Governments spend lots of money. If they choose to buy green it can give a decisive impetus towards creating a global green economy. Ecolabelling is one of the tools to facilitate this. That was the key message coming out of a Nordic Council of Ministers side event at Rio+20 on June 20.
-We look forward to continuing the project with the NCM on applying Nordic knowhow to our markets, said Vice Minister Ricardo Saffer from Brazil, here with Environment Ministers Maria Pereira, Chile; Ida Auken, Denmark and Svandis Svarvarsdóttir, Iceland.
Can governments boost the green economy via public procurement? And can consumers steer the market by making green choices?
An impressive group of ministers from the Nordic countries and South America tackled these issues at a side event organized by the Nordic Council of Ministers in cooperation with UNEP and the Brazilian government on the first day of the high level segment at Rio+20.
- Sustainable development can only be achieved if we include the social as well as the environmental dimension more. Ecolabelling and sustainable public procurement are an important part of this, said Norwegian Minister of the Environment Bård Vegar Solhjell in his opening remarks, that were echoed by his colleagues throughout the discussion.
The discussion explored the interconnection between sustainable public procurement and ecolabelling and it also highlighted the advantages of regional co-operation towards a green economy.
- The transformation to a sustainable society requires a broad common understanding and a soundly based market. Ecolabelling can help create trust in green products and sustainable public procurement can help create a bigger supply of these products, according to Fanny Demassieux from the UNEP, who pointed out that in OECD countries public procurement accounts on average for 17 % of total GDP.
- Furthermore, regional cooperation around ecolabelling creates synergy, ensures resource efficiency, increases visibility and strengthens the brand of any label, she added.
With seven ministers from seven countries present, the dialogue between Nordic and Southern Cone countries gave a good indication of the many issues at stake.
- The green economy has often been demonized and accused of creating trade barriers between developed and developing nations. But it is really a question of getting the social and environmental aspects more firmly integrated in the overall economy, said Danish Environment Minister Ida Auken.
- Sustainable public procurement is one of the strongest tools we have for that. And if you go for the highest standard, you drive innovation and create green jobs, even if it may seem more expensive at first sight, she added, referring to the concept of total cost of ownership that looks at the long term cost of public investments rather than the short term gains.
Finnish Environment Minster Ville Niinistö was very happy with the fact that a new framework programme for a global effort on sustainable consumption and production was part of the Rio+20 outcome. But he touched upon the issue of trade, saying that what we need is not just ambitious goals for sustainable development, but also to get rid of the barriers to sustainable trade.
Icelandic Environment Minister Svandis Svavarsdóttir stressed the importance of regional cooperation and effective public administration in close cooperation with the private sector to create a trustworthy framework for green action. She also added that licenses for the Nordic ecolabel had gone up 700 % in Iceland after the economic crisis, venturing the theory that financial hardship may make people more concerned about sustainable development.
A joint venture between the Nordic Council of Ministers and the United Nations Environment Programme along with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay was also discussed.
This project explores the opportunities for developing a regional ecolabelling programme in these Southern Cone countries and for promoting the role of sustainable public procurement even further.
- Countries like Brazil and other South American nations have a lot to learn from the Nordic countries when it comes to ecolabelling and sustainable public procurement. A regional ecolabelling programme could bring together different perspectives and needs from many stakeholder in the region and allow our countries to become more sustainable, said Ricardo Saffer, Brazilian Vice Minister of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade.
- So we look forward to continuing the project with the Nordic Council of Ministers on applying Nordic knowhow to our markets, he added.
Liza Gunn from the Brazilian consumer organization Idec welcomed the NCM/UNEP initiative on promoting the benefits of a regional ecolabel to South American governments.
- I hope this will lead to a Latin American based ecolabel and congratulations to the Nordic countries for the results they have already achieved, she stated.
Chilean Minister of Environment Maria Pereira focused on the export angle:
- With exports a significant part of Chile's economy and as the consumers of the richer world begin to demand sustainable products, ecolabelling is a way for Chile to add value, gain market share and create jobs, she siad.
- The Nordic countries have done a lot already when it comes to greening the economy. So now the time has come to look towards the future and make some of our regional experiences available in a global context, said Greenland’s Minister for Nordic Cooperation Palle Christiansen in his closing remarks.
The seminar was part of the programme of the Nordic Council of Ministers at Rio+20. This includes three seminars and one official side event, plus a stand at the official exhibition space connected to the conference.
Read more at norden.org/rio+20, including a blog with articles from high ranking politicians to opinion makers from the NGO and business community.
You can also follow the Nordic activities in Rio at www.facebook.com/sdnordic