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Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Second Committee

18th Meeting (PM)             



Participants in Panel Discussion Say

Johannesburg Summit Opportunity to Recommit to Rio Priorities

The United Nations must play a greater role, not only by enhancing political commitments, but also in translating them into tangible terms, the representative of Malaysia said this afternoon as the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) continued its consideration of environment and sustainable development.

Speaking on the implementation of Agenda 21, she said that, despite the impressive outcome documents from high-level meetings, the United Nations had fallen short in terms of implementation.  Negotiations centred around a search for the lowest common denominators, and the resulting regulatory arrangements were often not implemented and were unverifiable.  In light of recent political developments on the environmental front, it was possible to question the existence of the political will for global action.

[Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, serves as the blueprint for achieving global sustainable development.  The 10-year review of progress since Rio, known as the World Summit for Sustainable Development, will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 2-11 September 2002.]

Statements were also made by the representatives of Tajikistan, South Africa, Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Singapore, Ukraine, and Cambodia.  The Observer of Switzerland and the representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) also spoke.

Following today’s meeting, a panel was held on regional perspectives on the World Summit.  It was chaired by Francisco Seixas da Costa (Portugal), Chairman of the Committee, and moderated by Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General of the Summit.

Presentations were made by the following Chairmen and representatives of the World Summit regional round tables:  Adebayo Adedeji (Africa); Asylbek Aidaraliev (Central and South Asia); Alister McIntyre (Latin America and the Caribbean); Lawrence Papay (Europe/North America); Nordin Hasan (East Asia and Pacific).

Panellists highlighted the need to take into account the specific circumstances of various regions in the creation of economic and environmental plans.  They agreed that many of the goals of Rio, including the transfer of technology, had not been achieved.  Therefore, the Summit was an opportunity to re-commit to those priorities.  The Summit must also address the persistence and growth of poverty, high levels of unemployment and social deprivation existing in many regions.

Armed conflict was also mentioned by some speakers as a major deterrent to sustainable development and a cause of environmental degradation.  The speaker for Central and South Asia said that scarcity of resources often led to armed conflict, and in conflict areas it was often more profitable to deplete resources than to conserve them.

The speaker from Europe/North America said that current patterns of consumption in the industrial world were not sustainable.  What was needed was a convergence of self-interest and collective responsibility.  In that regard, the media could play an important role in shifting the public’s focus to products that were environmentally sound.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 30 October, to continue its consideration of environment and sustainable development and the sub-item implementation of Agenda 21.


The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of environment and sustainable development.  For background information see this morning’s Press Release, GA/EF/2966.

Following today’s meeting, there will be a panel discussion of regional perspectives on the World Summit on Sustainable Development.  The panel will be chaired by Francisco Seixas da Costa (Portugal), Chairman of the Committee.  Nitin Desai, Secretary-General of the Summit, will serve as moderator.

Presentations will be made by the following Chairmen and representatives of the World Summit regional round tables:  Adebayo Adedeji (Africa); Asylbek Aidaraliev (Central and South Asia); Alister McIntyre (Latin America and the Caribbean); Lawrence Papay (Europe/North America); Nordin Hasan (East Asia and Pacific).


JENO STAEHELIN, Permanent Observer of Switzerland, said that unsolved problems such as persistent poverty in many parts of the world, violations of basic rights, an increasing number of conflicts, and global environmental changes endangered the long-term survival of humanity.  There was thus a threat to all peoples, to which there was a need for collective answers.

One of the answers might be a “global deal”, he said, a concept that had been discussed in the course of preparations for the Summit.  That concept took into account the multiple problems faced by the countries of the different regions of the world, which asked for multiple answers.  Thus, on the basis of commitments made, each country should bring in its own contribution in regard to the common worldwide challenge of sustainable development.  It would be one of the challenges of the Summit to lend concrete content to that concept -– to define the content of the global deal.  His country looked forward to working together with other countries to elaborate such content.

RASHID ALIMOV (Tajikistan) said the World Summit would have to determine the successes so far, as well as the way forward to ensure global sustainable development.  Political stability was an important element in achieving sustainable development.  Tajikistan, having experienced armed conflict for many years, attached great importance to post-conflict peace building as a prerequisite for sustainable development.

The issue of fresh water had been recognized as a major problem, he said.  Last year world leaders, in the Millennium Declaration, decided to reduce by half the number of people who did not have access to safe drinking water by 2015.  One of the important developments in that area was last year’s adoption by the General Assembly of the resolution declaring 2003 as the International Year of Fresh Water.  The World Water Forum, to be held in March 2003, in Japan, would constitute a good start to the Year.

DUMISANI KUMALO (South Africa) said that overall progress in the achievement of sustainable development and reduction of poverty had been slow.  The impacts of globalization had resulted in high levels of poverty in developing countries and unacceptable economic imbalances between the countries of the South and the North.  Furthermore, the implementation of Agenda 21 had been fragmented by the lack of integration between sustainable development initiatives, funding and other critical implementation mechanisms.  As a result, developing countries were still faced with low life expectancy, high levels of illiteracy and little access to basic services such as clean water and health care.  The Summit outcome must address those issues, especially in regard to African countries.

He added that the Summit should also address, among other things, the important question of the international regime for governance.  The democratization of international governance was essential to the promotion of sustainable development.  Therefore it was his hope that the Summit would agree on strengthened mechanisms for the sustainable development governance.  With regard to international environmental governance, the Summit should ensure that such systems were less burdensome for developing countries and avoided duplication.  

ANDREI A. POPOV (Belarus) said that the preparatory process was in a crucial stage.  He supported taking an integrated approach in evaluating progress achieved so far in implementing Agenda 21.  The consideration of substantive issues should balance the interests and needs of States at different stages of development.  Belarus was one of the first countries in transition to develop national strategies to achieve sustainable development.

It was clear that regional perspectives would impact the conclusions and final outcome of the Summit, he said.  Priority attention should be paid in the Summit to new issues that had not been reflected in previous documents.  The mobilization of the necessary resources to implement Agenda 21 as well as technology transfer were important issues to be addressed.  Another important aspect of the preparatory process was strengthening the existing international environmental conventions.  In preparing for Johannesburg, ways to further invigorate international cooperation in that field should be examined.

RIM SONG CHOL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said that the deterioration of the environment, including global warming, desertification and indiscriminate deforestation in many parts of the world, was one of the main challenges threatening mankind.  In order to achieve sustainable development and economic growth, it was essential that all nations implement their Rio commitments and enhance international cooperation to fulfil common and individual responsibilities.

Unsustainable patterns of production and consumption constituted a major cause for environmental deterioration, he said.  Developed countries should take practical and action-oriented measures to implement the Kyoto Protocol.  Also, the necessary financial resources and technologies should be transferred to developing countries.

In his country, the National Coordinating Committee for the Environment, established after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), ensured overall coordination of the diverse activities in the environmental and developmental fields, he said.  It had mapped out the National Action Plan for Environment and Development and had taken measures for environmental protection.

SHARIFAH ZARAH SYED AHMAD (Malaysia) said that, despite the impressive outcome documents from many important high-level meetings, the United Nations had fallen short of determining the means of implementation.  Although there were a large number of major international environmental agreements, international environmental diplomacy remained a slow and sluggish business.  Negotiations centred around a search for the lowest common denominators and the resulting regulatory arrangements then embarked on the slow journey of implementation by States and verification, which sometimes proved impossible.  In light of recent political developments on the environmental front, it was possible for sceptics to question the existence of political will for global action.

There was certainly a need for a sober assessment of the prevailing framework of conditions in which global accords for sustainable development could operate, she said.  Nations had spent enough time defining concepts, particularly in defining sustainable development.  It was now time for concrete action.  In that regard, the United Nations must play a greater role, not only by enhancing political commitments but also translating them into tangible terms.  At the very least, the United Nations should coordinate effectively at the macro level, with a view to influencing the decisions of such bodies as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  The straitjacket of traditional division of labour between the United Nations and those organizations must disappear.

FOO TEOW LEE (Singapore) said that faced with a growing population, increased consumerism and limited natural endowment, the challenge for Singapore to maintain environmental sustainability would be increasingly onerous.  There would be four key thrusts in the formulation of her country’s national strategy for environmental sustainability for the next 10 years.  The first was the efficient use of scarce resources through waste recycling and resource conservation.  The second was the innovative and effective use of technology to minimize the impact on the environment. 

The third thrust, she continued, was the active participation of the population and all sectors of the business community in achieving a quality living environment while pursuing economic prosperity.  Lastly, it was crucial for Singapore to do its share for the global environment.  In that regard, it had acceded to a number of instruments, including the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.  On the regional front, it had participated actively in joint Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) efforts to harmonize environmental quality standards concerning air and water, to work towards combating sea pollution, and to promote environmental technology.

IRENE FREUDENSCHUSS-REICHL, Special Representative and Assistant Director General for United Nations Affairs of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said that UNIDO’s interventions in regional preparatory meetings for the Summit had set out its positions in the context of two major global initiatives that were affecting the extent to which industry could contribute to sustainable development.  The first was the drive to liberalize the world economy through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-negotiations and creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994.  The second was the drive to protect the local and global environment as expressed in Agenda 21. 

Properly and simultaneously pursued, those two global projects had the potential for maximizing the contribution of industry to sustainable development, she said.  But most developing countries were increasingly marginalized in those two global initiatives.  First, developing countries as a whole were not benefiting from trade liberalization.  Similarly, developing countries as a whole were not participating in the global trend of reducing the pollution intensity of their manufacturing activities. 

In light of the strong evidence of the benefits of technology synergies, she believed that the Summit needed to put forward specific proposals on how to make the new round of trade liberalization and global environmental agreements mutually supportive of the quest for sustainable development. 

SERHII YAMPOLSKY (Ukraine) said it was important for nations to agree to focus on the further implementation of Agenda 21, which was of critical importance to developing and developed countries and countries with economies in transition. The Summit should concentrate on main global concerns, such as poverty eradication, environment and health, good governance, sustainable use and conservation of energy and natural resources, and making globalization work for sustainable development.  The outcome should reaffirm the commitment of the participating countries to sustainable development, based on economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

In that context, he said, political commitments at the highest level, combined with innovative and action-oriented initiatives, were vitally important. Such initiatives should be aimed at responsible implementation of Agenda 21 by all actors, and at improvement of the global environmental governance.  Regional cooperation for environmental development projects was also crucial for success. In that regard, the Environment of Europe regional process was particularly effective.  That project was aimed at mobilizing the efforts of the European States in meeting the acute ecological problems of the region.

SARUN NERAL (Cambodia) said that his country was privileged to host the high-level Asia-Pacific round table for the World Summit at the end of November.  During that meeting, the regional assessment of the implementation of Agenda 21 would be discussed, as well as other proposals to mobilize financial resources and to strengthen regional cooperation.

In dealing with poverty alleviation, Cambodia had defined environmental issues as one of the top priorities of the national agenda for social and economic development, he said.  It had recognized the correlation between poverty reduction strategies, environmental protection and conservation of natural resources, which were essential for sustainable development.  In its national Environmental Action Plan, the Government adhered to the policies within the framework of addressing its environmental concerns in accordance with Agenda 21, as well as other relevant environmental instruments.

Cambodia was also committed to implementing the relevant environmental action plans proposed by ASEAN to address regional concerns, including the Zero Burning Policy.

Panel Discussion

In introductory remarks, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs NITIN DESAI said that the preparatory process for the World Summit had an unusual “bottom-up” structure.  Regional intergovernmental meetings were held, since it was felt that it would be useful to bring some of the major contributors to the debate together.  The participants were not part of governments.  Efforts had been made to include all the major stakeholders in the process.  The panellists would provide perspectives from those regional round tables.

ALISTER MCINTYRE (Latin America and the Caribbean) said that his group had recognized that since Rio, there had been a qualitative improvement in the environment for sustainable development, as there was greater understanding of the concept among governments and non-governmental groups.  Yet, at the most substantive level, a gap continued to exist between aspirations and achievements. The goals of sustainable development were becoming more elusive as the capacity of countries to achieve it had weakened from a number of causes.

There was concern in his region about the persistence and growth of poverty, high levels of unemployment and social deprivation, he said.  The problem of poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean was merely one element in the broader problem of economic and social exclusion.  Among other things, marginalization had bred alienation from society and the emergence of disturbing trends, such as crime and violence. 

Therefore, he said, the Summit offered a timely opportunity to begin turning the tide, to transforming rhetoric and good intentions into concrete actions.  The Summit should not be expected to solve all the problems of sustainable development, but it could begin more vigorous actions to implement Agenda 21.  In preparing for the Summit, governments must address a number of basic questions.  One of them was whether they were prepared to revisit their role in areas such as poverty alleviation.  A serious setback would be if Johannesburg did not achieve more than had been done in the past.

ADEBAYO ADEDEJI (Africa) said that, despite progress made in the last decade, there were still many challenges to development in Africa.  Life expectancy remained low and education, particularly for females, was limited.  Over all, responsibility for those issues lay with Africans themselves.  However, the world and the global environment must be conducive to development.  Africa was overly exposed to external shocks, and unless its economies were protected, the goals of development would continue to elude it.

He added that it must be remembered that all countries were not starting from the same point, and efforts were needed to help some countries to catch up.  Premature liberalization of economies had negative consequences.  If there were no efforts to tailor globalization to meet the circumstances of Africa, there would be further marginalization.  The challenge therefore was how to take into account the circumstances of each region -– the same principles could not be applied to all countries regardless of where they were.  In preparations for the Summit, there was a need to examine how countries were going to attain development based on their regional and national circumstances.

ASYLBEK AIDARALIEV (Central and South Asia) said the participants of his round table stressed the need for peace and stability.  The main issue was not that development and environmental protection were impossible in areas of conflict.  Rather, the absence of natural resources alongside poverty was the true cause of conflict.  Poverty and social problems led to an increase in criminal activity.

He added that the existing market system did not take into account human and natural resources.  In some areas, it was therefore more profitable to deplete natural resources than to conserve them.  The Rio commitments on the transfer of technologies had yet to be implemented.  Countries of his region needed to count only on their own resources, which were not adequate to compete in the global economy.  It was concluded that the Summit must address not only how to halve the number living in poverty but also how to halve the number of conflicts in his region.

NORDIN HASAN (East Asia and the Pacific) drew attention to his region’s challenges and to its proposals for the Summit.  The region had specific characteristics which affected its implementation of Agenda 21.  In the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis, many of the issues that were there before had re-emerged in a more critical form, and the capacity of those countries to respond had diminished. 

There could be no “one-size-fits-all” solution for sustainable development, he said.  The countries in his region covered the full spectrum of economic development.  The region’s diversity was particularly evident in its natural resources.  Dynamic economic development had led to rapid urbanization, with East Asia having several of the world’s megacities with populations over 10 million.  Also, air pollution had become a matter of increased concern.

In terms of achieving sustainable development, some countries had actively responded to challenges, he said.  However, those responses represented limited progress in achieving Agenda 21 goals.  One of the issues of national concern was the need to base sustainable development on local and indigenous lifestyles.  In many countries, those values were under attack.  It was necessary to strengthen the sense of collective ownership and responsibility among stakeholders at national and local levels.  Poverty, in its various dimensions, was an obstacle to achieving sustainable development. 

On capacity building, he said his group had emphasized the importance of education and awareness raising.  A well-informed media was necessary to promote public awareness about key sustainable development issues.  There had been little progress since Rio in the vital area of the transfer of environmentally sound technology.  A reduction in overall military expenditure in the region would free up considerable resources to finance sustainable development.

LAWRENCE PAPAY (Europe and North America) said that his region must take special responsibility for assisting the poorer countries.  The group had focused on five key themes.  The first was the need for a new development model, one which provided for economic, social and ecological integration.  The region needed to provide examples on how new partnerships could facilitate the transition to sustainable development.  Among their proposals was to look at tax programmes and incentives that would promote sustainability. 

The second theme was consumerism, he said.  Current patterns of consumption in the industrial world were not sustainable.  What was needed was a convergence of self-interest and collective responsibility.  The media could play an important role in shifting the focus of the public to products that were environmentally sound.

Resource depletion and waste was the third theme, he continued.  Natural resources, such as water and forests, were being used and exploited at an unprecedented rate.  Therefore, the capital cost of natural resource depletion and

waste should be included in indicators used by decision-makers.  The fourth theme was responses to the climate change challenge, an area in which the region had a particular responsibility to lead the way.

The fifth theme, he said, was institutions to support sustainable development.  Countries needed to commit to the principles of sustainable development and to educate the young.  Sustainable development should become a part of basic education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.  The Summit should make sustainable development understandable and meaningful to the public. Also, the voice of civil society must be heard both at the Summit and during its preparatory process.  

In a summary statement, Mr. DESAI said it was clear from the round table discussions that the improvements made so far had not had an impact on the basic problems of poverty and protecting the environment.  There was also a feeling that the problems had become more difficult to tackle –- as in the case of Asia and Latin America.  It was also found that the capacity to solve problems was less.  In many ways there had been a changing balance between the public and private sphere over the 1990s.

He added that globalization was not necessarily harmful to development, but that it needed to be managed to address the concerns of various regions.  It seemed to be agreed that there was excessive standardization of policies in regard to economic liberalization, and that such policies needed to cater to different circumstances.  What was needed now was to make the Rio agenda more practical and easier to understand –- there was a need for more concrete actions.

Question and Answer Period

Each panellist was asked what he believed should be the one major action to come out of the Summit.

Mr. McINTYRE said there needed to be a substantial increase in official development assistance to attain many of the goals, but there was also a need to address the concerns of marginalized groups.

Mr. PAPAY said there was a need to find balance between trade, environment and sustainable development.

Mr. HASAN said there might be a need to set up a regional forum or council on sustainable development.  A regional trust fund for sustainable development was also essential.

Mr. AIDARALIEV said there was especially a need to write off foreign debt, because that debt absorbed many of the funds needed for sustainable development.

Mr. ADEDJI said Africa was a region where poverty was increasing faster than anywhere else.  If that trend continued, 60 per cent of Africa would be living below the poverty line.  However, he agreed that foreign debt alleviation would also be a major step forward in achieving development goals.

In response to a question on market forces, Mr. PAPAY said that governments needed to set policy and establish incentives to force the market to work.  The market system would work -- but it required government guidance.

For information media. Not an official record.