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Hilary Benn meets US counterparts and says "We face a crisis of sustainability"



Ref: 116/09
Date: 14 May 2009

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has met his counterparts in the new American administration, Europe and the UN in a trip to New York and Washington DC.

He spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and held a bilateral with Tom Vilsack, the US Agriculture Secretary. They discussed climate change adaptation, food security and the green economy.

This afternoon, Mr Benn spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Centre on the topic of ‘Sustainable Economy’. He outlined the challenges of feeding the world while living within our means, and the problems that climate change is bringing. He congratulated President Obama on his commitment to acting on climate change, and said the US must lead the world in the fight against climate change.

He said:

“We are today faced with a crisis of sustainability. The most glaring threat is that of dangerous climate change. But it is not the only example of the problems we create when we exploit the world’s resources unsustainably.

“These threats are real, they are immediate, and they will affect us all. Environmental degradation is putting an increasing strain on our natural resources, and it is both a cause and an effect of climate change.

“So in the year of Copenhagen, the most important gathering in human history, an agreement on cutting emissions would be the biggest single step we could take to safeguard these resources.  And yet even such an agreement will not – indeed cannot – encompass all of the things we need to do to safeguard our environment. And the most difficult task we face is to reconcile reducing emissions with reducing poverty – in other words the need for more development.

“There is a different way of seeing nature; people are already paying for the services it can provide. In Brazil communities in forested areas are being paid for their ‘eco-services’ in helping to preserve the trees. In China, they are paying farmers to change their crops in order to improve the soil. And closer to home – my home – in the European Union, we already make payments to farmers for what we call environmental stewardship – ensuring that they farm in an environmentally sensitive manner and recognising the public benefits they provide.

“The first task is simply to recognise this truth; we need to live within our environmental means, and it will be the low carbon and the resource efficient that will inherit the future.

“We need to help build the green economy of tomorrow as we respond to the economic crisis of today. The London Summit of G20 leaders saw agreement on putting money into the green economy. In UK we have provided an additional $2.3 billion for the low carbon sector

“Our goal must be to make every building energy efficient, all our transport sustainable, all our energy clean or renewable, and all our agriculture sustainable and productive.

We need the world to come together to deal with water scarcity, the damaging loss of biodiversity, and the challenge of producing enough food. The World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and others, need to respond to crises and support the investment that will secure supplies in the long-term.

“[Also], and the reason I am here, is that we need America to apply all of its great energy to the task we, together, face. And we need you to lead.  President Obama’s commitment on climate change is the best hope we have of an agreement in Copenhagen. At the UNEP meeting in Kenya in February, nine years of failure to deal with mercury were transformed by America’s new direction. And the 2010 UN Biodiversity Conference will need you, too.”


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Page published: 14 May 2009