10 April 1997


Press Release
ENV/DEV/413



GLOBAL FOREST CONVENTION COULD ENSURE COMPREHENSIVE, SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT, COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT TOLD

19970410
Netherlands Environment Minister Says Convention Needed by Year 2000; Under-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination Nitin Desai Also Speaks

A global forest convention could ensure a comprehensive and holistic approach to the sustainable management of forests, the Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment of the Netherlands told the Commission on Sustainable Development this morning, as it took up the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forest. The Panel had the task to pursue consensus and formulate options to combat deforestation and promote the sustainable development of forests consistent with the Non-Legally-Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (Rio de Janerio, 1992).

The Netherlands Minister, Margaretha De Boer, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said such a convention could function as a framework for mobilizing public and private resources, as well as technology transfer. It could promote development and implementation of national forest programmes and facilitate cooperation among international organizations. She stressed that while existing instruments covered elements of sustainable forest management, there were several gaps that a convention could fill, and she hoped the world would have such a convention not later than the year 2000.

The Minister for Natural Resources of Canada, Anne McLellan, agreed and said her country was very concerned about the growing fragmentation of the international forest agenda and the absence of a permanent forum in which to discuss key issues. Only a convention could give the world community legally binding commitments, sanctioned at the highest levels, she said.

Speaking in opposition to such a convention, however, the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science of the United States, Eileen Claussen, said that her Government was not persuaded that a new convention was needed. Political will was the key to sustainable forest management, she said, and priorities for action should include: assisting governments to better manage their forests; encouraging the development of


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strong voluntary codes of conduct by the private sector; and promoting market mechanisms supportive of sustainable forest management, including eliminating subsidies, tariffs and other trade barriers.

The Assistant Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), David Harcharik, said that one of the most controversial issues that had not been resolved by the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests was whether or not there should be a legally binding convention on forests. The FAO did not have a position on that, but it believed that any such convention must have sufficiently achievable purposes, and the negotiating process for it must build harmony and should not lead to divisiveness.

Also this morning, the Commission was addressed by the Under-Secretary- General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, Nitin Desai, who responded to concerns expressed during the high-level segment. On the perceived slower implementation of the chapters of Agenda 21 concerning the means of implementation and social and economic dimensions, he said the Commission's work on those issues had to be seen in the context of the debates in other United Nations forums, such as the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen and the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. The Commission needed to address how its work should be integrated into the outcomes of those and other relevant international conferences.

However, on such issues of unsustainable production and consumption patterns, the Commission should take the lead and follow through on it, he said. He called on the Commission to move forward on the crucial issues of the availability of financial resources and the transfer of technology, since expectations had been aroused and not much progress had been made. As for the special session of the General Assembly that would be reviewing the Rio Conference, he said the international community should capitalize on the high- level political participation expected in that forum to push the process of implementing Agenda 21 forward, as effectively as was done in Rio.

Also this morning, statements were made by the: Ambassador of the Environment and Sustainable Development of the Bahamas, Lynn Holowesko; Minister for Coordination of Environmental Affairs of Mozambique, Berbardo Pedro Ferraz; Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany, Angela Merkel; and the Minister of Environment and Tourism of Zimbabwe, Chen Chimutengwede. The representatives of China, Ghana, Belarus, Monaco, Papau New Guinea, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Norway, Saudi Arabia and Malta also spoke.

The representatives of the following non-governmental organization also made statements: the International Chamber of Commerce, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The Commission will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its debate.


Commission Work Programme

The Commission on Sustainable Development met this morning to continue its high-level segment, which was expected to focus on the report of the Open- ended Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Panel on Forests.

The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (document E/CN.17/1997/12) is the outcome of the Panel's four sessions, held between 1995 and 1997. Established by the Economic and Social Council on the Commission's recommendation, the Panel was given the task to pursue consensus and formulate options to combat deforestation, and to promote the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests consistent with the Non-Legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (Rio de Janeiro, 1992).

The report contains a range of proposals for action to promote sustainable forest management. In areas in which there was no consensus, such as on the establishment of an international fund to support activities for the sustainable management of all types of forests, market access for forest products and the question of the relationship between obligations under international agreements and national measures, the Panel proposed a number of options for the Commission to consider.

Other options suggested by the Panel include continuing the intergovernmental policy dialogue on forests through the establishment of an ad hoc open-ended intergovernmental forum, under the auspices of the Commission, to monitor progress in the sustainable management of all types of forests and promote the Panel's proposals for action. The proposed forum might also negotiate a legally binding instrument and report to the Commission in 1999.

(For details on the report and background information on the Commission's fifth session, see Press Release ENV/DEV/406 of 4 April.)

NITIN DESAI, Under-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, said he would respond to some of the concerns expressed during the high-level segment. These seemed to be two main concerns about the follow-up to Rio. The first was that more attention had been given to the chapters of Agenda 21, on conservation and management of resources and on major groups, and much less to the chapters on the means of implementation and social and economic dimensions. The second was concern about measurable goals and targets against which Member States could measure progress.


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He said that whatever work the Commission did regarding globalization and the eradication of poverty had to be seen in the context of the discussion of those issues in other forums in the wider United Nations system, such as at the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development and at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Part of the follow-up had taken place in those forums. The issues must, therefore, be seen in their totality. Whatever emerged in those forums had real impact in the world. Therefore, when the Commission on Sustainable Development arrived at conclusions on socio-economic development issues, they should do so in that context.

The Commission needed to address how its work should be integrated into that of the Copenhagen Summit, he continued. The same should be done for population issues, which had been addressed at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. However, on the issue of unsustainable production and consumption patterns, other forums would take their cue from the Commission, which had to take the lead and follow through on it. Others would take their guidance from the Commission to implement decisions on that matter. The Commission had to move forward faster on two crucial issues -- the availability of financial resources and the transfer of technology -- since expectations had been aroused and not much action had been taken.

There was a need for measuring progress, he said. Relevant indicators should be developed to measure the means of implementation and the support that would be provided for such targets. He drew attention to two hopeful dimensions in the implementation of Agenda 21 that could be built upon. First, the continuation of progress at the national level, at the local levels and by non-governmental organizations, which was a political asset. Second, the high-level political participation expected in the five year review during the special session, which should be capitalized on to push the process forward even further, as was effectively done in Rio.

DAVID HARCHARIK, Assistant Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said he welcomed the opportunity to address the Commission. The FAO was part of the Inter-agency Task Force on Forests and was its task manager. The Task Force included the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) among others. It was an informal group, the formation of which had been the brainchild of the Director of the Division for Sustainable Development, Joke Waller-Hunter. The Task-Force had been meeting to coordinate its support to the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests. In fact, the collaboration had been very productive and the Task Force was well on its way to removing overlap, generating cost-effectiveness and collaboration.

The Commission had before it the proposals from the Panel for action and the question of a possible convention, he said. The Panel had proposed some


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130 proposals for action and the Inter-Agency Task Force was in the process of developing a strategic plan to implement those proposals. A recently released FAO report indicated that while forest cover was increasing in developed countries and the rate of conversion of forests had slowed in developing countries, the overall rate of forest degradation remained high. Moral commitment to sustainable forest management was not enough. All parties had to reach into their pockets to make it a reality.

One of the most controversial issues that had not been resolved by the Panel was whether or not there should be a legally binding convention on forests. The FAO did not have a position on that, but it believed that any such convention must have sufficiently achievable purposes and must be an incentive to all countries to raise their standards of forest practice. The negotiating process for it must build harmony and should not lead to divisiveness and ill will. So far as a global forum on forests was concerned, the Panel had drawn attention to the cross-sectoral nature of forest issues. He stressed that food security was related to natural resources, including forests. To that end, the processes of Rio and Rome intersected.

MARGARETHA DE BOER, Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment of Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Liechtenstein, said in 1995 the Commission had given the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests the mandate to pursue consensus and formulate and coordinate proposals for action to support the management, conservation and sustainable development of forests. The Union appreciated the substantial work that had been delivered both by it and the informal, high-level Inter-Agency Task Force on Forests in support of the work of the Panel.

The Panel had given a clear message that sustainable forest management was an integral part of sustainable development, she said. First, because sustainable forest management entailed economic development. In many countries forestry was an important economic sector, through the income generated by forest production of the main staple foods, fodder, fuel and other forest products. Second, sustainable forest management entailed environmental protection through reducing the deforestation rate and desertification. Third, sustainable forest management affected social development by contributing to the eradication of poverty.

One of the overarching priorities now was the implementation of the various proposals recommended by the Panel, she said. Nations would have the responsibility to implement those proposals once endorsed by the special session. In the view of the Union, a comprehensive and holistic approach to the sustainable management of forests was needed. That approach could be ensured by a global forest convention. Five years after Rio, it had been recognized that environmental commitments had not reversed the degradation of


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forests. That was one of the reasons why more countries were now acknowledging the potential benefits of a global instrument.

Although existing instruments covered elements of sustainable forest management, there were several gaps and a convention could fill those gaps, she said. Besides filling those gaps, a global forest convention, building upon the forest principles adopted at Rio, would have many merits. It would provide a general framework for actions undertaken by different actors regarding forest management and conservation. It could integrate the social and environmental aspects in the forestry sector and could deal with trade in forest products.

A convention would also promote development and implementation of national forest programmes and could facilitate cooperation among international organizations, she added. Further, it could provide a framework for the mobilization of public and private resources, as well as technology transfer, and for a fair and equitable sharing of the multiple benefits of forestry. Also, it could provide a framework for regional and subregional initiatives to promote sustainable forest management.

The Union had noted with concern the change of attitude among some non- governmental organizations regarding the convention, she said. She hoped that the Commission would make a unanimous recommendation to the special session to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee with a clear mandate and time-frame to negotiate a global forest convention. The world should have such a convention not later than the year 2000. Further, the support to developing countries in implementing sustainable forest management should be increased. Funding needs had to be identified. Those needs could be met through effective mobilization of domestic and external resources. However, the Union did not believe that the establishment of an international fund for forests would mobilize more resources.

In that context, a convention would enable countries to leverage more funding from multilateral organizations, including the international financial institutions, she said. Moreover, sustainable forest management should be promoted through mutually supportive trade and environment policies. All such trade should be based on non-discriminatory rules and multilaterally agreed procedures. In particular, non-tariff barriers and unilateral actions, in so far as they were inconsistent with international agreements, should be targeted.

ANNE MCLELLAN, Minister of Natural Resources of Canada, said her country was very concerned about the growing fragmentation of the international forest agenda and the absence of a permanent forum in which to discuss key issues. Nowhere did the forest community oversee and direct the work of bodies that dealt with forest issues. Furthermore, resources for the forest sector were


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not allocated in an integrated manner. Only an international convention, through a conference of parties, could provide governance of the forest agenda by the global forest community and give the world a means to collaborate with other legal instruments, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, on an equal basis.

Only a convention could give the world community legally binding commitments, sanctioned at the highest levels, she said. Political will was the key to sustainable forest management. Continuing fragmentation of the forest agenda meant that fewer financial resources would be directed to that sector. While it was unlikely that any new sources of funding would become available, there was considerable potential to better use existing resources to support developing countries and countries in transition with their efforts to implement sustainable forest management. An international convention would also play a useful role in helping to coordinate overseas development assistance and in promoting new and innovative sources of financing and technology transfer.

She was aware that there were those in the forest community who did not support a forest convention at the present time, she said. Some environmental groups feared that the launching of negotiations was a delay tactic and that nothing would be accomplished in the interim. However, she disagreed with that view. Immediate follow-up on the proposals of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests, for example, could and should get under way through appropriate national, regional and international bodies. There was no reason why a convention would delay that process. If anything, it would speed it up. Her country would press for the full involvement of the non-governmental organization community in discussions surrounding a forest convention. In addition, her Government was committed to ensuring that a forest convention would fully complement the Convention on Biological Diversity.

She stressed that the present session of the Commission and the forthcoming special session provided an opportunity to take the action required in favour of an international forest convention. The momentum that had been built through the Panel would be lost if there was no agreement to launch a forest convention at the special session, she said.

EDWIN BARNES, Director of the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology of Ghana, said the global environment continued to deteriorate, with many poorer regions experiencing accelerated degradation of productive natural resources as a result of persistent poverty. The deterioration had continued despite extensive efforts by national governments to integrate environment and development concerns into national strategies to achieve the goals of Agenda 21. Many environmental problems of developing countries, particularly in Africa, could be resolved only through the process of


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development, since they were closely related to poverty and the lack of development.

There was an urgent need for the Agenda 21 commitments made at the global level to be fulfilled, he continued. In addition to the issues of eradicating poverty, cross-sectoral issues and the means of implementation, serious attention should be given to capacity-building, the mobilization of new and additional resources for developing countries and the achievement of global partnership and international cooperation to support the development efforts of developing countries.

In addition, an enabling economic environment must be established by an equitable global partnership and an equitable, transparent and multilateral trading system, he said. Urgent attention must also be given to the issue of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. The agreed target contribution of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP) to official development assistance (ODA) should be fulfilled. Efforts should be strengthened to promote publicly owned technologies as a means of facilitating the access of developing countries to the transfer of technology, without linking that to the provisions of ODA.

LYNN HOLOWESKO, Ambassador of the Environment and Sustainable Development of the Bahamas, said she was addressing the issue of sustainable development as a small island developing State. There had been positive results from the Rio Conference, including the international conventions and the establishment of the Commission itself. Nationally, Bahamas had made much progress by developing relevant institutions and incorporating environmental issues into national planning.

She stressed the importance of the Barbados Global Conference on Small Island Developing States, which had focused on the problems faced by those States, such as trade issues, limited resources and the rise of sea levels. Her country was particularly prone to the negative impacts of rising sea levels. Natural disasters and the challenge of water management were also of concern. To deal with those problems, small islands needed assistance, she said.

Internationally, coordination of action to implement Agenda 21 must be improved and access to relevant information and technical assistance must be increased, she continued. The issue of the sustainable levels of tourism was one area in which assistance was needed. In addition, poverty must be tackled. Leadership must come from the developed countries. She drew attention to the international year of the reef and stressed that Member States must take advantage of the year to educate its citizens on the value of the reef, as well as on the concerns related to the oceans in the forthcoming year of the ocean.


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BERBARDO PEDRO FERRAZ, Minister for Coordination of Environmental Affairs of Mozambique, said following Rio his country had taken action to establish the institutional and legal frameworks for implementing its outcomes and increasing public awareness of the environment and sustainable development. Examples of such action included the establishment of a Ministry for environmental affairs and a national environment management programme. Other areas of action being implemented included a climate change country study, a coastal zone management programme and the establishment of a centre for the transfer of technology

At the international level, Mozambique had acceded to the main international conventions, he continued. It was part of the efforts of the Portuguese-speaking Countries Community to implement Agenda 21, as well as the efforts under way in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to harmonize and coordinate their environmental management actions.

Despite those positive developments, Mozambique was facing many difficulties which related to the chronic problem of poverty -- the single most important barrier to sustainable development, he said. Poverty was closely linked to the country's external debt. Therefore, technical and financial resources were needed to break the vicious cycle of absolute poverty. Five years after Rio, the international community had reached a point of no return. It was crucial that resources be made available to turn the Rio decisions into actions, with a positive impact on the peoples of the developing countries.

ZHON GUOLIN (China) said the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests had suggested numerous proposals for action and he was appreciative of the progress made. It had submitted three options for action to the Commission, all of which stressed the necessity for continuing the policy dialogue on forests. There should be the widest possible support for the sustainable management of forests and it should lead to an international consensus on forests.

It seemed that most countries were not ready to negotiate a convention on forests as yet, he said. Therefore, the time was not ripe to establish a committee to negotiate a convention. However, countries could be encouraged to implement the other Panel proposals for action. Forests were an integral resource of countries and the protection and development of forest resources should support and complement each other. His Government believed in the sustainable development of forests. In the last decade China's forest cover had increased to 13.9 per cent.

LIM KENG YAIK, Minister of Primary Industries of Malaysia, said the extent of global concern over forestry had not been matched by any determined action programme of implementing the Rio forest principles and forest related


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chapters of Agenda 21. The present session should focus on operationalizing agreements, while refraining from adding to the already burdensome commitments imposed on developing countries. The fundamental links between poverty eradication and sustainable development should be recognized. Stifling the right of developing countries to pursue resources based development would only force them into an economic quagmire, which would eventually suffocate the environment that all sought to protect. The developing countries were only told to practice sustainable forest management, but not shown how to do it. The bigger donors did not even seem to care.

If the shortsighted pressure tactics continued and there was no concomitant increase in financial assistance and technology transfer, the precious life-giving diversity of forests would waste away, he said. The developed countries should live up to their commitments made at Rio. It was regrettable that many northern non-governmental organizations and governments continued to push for restrictive and punitive actions against trade in tropical timber. Unilateral trade bans were cynical and counterproductive. Further, the principle of shared and differentiated responsibilities had to be reaffirmed and implemented. His Government was amenable to an equitable and comprehensive convention, provided it covered all forests and had adequate economic, technological and environmental provisions to facilitate the sustainable management of forests.

ANGELA MERKEL, Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany, said that her country had had its own painful experience with forest degradation -- about 250 years ago most of its forests had been destroyed or had disappeared. As a result, the concept of sustainability in forestry and forestry science was developed.

Five years after UNCED, the time had come to go beyond the Rio decisions to a "higher level of commitment", she said. A global convention on forests would provide a comprehensive approach and include all aspects of management, conservation and development for all types of forests, and offer a more effective basis for strengthening international cooperation in that area.

Such a Convention should set out the general principles, guidelines, commitments and standards for the management, conservation and sustainable development of forests worldwide, she continued. Although some countries were concerned that it was too early to enter into negotiations, there was really no credible alternative to a convention. Economic incentives for environmentally sound forest management could also be further developed in the framework of a convention.

ALYAKSANDR SYCHOU (Belarus) said elaboration of the measures of the international community in implementing the Agenda 21 provisions should become the key element of the forthcoming special session. In that connection, it


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was of the greatest importance to work out the special session final document, which would highlight those areas in need of strengthening.

He was satisfied with the initial draft text of the final document prepared by the working group, even though further revisions were necessary, he said. It appeared inexpedient to adopt a separate political declaration of the participating countries. Rather, he shared the opinion of numerous delegations that the main part of the final document should be dedicated to the problems of implementing the Agenda 21 provisions in the areas requiring urgent action, such as eradicating poverty and changing consumption and production patterns. Catastrophes like the one at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant needed constant attention and fast solutions.

He said the provisions of the final document should contain the most acute problems connected with sustainable development, as well as the most prospective and effective mechanisms for solving those problems. The revised text already contained the provisions necessary for the transfer of environmentally sound technologies on favourable terms to the countries with economies in transition. It also contained an appeal to the international community for funding aimed at building the capacity for sustainable development by those economies.

Yet, he added, all those measures would be ineffective unless the restrictive measures on the access of goods from central and eastern Europe to the markets of developed countries were lifted. Rendering assistance to those countries with economies in transition, during the process of their joining the World Trade Organization, should be inserted into the final document.

EILEEN CLAUSSEN, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science of the United States said the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests represented a significant advance in the international discussion of forests and forest-related issues. Although the recommendations were in their infancy, it was time for action. The question was how the international community should move from talk to real improvements on the ground. Her Government had not been persuaded that a new convention was needed. Stressing that forests must remain centre stage on the world scene, she said that the challenges of funding and technology transfer and international forest assistance did not depend on a new treaty.

Rather than dissipate energy on a forest convention, she said there were several priorities on which progress was necessary and possible. Governments should be helped to better manage their forests and implement the Panel's actions by targeting assistance to national and local capacity-building. Also, the development of strong voluntary codes of conduct by the private sector should be encouraged, aimed at advancing sustainable forest management. The global process for assessing and monitoring worldwide forest conditions,


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building in key environment and social parameters related to forests, should be expanded.

She said that other actions could include the protection of forest biodiversity globally and the promotion of market mechanisms and economic instruments that were supportive of sustainable forest management. Such promotion meant that governments needed to eliminate subsidies, market distortions and tariffs, and other trade barriers that acted as disincentives to good forest management. In addition, governments must put in place tax and other economic policy reforms that promoted sustainable management. The tools existed to make progress on those issues through the existing network of international and regional meetings, initiatives and relationships between countries and with the private sector. But, political will was the key to sustainable forest management.

BERNARD FAUTRIER (Monaco) said heads of States and governments should relaunch the Rio process during the special session. Issues such as ODA and transfer of technology had not been well implemented. His country had pledged to implement Agenda 21 and had been participating actively at the international and regional levels. It was part of a sustainable development process in the Mediterranean area, which included being party to a legal instrument, and it would continue contributing to sustainable development efforts in the region. The Commission's work programme should focus on such important issues as freshwater and the oceans. Water should be rationally used and protected from pollution. Also, action should be taken to improve national resource management and combat poverty.

JIMMY OVIA (Papua New Guinea) said that for his country, a custodian of one of the last remaining natural rainforests on the planet, the forests issue was an important one. While the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests was welcome, the challenges of the Commission stood in limbo.

He said that the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead included the political willneeded to reach a legally binding global regime on the sustainable management of all types of forests -- not just tropical ones. The pressures for sustainable development were not confined to internal policies, but were also affected by external sources. As such, the international community must respond to that fact, in order to achieve sustainable forests management at all levels.

A strengthened international regime was the best forward-looking strategy, he said. The special session should create a level playing field by putting all types of forests on equal footing and making a genuine effort to reach legally binding commitments. A sound, predictable financial mechanism was essential to promoting and enhancing sustainable forest management, particularly in developing countries. If there was no political will for the


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Convention, then it was necessary to work towards a clear objective within a time-limited mandate.

ABDUL LATIF MONDAL, Joint Secretary, Ministry for Environment and Forests of Bangladesh, said his Government, through its Ministry of Environment and Forests, decided to formulate the National Environment Management Action Plan, using a "peoples connection" process to define and identify environmental issues and concerns and prioritize problems. It was the first step towards preparation of a national Agenda 21. Conscious of the role of the women in development, the Government also adopted the National Women Development Policy.

The eradication of poverty had been universally recognized as a fundamental objective to achieve sustainable development, he continued. His country had discovered that the twin targets of eradication of poverty and empowerment of people could be achieved through the implementation of programmes along the model of the Grameen Bank. Many countries around the world had shared similar experiences, as eloquently illustrated in the Microcredit Summit, held in Washington, D.C., in February. Heads of State and government, as well as political leaders, representatives of government and non-governmental bodies from all regions of the world shared their positive experience with microcredit programmes in alleviating poverty.

He said the socio-economic difficulties of Bangladesh and other least developed countries were further aggravated by a specific set of problems, such as degradation and erosion of lands, drought and desertification and endangered natural endowments. Those environmental problems were accentuated by such factors as poverty-related population pressure, cross-border movements of displaced persons, and natural and man-made disasters. A particularly encouraging development had been the demonstrated awareness by the least developed countries of the environmental and developing issues confronting them. Many had put in place policies, strategies and mechanisms to deal with those issues, although the effectiveness of those measures was constrained by inadequate resources.

ROBERTO PEREZ LECUNA (Venezuela) said his country was taking part in the hemispheric regional process of implementing Agenda 21. The most important problem in that regard was to combat poverty. He stressed the importance of good governance in that connection. Further, the patterns of consumption and production in developed countries were a matter of concern. One of the priority issues was to provide safe drinking water, particularly to the increasing population in the cities. That was particularly difficult for developing countries and countries in transition and even for some developed countries, in light of limited financial resources.


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He stressed that the management of natural resources for development should not take place in a vacuum. Venezuela was an oil producing country. However, 35 per cent of its territory was covered by forest. Its forests included timber producing areas and it was intent on protecting its forests. It supported a convention on forests. To that end, it should be decided how and when such a convention should be created. Further, he believed that the principle that the polluter pays should be observed, as must the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

OLUF AALDE (Norway) said it was important to safeguard the forests of the boreal, temperate and tropical areas in a sustainable way. The international forest dialogue should be continued in a coherent, consistent, focused and clearly defined manner. His country could support the proposal to establish an intergovernmental negotiating committee on a legally binding instrument on all types of forests with a focused and time-limited mandate. If that option was chosen, duplication of the work done by existing legal instruments and organizations must be avoided.

It was also important that the possible work towards the convention be based on clearly defined premises, he said. All types of forests must be included and a holistic and integrated approach must be maintained. Further, the agreement should take as its starting point that forests represented a national resource that countries had the sovereign right to utilize and manage in accordance with the Rio principles. However, a forest convention might not be the only way to promote sustainable forest management at the international level. In that regard, the alternative of a forum, under the auspices of the Commission, with a focused and time-limited mandate could contribute to further progress. Such a forum could preparae the way for a decision by the Commission in 1999 on the need and possible elements of a legally binding instrument.

ABDULLA AL FAWAZ (Saudi Arabia) stressed the importance of the role of the Commission in following up on the Rio Conference. In Saudi Arabia, a national agenda had been put in place that was compatible with the country's priorities. A national plan for sustainable development was being implemented. Regionally, Saudi Arabia cooperated with neighbouring Arab States and the group would inform the special session of the progress it had made in achieving sustainable development. Policies were based on Islam and laws decreed that the State should preserve the environment. Towards that end, his Government had implemented the policy of making an environmental assessment of projects. The approaches of Agenda 21 had been incorporated into the country's development plan.

He said attempts had been made to avoid soil erosion and make production compatible with the preservation of natural resources, including water and marine resources, oil and energy. Projects had been developed to process


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natural gas and to reduce harmful emissions. Other achievements were in the field of industrial development, including improving the handling of waste. Also, Saudi Arab had been host to a number of forums and training programmes on sustainable development activities, including desertification. The review of Agenda 21 should be comprehensive, he said. Issues already agreed upon in international conventions should be left to specialized forums, such as the issue of climate change. The Commission should concentrate on areas that were not covered by the conventions.

CHEN CHIMUTENGWENDE, Minister of Environment and Tourism of Zimbabwe, said his delegation fully associated itself with the statement made by the United Republic of Tanzania on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China.

Sustainable development had as its underpinning the need to maintain sustained economic growth in order to eradicate poverty, he said. Poverty, in most developing countries, was the single most important contributor to environmental degradation associated with land degradation, deforestation and lack of access to freshwater. The Commission must focus its discussion on energy issues, eradication of poverty and the overall question of the sustainable utilization of natural resources. Indeed, any environmental strategies that did not support sustainable utilization of natural resources were doomed to fail.

The majority of Zimbabwe's population, living in rural areas, still relied on traditional sources of energy, he said. Therefore, he called for the incorporation of a commitment in the final document to investment and research in affordable renewable energy. Still, the number one challenge confronting Zimbabwe was the eradication of poverty. The international community had not always provided the developing countries with the necessary resources. As such, the Commission must rededicate its energies to mobilize funds through multilateral institutions to ensure that the flow of resources was not reduced to a trickle.

He said that negotiations in the next two weeks should not block any right to development through the sustainable use of natural resources. The success of the current session and the special session in June would be measured by the faithfulness of developed countries in meeting their Rio commitments.

GEORGE SELIBE (Malta) said the coming weeks would provide an opportunity for the international community to assess its future priorities. The universality of the conventions emanating from the Rio Conference would remain a major priority of the United Nations. Further focus would need to be provided in those areas where implementation had been less than significant such as freshwater, pollution control, protection of the atmosphere and the


Sustainable Development Commission - 15 - Press Release ENV/DEV/413 5th Meeting (AM) 10 April 1997

transfer of environmentally safe technology, as well as the risks related to the transport of fuel and chemicals by sea.

The issue of oceans and seas remained a priority both in terms of the framework set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the measures contemplated in the recent agreement on straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks, he said. In the context of the Barbados Programme of Action, he believed that it would be useful to focus on specific areas of interest to small island developing States. His Government was playing a central role in the formulation of a vulnerability index, which would be a very useful tool in the hands of environmental planners.

WILLIAM J. STIBRAVY, on behalf of the International Chamber of Commerce, said that the business community had taken substantial action to implement the recommendations in Agenda 21. More than 2,500 companies worldwide had pledged to make the 16 principles of the Business Charter an integral part of their day-to-day operations and attempted to achieve continuous improvement in their environmental policy and pratice.

Five years after the world's leaders converged on Rio, a new industrial revolution was stirring, he said. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, businesses focused essentially on cleaning up and preventing the pollution they caused. Today, their thinking was directed at creating new products and processes that were intrinsically friendly to the environment. Furthermore, they wanted to build a world economy that the planet could support without forfeiting its natural capital. All business and industry -- not just multinationals -- must be engaged in that shift and must pledge to do more.

NICOLAS ROBINSON, of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, praised the Commission for its vigour. He urged the forum to accept the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests, many of which were concrete suggestions that should be urgently implemented. Forests must be looked at in the broader context of biodiversity and should not be treated as a sectoral issue. Forests were also an important element of world trade. He proposed the establishment of a conference on trade and the environment to facilitate the harmonization of those issues. Other matters of importance were fish stocks and capacity-building. He added that his organization had pledged to work with the Commission to implement Agenda 21.

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