Speech at the High Level Panel of the PAGE Ministerial Conference "Green Economy at a Turning Point"

In her speech, Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter makes it clear that we are at a turning point. After the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement the change is still too slow and global CO2 emission levels are still on a rise.

- Check against delivery -

Dear Excellences,
dear distinguished colleagues,
dear ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to participate in the third PAGE Ministerial Conference here in Cape Town. I would like to join the previous speakers in commending South Africa for its foresight and leadership under the late Minister Molewa and for its commitment and achievements towards a low-carbon development. South Africa is giving a positive signal with this very conference.

Indeed, three years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, we are at a turning point. Yes, we have achieved a lot during the last years – one just has to look at the growing share of renewable energies or the growing numbers of companies in the green tech-sector. The green finance debate is becoming mainstream. The rise of the green bond markets is impressive.

But at the same time, change is still too slow and business-as-usual approaches too often prevail. Global CO2 emission levels are still on a rise and we are still overstretching the Earth’s planetary boundaries year after year.

The window of opportunity for the transformation which we owe our children is already much smaller than ten years ago.

As you are all aware of, we only have twelve years left in order to achieve the ambitious goals we set ourselves with the 2030 Agenda.

Therefore, the time of implementing stand-alone sectoral policies has to be over. Instead, we need fundamental change in our economic systems, our business models and value chains. So what can we as governments, as societies, as the global community do to speed up this much needed transformation process?

  1. First of all, governments need to set clear goals and define where they want to stand in five, in ten, in fifteen years. Busines needs clarity about the political framework they will have to operate in. They need to know that governments are actually serious about achieving the SDGs and that those goals are not a mere lip service. Against this background, the German government has decided to implement for the first time a comprehensive Climate Protection Act, which will define legally-binding emission reduction targets for all relevant sectors. The respective line ministries will be responsible for meeting these targets.
  2. Secondly, governments need to stronger incentivize investments into green innovations and to remove barriers for their deployment. This also means that we need to phase out subsidies that incentivize the investments in old, brown technologies and put higher price tags on environmentally harmful practices. For this very reason we discuss CO2 pricing right now in Germany. The use of fossil fuel should become more expensive in order to incentivize the deployment of more effective and environmentally-friendly technologies.
  3. Last but not least, we need to ensure that we design the transition towards greener economies as inclusive and socially acceptable as possible. I strongly believe that in the long term, the transformation towards greener economies and societies will benefit all of us, as it will create more quality jobs, cleaner air, water and soils and more liveable cities and villages. However, in the medium turn, the required structural changes will not create win-win situations for everyone. As more sustainable production methods and lifestyles become the new "business as usual", certain business models will not be profitable in the long run anymore – the coal mining industry is an example for this. Having this in mind, the German government has instituted a commission for "growth, structural change and employment", composed of politicians, industry, trade unions, environmental NGOs and academia, which will propose a roadmap for the phaseout and a concrete exit date. It is also developing alternative options for the people and regions affected, in order to avoid social conflicts and distortions. Working on a fair transition is not an excuse for delaying action but a precondition for success.

It is encouraging to see countries like India, Indonesia and Argentina joining PAGE which has in many areas done a tremendous job in assisting countries with implementing more sustainable policies:

PAGE has helped them with defining targets, developing sectoral strategies, designing the right policies for incentivizing inclusive green growth, phasing out environmentally harmful subsidies, bringing all stakeholders to the table and forming new partnerships and alliances in country. I am very glad that this third ministerial conference gives us the opportunity to share our experiences from the last years and to find solutions together how we can further speed up the much needed transition towards greener, more inclusive economies.

Greta Thunberg's COP24 speech in Katowice was an important reminder that there is no room for excuses anymore. We have to act now.

Thank you.

10.01.2019 | Speech Sustainable Development | Capetown (South Africa)