United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Address by UNEP Deputy Executive Director at the 1st Dubai International Forum on Sustainable Lifestyles

Rethinking the way we design, produce, consume and dispose of resources will determine our ability to live within planetary boundaries.

It is an honour and pleasure to be standing here today with you, on the occasion of the First Dubai International Forum on Sustainable Lifestyles. I am proud to be a part of history with you today, as I am sure that in the future, this Forum will be another global landmark event that will bring the world to Dubai and take Dubai to the rest of the world.

I would like to pay tribute to the Zayed Foundation for this initiative. I also wanted to express our most sincere gratitude to your Excellency, Minister Rashed Ahmed Bin Fahad for your continuous support to UNEP but, above all, for your leadership in supporting the cause of the environment in the world.

Esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen,

There are values that are shared across diverse faiths, cultures and civilizations. We all agree that people should live a decent and a dignified life, and that basic needs must be met for all. Prosperity is a goal of every nation, but today, to build our prosperity we are abundantly using our natural resources and creating alarming amounts of waste. We can choose smart and sustainable paths that preserve the very environmental functions that underpin our prosperity.

Rethinking the way we design, produce, consume and dispose of resources will determine our ability to live within planetary boundaries and continue to enjoy the services that nature provides.

Shifting to more sustainable lifestyles is not only a 'label', found in the UN jargon, it is about our daily lives: the buildings we live in, the shopping we do at the mall, the food we have on our plates, the waste we generate, the clothes we wear, the light above our heads, and the car which drove me to this conference.

Whether you work in business, in research and innovation, in educating our children or in architectural planning, it is our collective responsibility to make this issue our own.

Today, more than half of the world population lives in cities and the trend continues. Yesterday's homo sapiens had a lifestyle that was largely dependent on nature. Such lifestyle was in harmony with nature. In contrast to the homo sapiens, the citizen of tomorrow will be essentially homo urbanus. They enjoy good lives in cities. They have access to modern medicine, they travel long distances; they have plenty. They consume plenty. They waste plenty.

By 2050, city dwellers will shape the world. For better or for worse. They will be responsible for what I would call the striking '5 by 75':

  • more than 75per cent of the global GDP;
  • 75 per cent of global energy,
  • 75 per cent of natural resource use,
  • 75 per cent of global GHGs,
  • 75 per cent of global waste generation.

Cities will therefore continue to have a large ecological footprint. Special efforts will need to be deployed in large cities if we want to address unsustainable development patterns.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It takes commitment to choose a smart and sustainable way for prosperity. Dubai, hosting us today, has chosen this smart path. I was pleased to learn that it aims, over the next 15 years, to cut its energy and water demand by no less than 30 per cent, retrofit 30,000 buildings to save energy, switch a quarter of the government car fleet to run on compressed gas and keep the temperatures in many buildings at 24°C.

I also understand that if everyone in the UAE swapped a conventional light bulb for an energy-saving one, and if energy saving appliances are imported instead of greedy devices, the nation could not only save over 1,500 tonnes of carbon emissions every year, but also save billions of dollars.

Increasing energy efficiency is as important as, if not more, changing energy production patterns.

But sustainable and low-carbon societies will only be possible if people, from pupils to CEOs and bankers, are empowered and encouraged to change the way they see wealth and well-being. Appropriate regulatory policy frameworks and incentives need to be put in place by decision-makers to incite citizens to make better choices.

Changing the way we live does not mean giving away happiness, wealth or health. On the contrary, it changes the way we define and measure quality of life. Adopting a sustainable lifestyle entails accountability and responsibility. It ensures that when we leave this place to our children and their children, they too can prosper.

Dear participants,

Let's talk about food. Food embodies many challenges attached to changes in lifestyle and quality of life. For example, in many parts of rural Africa, unsustainable agriculture with high use of pesticides and some chemical fertilizers has led farmers to abandon arable lands that they could no longer cultivate, threatening their livelihoods. In many parts of the world, including in wealthy nations, hundreds of millions still go to bed hungry.

At the same time, obesity is killing millions. Some countries have reached more than 25 per cent rate of obesity in their population, increasing dramatically related cardio-vascular diseases and health costs for governments. Larger quantities of food does not mean greater happiness and wealth. Most of the time it signifies more waste and unhealthy lives.

The tragic irony being that 1/3 of the food that is produced worldwide is wasted and not consumed!

Ladies and gentelmen, we live in a world of inequalities.

Waste is another major challenge that the forum will discuss today. Adopting more sustainable consumption and production patterns can reduce waste. Unfortunately, the wealthier we get, the more rubbish we generate! And the more wastewater we generate! Sadly, up to 90 per cent of wastewater in developing countries goes untreated into rivers, lakes, and coastal zones, threatening health, food security and access to safe drinking water. Today, six hospital beds out of 10 are filled with people affected by water-related diseases!

So, ladies and gentelmen, is it all doom and gloom?

There are solutions and many of you in this room have been working on these. Yes, we can make changes, and remarkable progress has been made in many parts of the world. We need to build on our success. We need to upscale them.

Adopting more sustainable production and consumption patterns is a moral obligation. The great news is that it also makes business sense.

This forum will focus particularly on harnessing innovation and the potential of the private sector, in collaboration with a strong public sector, showing that sustainable consumption and production is synonymous with opportunity.

Global trends are driving more innovative business models. There is an increased demand for innovative solutions to sustainability challenges, and new business models are emerging in response. Consumer demand for sustainable products and services is growing, a number of large companies are requesting their supply chains to adhere to sustainability criteria, and increased stringency in regulation is driving innovation across industries.

Companies with innovative business models that have integrated sustainability into their core strategies are growing fast-on average, at a rate of 15 per cent a year-at a time when their respective markets have remained flat.

Let me give you some examples from across the globe:

Specialized Solar Systems, a Small and medium-sized enterprize in South Africa, sells Direct Current micro-grid kits to provide renewable energy to rural communities. In just three years, it has tripled in size and is now rolling out its micro grid-kit model of energy supply in neighbouring countries.

In Belgium, Ecover, a small manufacturer of ecological cleaning products, achieved an annual revenue growth of 10-25 per cent between 2002 and 2013, while the rest of the market remained flat. This success came as a result of innovating sustainably across all dimensions of its business, from product formulas to packaging, including re-fill options.

Today, the market for more sustainable products is growing. Sustainable consumption and production strategies offer new knowledge and insights, unexplored partnerships, the potential for breakthrough innovations, and improved brand reputation.

Sustainable Public Procurement and eco-labels also play a significant role in steering the market and consumer demand for greener goods and services by setting high quality and sustainability standards that become the norm.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Shifting our consumption and production model is not an easy task. It needs champions; it requires leadership. The Zayed Foundation is one of these champions. Through the remarkable people they award each year and through their programmes, they are world advocates for change. UNEP is very proud of its long-term partnership with the Foundation. Leadership is about having a strategic vision. Strategic leadership entails having a long-term vision.

Our ambition, driven by our long-term vision should be to convert the homo urbanus and divert him from the greed economy to the green economy.

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