Remarks at the Closing of the OSCE Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting
As delivered by Dustin DeGrande, Political Officer
Vienna, October 17, 2017
I would like to begin by once again thanking Ambassador Žugić and Ambassador Raunig for your offices’ work in organizing this Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting. We are hopeful the more detailed discussions this week will help inform the content of the draft Ministerial Decision on greening the economy that this group framed in Prague in September.
First, the United States recommends any decision should be drafted with a strong emphasis on good governance and citizen participation. This will help ensure the efforts we make are sustainable. Laurent Fabius explained in the opening session that climate change will, without doubt, disrupt security and political stability. Rising sea levels and desertification, for example, will diminish arable land and push involuntary migration. Such large-scale challenges affect citizens’ daily lives and choices will require sustained solutions and robust public participation.
As Armenia’s deputy minister for nature protection, Erik Grigoryan, said, “environmental issues can no longer be considered separately from economic and social ones.” He and the representative from Georgia’s environment ministry, Nino Gokhelashvili, explained that poverty, environmental degradation, and security threats are mutually reinforcing. We should keep this in mind. We should also recall that environmental considerations are not a burden, but an opportunity for stability and economic growth, as we have seen in the United States – or, as José Palacín from UNECE concluded, the Sustainable Development Goals agenda is not just born of fear, but of hope.
Natural disasters, of course, have the power to reverse growth. The destructive power of storms is growing, as is our vulnerability to fires, floods, and other threats. We saw, for instance, the devastating impact of 2014 floods and landslides in the Balkans. But these governments have also learned important lessons about how to ensure that fewer lives are lost and economic growth is not damaged to the same extent in the case of future disasters. The United States’ own critical assessment of our readiness and capacity to respond to natural disasters was tested by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The changes we made since then probably made record storms and fires in the United States far less damaging than they otherwise would have been this year.
We heard from presenters, and the United States has seen in its own experience, that the new technologies making energy more efficient and boosting renewables are profitable for producers and distributors and increasingly accessible for consumers. Speakers from Kazakhstan, Iceland, Spain, and the United States were unanimous in describing the tremendous opportunities associated with more efficient energy resources, such as renewables, and cited the threats, should we fail in the transition to them. We encourage all OSCE participating States to promote the enabling environment to further investment in these areas.
Water continues to emerge as an issue of interest across the OSCE region, whether in conversations about economic development or natural disasters. As a security-based organization, we should take seriously the warning from UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Director Kirsi Madi that the world has suffered a 45 percent increase in water-related disasters in 2016. She told us 2015 had a record number of droughts, widespread flooding, and unusually strong storms. These trends continue. We see positive examples in the region in transboundary water cooperation – including between Ukraine and Moldova, the Danube River Basin Cooperative, and the Sava River Basin – and we hope to see broader discussions on transboundary water cooperation and management in the near future.
Finally, some of our fellow delegates have advised that we should proceed slowly, with a “balanced approach,” in reaching a Ministerial Decision on greening the economy. They express concern that any decision must conform to national legislation. From the discussions we have heard, however, it seems that the framework decision we are considering is fully in line with OSCE participating States’ legislation. The Ministerial Decision should help focus efforts on issues to which we have already committed, whether through national legislation, the 2030 Agenda, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, or in other areas.
The OSCE is in need of a new consensus decision to refocus our environmental efforts, not just because we have not had one since 2014, but because there is an urgent need to address environmental challenges that affect our health, economy, society, prosperity, and security. The United States looks forward to being a constructive partner on these issues.
Once again, we thank the Austrian OSCE Chairmanship, Task Force Head Ambassador Raunig, Economic and Environment Coordinator Ambassador Žugić, and Ambassador Azzoni.
And thank you, Mr. Chairman.