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Sustainable Development Commission Adopts Policy Options, ‘Shared Vision’ Document Stressing Urgent Need for Bold, Determined, Innovative Response to World Crises

15 May 2009
Economic and Social CouncilENV/DEV/1052
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on Sustainable Development

Seventeenth Session

13th & 14th Meetings (AM & PM)



Chair Says Consensus Caps ‘Two Tough, Remarkable’ Weeks of Work;

Delegations Have ‘Planted the Seeds for a Green Revolution to Become a Reality’

(Issued on 18 May 2009.)

Convinced of the urgent need for a “bold, determined and innovative response” to the serious parallel crises affecting the world today, the Commission on Sustainable Development concluded its seventeenth session this evening, adopting a set of policy options to speed up agricultural development, along with practical measures to address drought, desertification, land use, rural development and lasting development in Africa.  

“The dream has come true!  We have found consensus and adopted a final outcome document and finalized a ‘Shared vision’ –- two documents [that] can set the scene for change,” said Gerda Verburg, Chairperson of the Commission and the Netherlands’ Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, who prepared both texts.  In her closing remarks, she said the Commission, which had been meeting in New York since 5 May, had just completed “two tough, remarkable” weeks of work.

While it had been vital for the 53-member body to adopt a set of policy options on its priority themes -– agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification, and Africa –- which would help drive action on the ground, she was certain that the energy and dedication shown by delegations throughout the session would make sustainable agriculture and rural development a reality on the ground.

Indeed, she said, Commission delegations had placed agriculture and rural development at the heart of the sustainable development agenda.  By approving the policy document they had also acknowledged the notion that a paradigm shift was required to ensure lasting development for all.  Now, delegations and other relevant stakeholders must evince the credibility, cooperation and commitment to guide implementation of the decisions they had taken tonight.  That would take dedicated leadership, and “there is no time to waste,” she said, adding:  “Tonight, you have planted the seeds for a green revolution to become a reality.”

Among other things, the Commission expressed its deep concern at the impact of the current financial crisis and global economic downturn and that developing countries and transition economies risked suffering serious setbacks to their development objectives, including achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Delegations pledged to that end their determination to craft a response “that protected development gains of past decades and which accelerated progress towards lasting development for all.” 

Emphasizing the urgent need to increase food security and agricultural development, the Commission stressed that agriculture lay at the centre of sustainable development and farmers must be at the heart of a global “green revolution”.  Governments and other relevant stakeholders must, therefore, mobilize the political will to revitalize agricultural sectors in developing countries.  To that end, delegations called for enhancing agricultural production, productivity, and sustainability, through, among other ways, employing science-based approaches and local indigenous knowledge; expanding investment incentives, in particular for small farmers; and encouraging and supporting safe integrated pest management.

On rural development, the Commission noted that rural communities in developing countries still faced challenges regarding access to basic services and economic opportunities.  Investments in environmental protection, infrastructure, and health and education were critical to sustainable rural development and could enhance national well-being.  Therefore, success depended on developing and implementing comprehensive strategies that addressed climate change, drought, desertification, and natural disasters.  Delegations pledged to promote equitable access to land, water and technologies by rural women, indigenous people and other vulnerable groups; strengthen the human capacities of rural people, by, among other ways, training and increasing the number of health professionals and educators in rural communities, and stimulating the creation of new jobs.

By the text, the Commission underlined the crucial role land played in achieving poverty eradication, food security and sustainable development, and the multiple benefits of sustainable land management, such as, among other things, providing ecosystems services, sequestering carbon and contributing to climate regulation.  Actions were thus needed to promote sustainable and integrated land use planning and management practices; reduce land degradation and rehabilitate degraded land; promote policies to manage water and land resources in an integrated manner; and promote equitable access to land and clear and secure land tenure, in particular for women, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups.

Noting that drought continued to threaten the livelihoods of millions of people as well as the heightened drought risk posed by climate change, the Commission called for action aimed at creating a robust enabling environment for drought preparedness and mitigation, strengthening the knowledge-base and information-sharing on drought, water stress and drought risk management, and enhancing the resilience of communities to drought.  This required, among other measures, the mobilization of funding for research and development of drought-tolerant seed varieties, the promotion of technical solutions and practices in combination with traditional knowledge for drought forecasting, impact assessment, and early warning systems.

Emphasizing the need for a global response to the global problems of desertification and land degradation through concerted efforts recognized by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the Commission called for actions to strengthen the institutional framework for policy implementation and to take practical measures in those efforts.  It called on Governments to use the Global Environment Facility (GEF), among other multilateral organizations, to integrate desertification and land degradation into national sustainable development plans.  Further actions were needed to promote scientific research on desertification and drought, strengthen existing disaster management capacities, and encourage developed countries to provide, in the fifth replenishment of the GEF, adequate, timely and predictable financing for those efforts.

Underlining strong economic performance in Africa as a necessary enabling environment for sustainable development, the Commission called for a green revolution on the continent to help boost agricultural productivity and food security in ways that supported ecosystem functions.  To this end, action was required at local, national and global levels to revitalize agriculture as a basis for rural development and integrate African farmers and local entrepreneurs into agricultural supply chains.  Further steps were needed to promote an environment conducive to sustainable development, ensure Africa’s integration into world trade and continue the reduction of its debt burden.  Development aid to the continent should be increased, as should domestic and foreign investment.  Action was also needed to improve income distribution and promote social development, especially of rural communities and women, and to promote, enable and support climate change adaptation mechanisms.

Among the follow-up measures included in the text, Commission delegations called on Member States to strengthen the capacities of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), within their mandates, to provide increased assistance to developing countries, especially Africa, on sustainable agriculture and rural development and food security.  The Commission also decided to devote, in 2012 and 2016, and without prejudice to its organization of work, a separate segment at its review sessions to monitor and follow-up implementation of its decisions on Africa taken at its current session.

Earlier in the day, Ms. Verburg presented a wide-ranging summary statement on the future of sustainable development –- her “Shared vision” -- compiled from the discussions held among the various delegations participating in the session.  It touched on the Commission’s priority themes and recognized that today’s multifaceted challenges, from climate change to food insecurity and economic recession, required an integrated response.  The response must address short-term emergencies while developing long-term strategies within the sustainable development framework.  She encouraged delegations to comment on the text, which would have the status of a “Chair’s Summary.”

“Nothing less is needed than a revolution in ideas and a revolution in technologies, supported by a revolution in trade policies and market access and the financial means to implement,” she said, underscoring the urgency and sense of cooperation that Ministers had exhibited to bring about a paradigm shift and realize a truly sustainable green revolution that would reverse widespread trends of declining agricultural productivity and incomes.  The Commission had, thus, underlined the centrality of agriculture, as understood in a broad sense to include husbandry, agroforestry and mixed systems, to sustainable development.

The shared vision formed by delegations revealed that sustainable farms, food, feed, fuel, and funds were all needed to chart a sustainable path to the future.  But, she said, the most important ingredients in the recipe are farmers, especially women farmers, and rural communities, whose empowerment is the key to poverty eradication and to sustainable development.  With the world on the cusp of a potential agricultural and rural revival, it was her hope that delegations would all be guided in their endeavours towards sustainable development “by a shared vision –- one of shared well-being for all people and of common stewardship of this planet which we all share and which sustains us”.

Turning to other business, the Commission adopted a resolution on “preparations for the high-level meeting to review progress made in addressing the vulnerabilities of small island developing States through the implementation of the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation” (document E/CN.17/2009/L.3).  By that text, introduced earlier by the representative of Grenada on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Commission decided to use the Small Island Developing States Day at its eighteenth session as a preparatory committee meeting for the high-level review.

Also today, the co-Chairpersons of the parallel interactive round tables that took place during the Commission’s High-Level segment presented summaries of those discussions.  Oliver Dulić, Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning of Serbia, and Alexander Müller, Assistant Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), provided their summaries of the panel on “Responding to the food crisis through sustainable development”.  (Please see Press Release ENV/DEV/1048.)

Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Minister of Environment and Tourism of Namibia, and Matthew Wyatt, Assistant President, External Affairs, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), summed up the round table on “Realizing a sustainable green revolution in Africa”; Louis Alberto Ferrate, Minister of Environment and Natural resources of Guatemala, and His Royal Highness Willem Alexander, Prince of Orange, in his capacity as Chairman of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, provided their summaries of the round table on “Integrated management of land and resources for sustainable agriculture and rural development”.  (Please see Press Release ENV/DEV/1050.)

Next, a representative of farmers’ organizations presented a brief summary of a dialogue held between the major civil society groups and heads of United Nations agencies and programmes on “implementing sustainable development”.  A representative of scientific and technological organizations next provided a summary of a round table held on the same topic, but which included among its participants representatives of the international policy research community.

Before wrapping up its work, the Commission also approved the provisional agenda for its eighteenth session (E/CN.17/2009/L.4).  According to the agenda, the thematic cluster for the implementation cycle 2010-2011 review session would include matters related to transport; chemicals; waste management; and mining.  Delegations also decided that the eighteenth session would be held from 3 to 14 May 2010.  In 2011, the Commission’s Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting would be held from 21 to 25 February, while its nineteenth policy session would take place from 2 to 13 May.

The Commission also took note of the draft programme of work for the biennium 2010-2011 for the Division for Sustainable Development (A/CN.17/2009/11).  Finally, the Commission adopted the draft report of its current session (E/CN.17/2009/L.2), introduced by its Rapporteur, Tania Valerie Raguz ( Croatia).

According to its tradition, the Commission briefly opened its eighteenth session to elect the Chairperson and Bureau that would guide its work for 2010.  Alberto Ferrate, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of Guatemala was elected to Chair the Commission, and Hilario Davide ( Philippines) and Mohamed Alahraf ( Libya) were elected as two of its four Vice-Chairs.  The remaining Vice-Chairpersons, from the Group of Eastern European States and the Group of Western European and Other States, will be elected at a later date.


The Commission on Sustainable Development met this morning to conclude the high-level segment of its seventeenth session, focusing on the priority themes:  agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa.  Today’s programme is expected to include summary presentations on the session’s parallel interactive round tables and its ministerial dialogues, presentation of the Chairperson’s summary “Shared vision”, and action on the session’s final report.  Action was also expected on a draft text entitled “Preparations for the high-level meeting to review progress made in addressing the vulnerabilities of small island developing States through the implementation of the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation” (document E/CN.17/2009/L.3).

For more information, please see press release ENV/DEV/1041 of 4 May 2009.

Presentation of the Chairperson’s “Shared vision” summary

Presenting her summary, Commission Chairperson GERDA VERBURG, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Netherlands, said the various delegations to the current session had presented a shared vision on the future of sustainable development across the priority themes of agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa.  That vision recognized that the multiple challenges the world was facing –- among them, climate change, ecosystem degradation, food insecurity, financial meltdown and economic recession –- required an integrated response.  That response needed to address short-term emergencies, while developing long-term strategies within the sustainable development framework.

She stressed that, to feed a growing population adequately and improve nutrition under conditions of growing water scarcity, climate change, soil depletion and ecosystem degradation, business as usual would not suffice.  Indeed, a revolutionary paradigm shift was required.  In that, the Commission had recognized the centrality of agriculture to sustainable development.  Indeed, farmers were central in building a resilient and sustainable agricultural sector.  The Commission had also reiterated the importance of sharing experiences, innovative technologies, training and education frameworks, and other agricultural practices.  It had further stressed the need for increased investment in the agricultural sector and rural infrastructure; the challenge of biofuel production; the need for a successful conclusion of the Doha Round of trade negotiations, particularly in its development dimensions; and the role of integrated water and land resource management in achieving sustainable development and food security.

As delegations prepared to return home, they had the daunting task of discussing those issues and implementing the agreed measures.  She hoped that they would all be guided by a shared vision of the well-being of all people and a common stewardship of the planet, which all humanity shared and which sustained it.

Following the presentation, Ms. Verburg opened the floor for comments.

The representative of the United States appreciated the Chair’s text, but believed that it should have included more emphasis on ways to manage the long-term ecological potential of land; ensuring that research was carried out in tandem with, and responsive to, the needs of farmers; and improved opportunities for organic agriculture in the African Green revolution, such as organic pest management.  He also said that the document should include some mention of the Global Bioenergy Partnership, which many delegations during discussions had mentioned as a key actor in the field.

The representative of the Czech Republic, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the discussions had been well-structured and had provided helpful information.  He highlighted key issues of importance for his delegation, including agricultural development and climate change, and stressed that the shared vision provided “very good guidelines for responsible people and responsible States”.

Guyana’s representative said that, while there was some mention in the Chair’s “Shared vision” of the impacts of climate change, the text should more strongly demand tackling the phenomenon in all its aspects, especially to help developing countries and small island developing States strengthen mitigation measures.  He also wondered why there was no mention of the Barbados Programme of Action, which had this year turned fifteen, but which still needed reinforced political will if it was to be fully implemented.  He also called for more emphasis on trade-related issues.

The representative of Lebanon said rural development and the challenges facing rural farmers were repeatedly raised during the Commission’s discussions, but had not been adequately highlighted in the Chairman’s text.  That was cause for concern, since all the issues on the agenda of the Commission affected small-scale farmers in some way.   

Italy’s representative joined the United States in calling for a mention in the Chair’s text of the Global Bioenergy Partnership, which was the main worldwide entity working to join bioenergy production and consumption practices with the environmental sustainability agenda.

The representative of Brazil appreciated Ms. Verburg’s efforts to translate the discussions that took place over the past two weeks into a shared vision.  The call that should be made was for the elimination, rather than only a reduction, of agricultural subsidies, if Doha was to have any meaning for developing countries.  She also called for introducing a reference to the Global Bioenergy Partnership. 

India’s representative said that, as he understood it, the “Shared vision” would not be adopted as an official outcome of the Commission and that his delegation planned only to highlight some issues it found important to the overall discussion, including the need to step up global efforts to eradicate poverty, and the need for a more integrated approach to climate change.  India also believed that every nation should be allowed the necessary policy space to elaborate, adopt and implement its own development programmes.  Prescriptive measures and “one size fits all” plans should be avoided.  Above all, he said, an enabling international environment for sustainable development must be created, including through strengthening capacity-building and market access.

Next, the representative of Cameroon said that, in all its efforts, the Commission must press for more emphasis on research and access to technology, especially to help developing countries cope with climate change.

Argentina’s representative said too much time was being spent discussing documents and prescriptions, rather than means of implementation.  The work had become “documents, documents and more documents”, while implementation time frames went all but ignored.  At the same time, more attention should be paid to costs and research, especially when discussions turned to adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

The representative of the Republic of Korea said that his delegation “fully supported” the summaries and the “Shared vision”.  Nevertheless, he called for more emphasis on water issues, which required “immediate attention”, as water, as well as the sustainability and integrated management of water sources, impacted every aspect of the Commission’s agenda for the current session.

Pakistan’s representative said one more notion that could be added to the Chair’s “Shared vision” regarded the nexus between climate, trade, technology and finance.  That convergence, and the manner in which the respective issues were dealt with, directly impacted the well-being of billions of people.  The issues were especially important, as the international community sought to craft poverty eradication measures.  He added that the decisions taken by the Commission at this session should be seen as important building blocks in the run-up to the climate change talks in Copenhagen this coming December.

Israel’s delegate said that inclusive policies and development management should be strengthened to promote sustainable agriculture and rural infrastructure.  Thoughtful use of technologies, research and development was critical in providing sustainable solutions.  Efforts to increase food production should focus on small farmers.  Policies and action plans to address the global water crisis should be strengthened.  The private sector should be better integrated into the development process.

The representative of Sweden said more investments in agriculture and rural infrastructure were needed.  Coordination was also needed to combat climate change and food insecurity, and ensure development.  Adaptation and mitigation measures should go hand-in-hand with development and that work should take place on different levels and in multiple regions.  Water management needed more attention on national and regional levels.  Stable legal and political systems could aid development.  Globally, more trade was needed.  Work on bioenergy should continue, in parallel with efforts to ensure food security.

A representative of business and industry said sustainable agriculture was a continuous journey.  Best practices should be studied and refined, as they were implemented.  It was imperative to tackle the challenges of sustainable development through a mosaic of solutions.  Knowledge should be the cornerstone of sustainable agriculture.  She called for improved extension services and cooperation among farmers, who needed access to a wide array of technology and knowledge.

A representative of workers and trade unions said it had been made clear that the food, fuel and financial crises reinforced one another to the detriment of the world’s poor and marginalized.  The benefits of growth had been unevenly distributed around the world and investments and trade must be re-regulated at the national and international level to promote decent work and eradicate child labour.  Social protection systems should be adapted to the lives of seasonal workers.  The right of access to land must be part of an ambitious strategy for sustainable development.  Organized workers could undoubtedly contribute to the shared vision for future sustainable development.

A representative of local authorities said the issue of urban food security was too invisible.  Cities occupied 2 per cent of the world’s land, but consumed over 70 per cent of its resources, and it was necessary to understand the impact and import of increasing urbanization.  That knowledge should be shared through South-South and triangular cooperation.  Regional and subregional networks should be created to scale up potential solutions to food insecurity and the problems facing small-scale farmers.  He urged the Commission to agree on a text that would encourage concrete steps towards sustainable development.

The representative of Grenada, on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), then introduced the draft resolution entitled “Preparations for the high-level meeting to review progress made in addressing the vulnerabilities of small island developing States through the implementation of the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation” (document E/CN.17/2009/L.3).

Speaking ahead of action on the resolution on implementation of the Mauritius Strategy, the representative of Venezuela reiterated his delegation’s well known position on references in the Mauritius Plan of Action to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  He also raised that issue ahead of the Commission’s adoption of its draft report on the seventeenth session.

Making comments on the text were representatives of Sudan (on behalf of the Group of 77 and China), Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), United States, Russian Federation, United Republic of Tanzania, Switzerland, France and Brazil.

The Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine also commented.

Also speaking were representatives of major groups:  women, children and youth; indigenous peoples; non-governmental organizations; local authorities; workers and trade unions; business and industry; and scientific and technological communities.

Following a request from the Czech Republic on behalf of the European Union that the dates for 2011 be coordinated within the United Nations system, particularly to ensure that there was no conflict with the meeting of the governing council session of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Secretariat assured him that would be done.

Commenting earlier on the Chair’s “Shared vision” were the representatives of the United States, Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Guyana, Lebanon, Italy, Brazil, India, Cameroon, Argentina, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Israel and Sweden.

Also speaking were representatives of business and industry, local authorities, and workers and trade unions. 

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.