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Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted that you are able to be here today on Lexington Avenue at such a busy time of the summit. I would like to start by thanking UNEP and UNDP for jointly organising this evening with us.
With the 2030 Agenda, we have given ourselves fifteen years to put things on the right track. Fifteen years to alter course.
The Sustainable Development Goals we agreed on are ambitious, indivisible and universal. The 2030 Agenda will help us focus on the key challenges facing mankind. "We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want where all life can thrive," the Agenda says in its preamble.
There is no doubt that achieving this will depend on the health of our planet and ecosystems.
At first glance, fifteen years seems like a long time. If we look at photos of ourselves from the year 2000 it seems like a lifetime ago. There is a temptation to think that we have plenty of time to implement these goals.
However, this would be a huge mistake. We have to turn the steering wheel as soon as possible.
Therefore, I am very happy to be surrounded by people tonight who in some way have a hand at that wheel, in each of your countries or at the global level.
What course are we currently following? Are we blowing less CO2 into the atmosphere, as we all agree we should be? Are we producing less waste? The reality is that we are destroying our planet. We have crossed several planetary boundaries already. Climate change is the most obvious symptom of a derailing system. This year, the Earth Overshoot Day – the date each year when humanity’s demand exceeds what the Earth can regenerate – was on 13th August. That is two months earlier than back in 2000.
We are dramatically overspending the planet’s "annual budget". This is not only an environmental problem with severe consequences for the world’s most vulnerable. It is also a threat to the sustainability of wealth and economic progress and to the wellbeing of future generations.
I therefore strongly support the idea of a UN high-level representative for future generations. We need a loud and clear voice to make sure their interests are heard.
It is also time to reassess our economic system. It is time for a different type of growth: growth in wellbeing and prosperity, socially inclusive, respecting the planetary boundaries. Only a profound transformation can shift our economies onto a sustainable and resilient path.
Germany has accepted this challenge. But how did we - and will we - alter course towards a smarter, more sustainable economic model?
This question is directly linked to SDG 8. So let me explain what this goal means to a high-income, highly industrialised country.
The German National Sustainable Development Strategy will be the main framework for implementing the SDGs in my country. It will also guide economic policy-making. This will require special attention, since so far, economic and financial decision-making often happens beyond the radar of sustainability considerations. We want to change that. I also expect that a revised EU Sustainable Development Strategy will provide firm orientation for connecting economic decisions with the imperative of sustainability.
If we take the SDGs seriously, investment decisions everywhere in the world will have to undergo a careful check. What we establish now will define the range of production and consumption options for the next decades.
We therefore need to give careful thought to how to equip future generations, for example by installing efficient power grids for renewable energies, charging stations for electric cars, constructing energy-efficient housing, practicing sustainable agriculture, building greener cities.
The Bertelsmann Foundation has just published a snapshot on SDG performance by OECD countries. This shows a very diverse picture - in Germany too, I have to admit. We have to step up our efforts in several areas.
But in many fields we are managing the transition towards inclusive sustainable growth well.
Let me give you two examples.
The first one is decoupling growth from resource use. This is a major imperative for sustainability and part of SDG 8. The German Resource Efficiency Programme is an important step in this direction. It aims to double resource productivity by 2020 compared to 1994.
What concrete measures have we taken? We have set incentives and given innovation awards for new business models that build on energy-efficient technologies or enable multiple uses, such as the leasing of chemicals. We are creating markets for secondary raw materials by setting quality standards, for example for recycled steel. We are making producers financially responsible for the waste they create. All of this helps us to boost circular economy.
The second example is an area in which we have already turned the steering wheel quite a bit: energy policy.
By 2050, we aim to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 percent compared to 1990. At least 80 percent of our electricity will come from renewable energies. We want to power our economy in a sustainable way. This requires a major transition: the so-called "Energiewende".
Today we are more successful than we expected when we started subsidising renewable energies. By 2014, more than 25 percent of our power generation was supplied in a sustainable way.
What does this mean in terms of concrete policies and investments? We have put a price on carbon through the European emission trading system. We have created investment security for renewable energy through a feed-in tariff. We are accelerating innovation with a target for energy efficiency. I am not saying our work is done. Due to the economic crisis in Europe, the European emission trading system has not been working as well as envisioned. Furthermore we are still struggling with the grid expansion necessary to transport electricity from the North – where we have a great supply of wind energy - to the South. But despite these challenges, few people in Germany would now deny the success of our Energiewende.
This transition has been an enormous driving force for decent employment and new types of investments.
There is great potential for job creation in the green technology sector. Studies predict one million additional jobs in Germany alone by 2025. 90 percent of green tech companies are small and medium-sized.
Investment in green economy is a stimulus for economic development. And when you take the enormous costs of uncontrollable climate change into account, it is definitely worth it.
We are all standing at different crossroads with regard to creating sustainable patterns of growth. The challenges are not the same everywhere. Economic and social pressures in developing countries are often high and transformational policies are difficult to advocate. To address this, the German government is already sharing its experiences on the social and economic co-benefits of transformation with many countries represented here tonight.
I am happy to see that more and more partnerships at international level offer advice on national economic policy with regard to long-term sustainability. We strongly support initiatives such as PAGE, the Partnership for Action on Green Economy. Modelling the job and growth impacts of investments in green sectors gives valuable information to progressive policymakers for their national decision-making.
It is also important to help small start-up entrepreneurs developing innovative approaches and business models in different areas of sustainable development. I applaud the work of the SEED Initiative in this respect, which is supported by many here in the room, in particular by UNEP, UNDP, UN Women and the governments of South Africa, India, the US, the Netherlands and Germany, and by the European Commission. SEED has successfully been helping innovative small enterprises to find investors and scale up their business models for over a decade.
Today I am particularly happy to see my colleagues from Peru and South Africa. It is wonderful to have you here, Edna and Manuel! South Africa has been a frontrunner of the green economy approach with a large range of stakeholders adopting the Green Economy Accord. More recently, you started to work actively with PAGE.
Peru has recently taken some very interesting steps to secure long-term financing for biodiversity conservation. As far as I am aware, guidelines for public investments in biodiversity and ecosystems have been adopted by both the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Economy and Finance. I am very curious to learn more about this.
So far today, I have only addressed the steering wheel of governmental decision-making. But the government obviously interacts with a multitude of individuals that together influence a country’s course.
Just as countries should not grow at the expense of others anymore, it is essential that individuals no longer consume at the expense of others: neither at the expense of people in different parts of the world, nor of future generations. This idea is firmly anchored in the SDGs.
It is a question of economics, infrastructure and information – but also a question of awareness.
We have to discuss what we really need for a good life. We – the richer people in all parts of the world – must demonstrate we are ready to adopt lifestyles that, if replicated worldwide, would still respect planetary boundaries and reduce global disparities. The SDGs and their indicators will serve as a basis for this important transformation.
Scientists tell us that faced with resource depletion and climate change, societies will change, either by disaster or by design.
We have seen enough disasters and human suffering. Let us chose the design option. Germany stands ready to engage in that process.
Thank you. I look forward to some inspiring discussions.