Remarks by Elizabeth Cousens, Principal Policy Adviser, U.S. Mission to the United Nations, at an Interactive Dialogue on the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability

Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens
Principal Policy Advisor to the United Nations 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
March 16, 2011


Thank you Mr. President, President Halonen and President Zuma, and Members of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability who have spoken today. We thank you for organizing this important dialogue and welcome the opportunity to exchange views about the Panel’s work.

Before I begin, I want to reiterate President Obama’s message to the people and Government of Japan, and echo others in the room today, by expressing our deepest condolences and steadfast support. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost loved ones and to the entire country as it deals with this unfolding tragedy.

Mr. President, we are all well aware of the global changes and urgent challenges before us in this interconnected century.

We are also aware of the opportunities the 21st century uniquely affords to combat poverty and disease, generate sustained growth and prosperity, and steward the environment in ways that are truly sustainable for us all.

The United States therefore appreciates the ambition of the Secretary-General in creating the Global Sustainability Panel and charging it with a task that could not be more important.

The Obama Administration has placed new emphasis on many of these same issues through a series of its own government-wide initiatives: a new Global Development Policy that elevates sustainable development as a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century; a Global Health Initiative that partners with countries in new ways to improve and sustain health outcomes; a Global Food Security Initiative that aims to tackle underlying causes of global hunger and food insecurity comprehensively; and a Global Climate Change Initiative that aims to reduce emissions from deforestation and land degradation; support low-carbon development strategies and the transition to a sustainable clean energy economy; and invest in building resilience to unavoidable climate impacts.

Here at home, we are also harnessing innovation and mobilizing new investment in sustainable futures in our nation’s cities and states and targeting federal investments in renewable and clean energy technologies, all while creating new, sustainable jobs. President Obama also signed an Executive Order on Federal Sustainability in 2009, committing the Government to lead by example and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28% by 2020, increase energy efficiency, and reduce fleet petroleum consumption.

As we look to Rio+20 and other processes, we will draw on these and other efforts in our own contributions.

Indeed, we hope the Global Sustainability Panel will canvass best practice and innovation from all countries and regions as a partial basis for its work.

We are grateful for the opportunity today to contribute to the work of the Panel, beyond Ambassador Rice’s personal participation. We would highlight five issues.

First, while the Panel’s recommendations need to be relevant to all countries, the United States believes that the Panel should give particular attention to the circumstances of most vulnerable who face the triple threat of poverty and its associated ills, environmental stress, and fragile institutions. The poorest are among those most threatened by environmental degradation, and they will see the most immediate benefits of reversing it. A true “green economy” will need to deliver for all communities. We are interested in seeing the Panel elaborate specific ideas about a critical path to make that happen.

Second, we would like to see the Panel give balanced attention to sustainable development options for both rural and urban communities. Over two-thirds of the world’s poor live in rural communities, dependent on agriculture or other natural resources for their livelihoods. Agriculture can be a powerful engine for growth and poverty reduction with the right policy and governance frameworks; yet it is also a major consumer of natural resources and a significant driver of climate and other environmental impacts that need to be managed more sustainably. Sustainable agriculture thus needs to be high among our shared priorities.

Meanwhile, over 70 percent of the world’s population will lvie in cities by 2050. While the growth of cities risks new competition over water, land, and energy, cities with far-sighted leadership can also be magnets for new economic opportunities, poverty reduction, and innovations in sustainability from key infrastructure to peri-urban agriculture.

Food security and access to clean and affordable energy are obvious cross-cutting priorities.

Third, we welcome the robust attention the Panel is giving to the role of the private sector and particularly the policies and governance arrangements that can help attract new investment into more sustainable activities.

Fourth, we would like to see the Panel highlight the need for enhanced public participation in decision-making, which we believe in the first instance relates to improved information, communication, and transparency about investment and development plans and activities.

Finally, a word on governance. The world we have inherited, and that we will bequeath, requires enhanced cooperation at all levels and governance arrangements that are shaped in relation to specific but evolving purposes. We understand that the Panel will address institutional arrangements at some stage in its work. We strongly encourage the Panel to focus first on functions and then on the form and nature of arrangements needed to achieve them. This can help provide all of us an essential basis for reviewing concrete governance options that stand to advance our core goals.

Mr. President, this Panel is addressing some of the most compelling challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. The Panelists’ commitment to fresh, critical thinking is encouraging. If the Panel’s recommendations are additionally underpinned by rigorous and practical analysis of the challenges and options before us, it stands to make a major contribution not just to debate but more importantly to action.

Thank you again for the opportunity to exchange views on this work and we look forward to working together on this important agenda in the weeks ahead.


PRN: 2011/046