Kerri-Ann Jones
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
The Road to Rio+20
Washington, DC
June 5, 2012

As Prepared

It is a real pleasure to be here this afternoon. Thank you Jason for that introduction. I want to thank Amy and UNEP RONA for the invitation to speak here today. Thank you to the hosts of this event, the U.S. Green Building Council, UNEP, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Congratulations on release of the report. “Advancing the Transformation to a Green Economy through Green Buildings and Resource Efficient Cities: Key Messages from North America.”

The report highlights successes in Houston, Chicago, New York, and Toronto. These are some of the many cities in North America on the front line of a green economy. The report calls them “laboratories of innovation.” In these cities and others, people are seeing what works and what they need more of—more partnerships, education, new technologies, and innovation.

What else do we need to pursue a green economy? A sustainable future starts with a foundation of transparent, inclusive, and accountable governance. It requires commitment and action from all sectors and members of society. It involves and needs everyone—more than government alone.

The good news is that we are working together at all levels—locally, in cities and municipalities, regionally, country by country. We are forming public-private partnerships. Using new technologies and tools, innovating. Citizens are engaged and we are working on solutions to complex problems. We are exploring international dimensions. In March 2011, President Obama and President Rousseff initiated a dialogue on a Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability (JIUS). We’ll hear more about JIUS in Rio.

Today, I would like to touch on two topics: 1) The U.S. view of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, which is coming up quickly. 2) What’s happening in green economy and urban sustainability in the United States.

The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) is coming up quickly. Rio+20 will bring together representatives from around the world to shape the future sustainable development agenda. For many, that future is tied to the future of a city.

The UN General Assembly identified two themes for Rio+20: 1) The Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication. 2) The Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development.

Rio+20 is an important opportunity for the international community to advance sustainable and inclusive economic growth. It is an opportunity to include all players involved in sustainable development. Governments alone cannot lead the transition to a green economy.

We are hoping that the Rio+20 meeting will reflect the broad interests of various stakeholders including the private sector, NGOs, local communities, industry, governments—both national and local. We hope that Rio will engage youth and empower women—and be a truly inclusive event. One that takes advantage of new technologies and innovation to advance sustainable development. One that recognizes the need to invest in human capital, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

What do we mean by “green economy?” There are many definitions. For the U.S. it includes, improving efficiency in the use of resources—water, energy, minerals, materials. Maintaining the natural processes or “ecosystem services” which are the foundation for green growth. Developing and deploying clean energy technologies. Supporting efforts to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Removing barriers to environmentally friendly goods and services and developing human capacity.

So, what is the role of government in a green economy? As the report mentions there are some obstacles, including regulatory and financial. Governments can create an enabling environment where green economy can take hold and thrive. We know that innovation and entrepreneurship are critical drivers of green growth. In 2011, the United States put into place a national innovation policy to promote R&D, improve access to finance for entrepreneurs, reduce barriers to entry for new business, and cut the backlog of patent applications.

We live in an age of unprecedented urbanization. Nearly two billion new urban residents are expected in the next 20 years. Yet the urban sustainability movement is relatively new. Urban areas now account for 60-80% of global energy consumption, and generate 75% of total carbon emissions. Just 20 years ago few U.S. cities had sustainability programs. Today, over 600 (estimated) U.S. cities have them. Virtually every city with a population over 1 hundred thousand has a sustainability program.

In July 2011, Washington DC Mayor Gray set a goal for DC. In one generation DC would be the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States. Sustainable DC goals for 2032 include: Cut citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. Cut citywide energy consumption by 50%. Increase use of renewable energy by 50%. Achieve zero waste by consuming less and reusing everything else. Make 100% of District waterways fishable and swimmable.

DC is not alone. Other cities are taking action. Investing in infrastructure for more sustainable living based on sound economics and pragmatic business plans. Cities across the United States have adopted comprehensive sustainability programs. Transforming city after city into greener and more efficient urban centers. Plans are being used by cities of all sizes. New York, Chicago, Fort Collins, Colorado—each have plans. As I mentioned, DC has Sustainable DC. Regions also have plans, like the Mississippi Gulf Coast Sustainability Plan.

The building sector is a huge industry that’s important to the health of the economy, and there’s real potential to accelerate economic growth and create jobs. All indications are that green building is a growing industry in the United States and it’s employing more and more people.

It’s not always easy to find real numbers and describe the actual number of jobs in the green building sector. So one of the hosts for today’s event, the U.S. Green Building Council, asked the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to conduct a study on green jobs. The study found that from 2000-2008 the green construction market generated $173 billion in GDP, supported over 2.4 million jobs, and provided $123 billion in labor earnings. From 2009-2013, the study forecasts that green construction will generate an additional $554 billion in GDP, support 7.9 million jobs, and provide $396 million in labor earnings.

Green buildings have really caught on in the United States. We see new buildings going up, old ones being retrofitted. The California Academy of Sciences is one of the new ones. This incredible building—the world’s greenest museum—combines design and function with nature, both inside and out. Situated in Golden Gate Park, the building has a hilly, living, roof with native plants, an indoor rainforest with live animals, and a host of water saving, energy efficient measures and technologies.

It’s interesting to see that well known and historic buildings, like the Empire State Building are going through green renovations. I’m from New York and this is something that would have been difficult to imagine several years ago.

We in the Federal government are also working to be green. In October 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order that set sustainability goals for Federal agencies. The Order instructs agencies to meet a number of energy, water, and waste reduction targets including, 30% reduction in vehicle fleet petroleum use by 2020, 26% improvement in water efficiency by 2020, and 50% recycling and waste diversion by 2015.

One of Secretary Clinton’s initiatives is the Greening Diplomacy Initiative launched on Earth Day in April 2009. Through the initiative we are reducing the State Department’s environmental footprint, cutting costs, and making the environment a leading part of our foreign policy agenda. As Secretary Clinton said in her Earth Day address in 2009, “We’re trying to green diplomacy and we want to do it every day.”

In 2011, the State Department signed a competitive based energy savings agreement that will provide reliable clean energy at a set price for the next 20 years. Under the agreement, the Department is tapping into the nations’ growing renewable energy market.

At our diplomatic missions overseas we already have 10 U.S. Embassies that are certified as LEED green buildings—in Sofia, Panama City, Johannesburg, Brazzaville, and Ouagadougou to name some. More are on the way—30 additional embassies are in the pipeline. Embassies like these are examples of what we can do. Here in Washington, we are working with many of the more than 175 diplomatic missions, representing nations from around the world. The Embassy of Finland in Washington is a good example. It is the first LEED certified embassy in the United States. And their efforts are paying off—saving a $150 thousand, a year, on the electricity bill because they are using half as much energy and gas.

The green building industry is one of those places where you can do well, by doing good. Where an important industry can lead the way—as it brings together so many other industries. And as we know, it is also a good indicator of growth.

Rio+20 is an opportunity to share our success stories as you have done in this report, to promote the importance of partnerships and innovation, starting with the foundation of transparent inclusive and accountable governance. I commend you on this report. At Rio, green buildings and cities will get important and well deserved attention.

Thank you.