannori turned a threat to their health into savings of over €2 million in waste disposal costs in a single year, while boosting local jobs.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s just one small town of 50,000 residents, one specific area of resource efficiency and one set of economic benefits. It’s doesn’t start to count all the health and environment advantages.

Even if you just look at waste, the global impact of something like pollution is huge. Air pollution alone kills about 7 million people, costing $5 trillion in welfare. Exposing children to lead in paint lowers their IQ, costing the economy about $1 trillion. And when you start to multiply up all the different areas where we use our resources inefficiently, the implications are just staggering.

About half our forests have gone and half our fish stocks are fully exploited, while biodiversity is disappearing at over a thousand times the natural rate. In just the last 40 years, as the world’s population doubled, resource extraction has already tripled and continues to grow; nearly a third of our arable farm land has been lost to erosion; and we waste a third of all the food we produce, while millions go hungry.

If we want to eat, drink and breathe – let alone tackle poverty or economic growth - then we cannot afford to ignore resource efficiency. Because the population is growing and will continue to grow, along with the expectations of an increasingly affluent and urban section of it. So, if we continue consume resources at the current rate, then by 2050, when the population reaches 9 billion, natural resource extraction will more than double. But the Earth’s resources will not double. They are as finite as they are fragile.

Our only option is to break the link between human development, economic growth and resource use. That means using science and the expertise of organisations like The International Resource Panel to understand what we use, what we risk and what the alternatives are.

After all, there’s no such thing as waste – there are only wasted opportunities. For example, a lot of what we dismiss as waste is actually a valuable resource waiting to be re-mined and re-used.

Take, electronic waste. Up to 90% of it is illegally dumped - close to 50 million tonnes a year. That includes huge quantities of harmful lead compounds, mercury, cadmium and chromium, which end up in our soil, water, air and food. Thousands of tonnes are falsely declared and exported from developed to developing countries: batteries falsely described as plastic or mixed metal scrap and monitors declared as metal scrap.  Africa and Asia are particularly popular destinations for large-scale dumping. In Africa countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and the Republic of Congo. In Asia countries like China, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh & Vietnam.

Yet, that illegally dumped eWaste also includes materials worth over $50 billion a year, which could be recovered and recycled. For example, we throw away around 300 tonnes of gold - yes 300 tonnes of gold - more than a tenth of annual production.

Inconsistency in regulations between exporting and importing countries makes it hard to combat illegal waste trafficking. Here the G20 could ensure better collection and sharing of data, risks and best practice. It could secure ratification of the Minamata Convention on mercury, and I have noted that very few G20 countries have ratified so far - 40 countries did, 17 in Africa , I think around 4 from G20. And it could bolster the legitimate waste market, which is already worth $400 billion a year, generating sustainable jobs and incomes.

It’s a similar story for energy. There are already plans to invest some $37 trillion in energy projects in the coming decades. Innovative policies could redirect that to reduce costs and expand markets for clean, renewable energy. In fact, the International Energy Agency identifies energy efficiencies that could boost cumulative economic output by $18 trillion, which is more than the total outputs of the US, Canada and Mexico combined.

There are over 8 million people working in sustainable, renewable energy. In America & China, the sector created more jobs last year than oil & gas. In Brazil, close to a million people are employed in biofuels. And in Bangladesh, off-grid solar has transformed 4.5 million households and created more than 100,000 jobs.

Again, it’s just a couple of examples, but they could be repeated a hundred times over in a thousand different industries and activities. That’s why more efficient use of resources can help governments deliver their commitments for 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Particularly on consumption and production; inclusive economic growth & decent work; and clean energy & climate change.

I mentioned the International Resource Panel report requested by the G7 and you will hear more about it later on, but it demonstrates how the right policies could cut the use of natural resources by up to 28% and greenhouse gas emissions by around 74%, while increasing economic activities by 1%.

Minister Hendricks says that it’s Germany’s “goal to decouple even further the use of natural resources from economic growth.” Which makes Germany’s Presidency of the G20 the perfect catalyst to trigger such change on an even greater scale. That means combining the latest science with ambitious policies, which address the priorities of each country and the potential to engage the private sector.

It’s clear that by simply being more efficient offers many opportunities to strengthen the economy and create jobs by accumulating net cost savings, using them to bring wider macro-lateral economic benefits and avoiding expensive, negative environmental effects in areas like food production, water security or health management.

All of these benefits can reach far beyond the G7 or the G20, but both groups have a critical role to play in accelerating that change and ensuring that the economic gains are more evenly distributed.  

If you choose to embrace resource efficiency, the potential for delivering the 2030 Agenda is enormous. And ultimately, that’s what resource efficiency and sustainable development are all about: choices. Our choices. The choices we make as professionals and as individuals; as producers and consumers. That’s what will determine the rate at which we continue to extract, use or abuse the limited resources at our disposal. When we make the wrong choices it’s inevitably the most vulnerable that suffer.

The landslide in Koshe was a double tragedy, because the resources that destroyed those precious lives could - and should - have made them better. So, in their small town, Rossano and the other residents of Capannori must serve as a reminder of how different the outcome can be for communities everywhere – if we choose to make it happen.

From the leadership of the G7 and the G20 I can see that momentum building. And I promise you, UN Environment will do everything it can to help you turn that momentum into action.

Thank you.