REC welcomes ambassadors in preparation for Rio+20
By Nathan Johnson
On February 15 the REC hosted ambassadors to Hungary from over 20 countries for a luncheon and informal discussion in the run-up to the "Rio+20" Conference, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June. The event was organized with support from Slovenian Ambassador to Hungary Darja Bavdaz Kuret, who co-moderated the proceedings with REC Executive Director Marta Szigeti Bonifert. What follows is a brief summary of what the ambassadors discussed on this unique occasion.
Reflecting on what has happened between the historic Rio summit of 1992 (UNCED) and today, the REC Executive Director remarked that it is far easier now to convince the business community of the economic opportunities that go hand in hand with rising to meet new environmental challenges. And things have changed at the political level as well. "Ministries were not nearly so well integrated on environmental issues 20 years ago," Szigeti Bonifert said.
Slovenian Ambassador Bavdaz Kuret followed with some remarks, noting that her country participates locally as part of an informal network for greening Budapest embassy buildings. This greening group is engaged in critical and dynamic dialogue with the host country, Hungary. The ambassador then explained how environmental issues are at the heart of Slovenia's foreign policy agenda. On Slovenia's initiative, an informal group of ministries of foreign affairs was set up in 2009, other members of which include Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Iceland, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. The green group has made water management a top priority of its shared activities. The ambassador, before handing the floor over to Istvan Teplan (speaking on behalf of Hungarian Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Zoltan Illes), reminded the audience that water was also one of the highlight issues during Hungary's recent EU presidency.
Illes is in charge of Hungary's preparations for the Rio+20 conference, which is focused mainly on issues of green economy, including poverty eradication and strengthening the institutional bases of sustainable development.
Hungary's conference preparations include three events in the upcoming months: a 'Green Growth in Hungary Conference' (May 15), a 'Central European Dialogue on Rio' between regional ministers of state and state secretaries (May 16), and also a meeting with Hungarian NGOs (March 8th) to discuss how to "channel their contribution to the Rio process", Minister Illes wrote.
Touching specifically on issues of green economy, Illes is keen to point out that Hungary views it a "great economic opportunity [and] engine for recovery." He also referred to the 2011 launch of the New Szechenyi Development Plan, which aims at improving Hungarian competitiveness, primarily by creating one million new jobs within the next decade. The green economy will also provide new opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as for local producers, including producers of organic food products.
The development of renewable energy capacity is another vital project within the green economy paradigm, and Hungary has significant potential to generate geothermal, solar and wind energy, according to the Minister. Hungary's Renewable Energy Action Plan sets an ambitious target of a nearly 15% share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption by 2020. "A large amount of energy is wasted because of inefficient buildings and bad insulation in blocks of flats," Minister Illes wrote. "The governments re-launched support scheme provides financial support for energy efficiency improvements in [these types of buildings]."
But it is Hungary's contribution at Rio+20 to water-related issues that Illes was most eager to highlight. Having established a Friends of Water Group with Tajikistan, Finland and Thailand, Hungary will assist in organising five thematic lectures about specific aspects of water management in New York, and also plans to hold a side-event at Rio. "Based on my personal experience, I sincerely think and hope that the Group will produce useful input to the World Summit," Illes concluded.
Crisis, challenge, opportunity
Danish Ambassador to Hungary Mats Sandau-Jensen expressed concerns that the world's human population now faces a threefold crisis: a climate crisis, a financial crisis and a resource crisis. The ambassador expressed the wish to see resource efficiency as the fundamental point of departure for the Rio conference, adding that Denmark, as holder of the EU presidency before and during the conference, will do its best to bring the Rio agenda to the attention of the European Council. Another important consideration, according to Sandau-Jensen, is to increase public participation and engagement in decision-making processes. "The transition economy must be seen as presenting win-win opportunities for all," he said.
Formal presentations concluded with some words from Brazilian Ambassador to Hungary Sergio Eduardo Moreira Lima, who opened by saying that "Rio+20 will represent an opportunity to mobilise the political resources required to design a lasting solution to the international crisis, taking into account economic, social and environmental aspects of development."
The Ambassador envisions three key outcomes from the Rio conference, namely: permanent incorporation of poverty eradication as an essential element for achieving sustainable development; full consideration of the sustainable development concept in decision making by economic, social and environmental actors; and strengthening multilateralism by stressing the need to adapt the structure of the UN and of other international institutions to the challenges of sustainable development.
Ambassador Lima referred in his talk to statistics that Latin American and Caribbean countries are already moving steadily in this direction, with notable drops in extreme poverty and higher Human Development Index ratings. Employment has also risen by an aggregate 5% across the region. Nonetheless, improvements in education to spur scientific and technological progress are urgently needed, there as elsewhere, according to the Brazilian Ambassador.
To conclude, the floor was opened other audience members, and representatives from Norway,
Hungary, Switzerland, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mexico, Japan, Poland and the United States all shared unique perspectives.