Emphasizing that the implementation of Agenda 21 in a comprehensive manner remains vitally important and is more urgent than ever, Member States committed themselves to ensuring that the next comprehensive review of its implementation in the year 2002 should demonstrate greater measurable progress in achieving sustainable development.
That pledge was made as the General Assembly's nineteenth special session adopted a statement of commitment, as it concluded its work early Saturday morning.
The special session adopted, without a vote and by means of a resolution as orally revised, a "Programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21", including the preambular statement of commitment, as it completed the review and appraisal of the programme of action adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The adoption of the document ended weeks of intense intergovernmental negotiations -- three weeks of negotiations in the fifth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development in April, one week of consultations prior to special session, and the entire week of the session, as well as time spent by various regional and other groups in the intersessional period.
In concluding remarks, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the special session had sought to deepen the commitments made at Rio. In many areas, much had been accomplished; in others, more time would be needed. Delegations should move beyond the "cut and thrust" of negotiations. The instant judgements of today were seldom the same as the judgements of tomorrow.
The President of the special session, Razali Ismail (Malaysia), said "the overall results of the special session are sobering". However, delegations had not allowed for a renegotiation of Agenda 21 or a fudging of responsibilities. "The issues of sustainable development are too critical to be blurred over as a political expedience", he stressed.
Concluding remarks were also made by the representatives of the United Republic of Tanzania (on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China) and the Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union).
Speaking before action on the text were the representatives of Turkey, Uganda (on behalf of Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda), and the Sudan. The representative of Malta spoke in explanation of position after action.
In the statement of commitment adopted by the session, Member States reaffirm that Agenda 21 remains the fundamental programme of action for achieving sustainable development. They also reaffirm all the principles contained in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the Forest Principles, and expressed conviction that the achievement of sustainable development requires the integration of its economic, environmental and social components. They recommit to work together -- in a spirit of global partnership -- to reinforce their joint efforts to meet equitably the needs of present and future generations.
The final document of the special session recommends several measures to improve the implementation of Agenda 21.
On the question of climate change, particularly contentious was the question of setting specified targets for reduction of emissions below the 1990 level in a specified time period. In that context, the programme states that the position of many countries for those negotiations was still evolving and, therefore, it would not be appropriate to seek to predetermine results. However, there was already widespread but not universal agreement that it would be necessary to consider legally binding targets for the developed countries and economies in transition listed in annex 1 to the Convention that would result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within specified time-frames such as 2005, 2010 and 2020.
The issues of forests and energy were also among some of the other hotly debated. On forests, the programme recommends that the intergovernmental policy dialogue on forests should be continued through the establishment of an ad hoc open-ended Intergovernmental Forum on Forests. That Forum should identify the possible elements of and work towards a consensus for international arrangements and mechanisms, for example, a legally binding instrument, and report on its work to the Commission on Sustainable Development in 1999.
The programme also stresses the need for a movement towards sustainable patterns of production, distribution and use of energy. It also emphasizes the need for evolving commitments for the transfer of relevant technology, including time-bound commitments to developing countries and economies in
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transition so as to enable them to increase the use of renewable energy sources and cleaner fossil fuels and to improve efficiency in energy production, distribution and use.
The agreement on financial resources and mechanisms calls on developed countries to fulfil the commitments they made to reach the accepted United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP) as soon as possible and make intensified efforts to reverse the downward trend in the ratio of official development assistance (ODA) to GNP. While accepting that financing would come from countries public and private sectors, it was agreed that for developing countries, particularly those in Africa, ODA remains a main source of external funding and is essential for the prompt and effective implementation of Agenda 21 and cannot generally be replaced by private capital flows. All financial commitments of Agenda 21 and the provisions of new and additional resources that are both adequate and predictable need to be urgently fulfilled, the document states.
Stressing the need for urgent attention, the special session agreed that poverty eradication is "an overriding theme of sustainable development for the coming years". Noting the increase in the number of people living in absolute poverty since Rio, particularly in the developing countries, the special session called for the timely and full implementation of all the relevant commitments and targets already agreed upon since Rio, including by the United Nations system and international financial institutions. The empowerment of women is a critical factor for the eradication of poverty, the document stresses.
The high-level debate to review and appraise the implementation of the Rio outcome was held in plenary meetings. Simultaneously, an Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole met to finalize negotiations on the texts which were then submitted to the Assembly for adoption.
During the five days of general debate, the Assembly heard 198 statements -- 164 from Member States of the Organization and 34 from representatives of other bodies. The special session was addressed by 42 heads of State or government, 44 ministers of the environment and 21 other ministers. There were also statements from United Nations specialized agencies, and, for the first time in United Nations history, the plenary was also addressed by representatives of major groups, including non-governmental organizations working on behalf of the environment, women, indigenous peoples, farmers, trade unions, the private sector and youth.
The youth representative, a 14-year old young man from Sierra Leone, called on the international community to "give young people hope in a benighted world where we seem to be sleep-walking into the twenty-first century, without a map or a candle", and pleaded for governments to support
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initiatives which will give young people "a real responsibility and a stake in implementing that future of which Agenda 21 gave us such a bold and tantalizing glimpse".
Several speakers during debate argued that a global strategy was urgently needed to slow the production of "greenhouse gases" and to avert a climatic catastrophe in the next century. The Assembly broadly accepted the scientific evidence that global warming caused by human activity was a clear and present danger, and expressed a willingness to address the issue at the upcoming third session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will take place in Kyoto, Japan, from 1 to 12 December. "If we fail at Kyoto, we fail our children, because the consequences will be felt in their lifetime", Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister said.
Many speakers expressed frustration that industrialized countries, particularly the United States, which alone produces 20 per cent of global greenhouse gases, had refused to commit to binding limits on the production of carbon dioxide and other compounds. Some developed countries made firm commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a fixed date, while others responded that rigid national targets were a recipe for "carbon leakage" in which developed economies would simply move their carbon-intensive production offshore.
Diminishing supplies of clean water were impeding sustainable development, many speakers told the Assembly. Deforestation, desertification and overly intense irrigation were taxing groundwater supplies and threatening water resources. Many speakers expressed the fear that conflict over water rights could lead to regional political disputes and even armed conflict in the next century. Rapid urbanization and inadequate infrastructure meant that up to one third of the world's population did not have access to potable water or modern sanitation facilities. The Assembly was warned of a global water crisis by the year 2025 if water use and management patterns were not altered.
Several speakers called for the elaboration of a legally binding agreement on the sustainable management of forests to buttress existing Conventions on biodiversity, climate change and desertification. That agreement should constitute a "third way" between rigid conservation and over- exploitation, providing for sound forest management that was predictable, rule-based and transparent. Some speakers said that a convention on forest use was premature because of the existing diversity of opinion.
On finance for sustainable development, it was widely observed that efforts were languishing because of the refusal of developed States to fulfil their Agenda 21 commitments. Only four developed States had achieved the target of providing 0.7 per cent of their GNP as ODA. In addition, developed
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countries had neither undertaken the transfer of environmentally friendly technology nor altered their production and consumption patterns. There was widespread comment that excessive consumption and production patterns in developed countries were a major factor contributing to environmental degradation.
Several speakers from developed countries noted that levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the developing world today far surpassed ODA. However, it was stated, FDI flows were concentrated in selected developing countries, leaving the least developed countries -- even those with liberal economic policies and open economic systems -- dependent upon ODA. Most environmental degradation was the result of poverty-related behaviours, including search for food, migration and urbanization. Poverty alleviation was an essential precursor to sound environmental management, the Assembly was told. A number of States with resource-based economies expressed concern about the growing trend of globalization. Abolishing trade preferences could leave them vulnerable to industrialized competitors on the international market.
The Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole, in addition to negotiating the session's final document, also heard statements of heads of secretariats of the various sustainable development-related conventions, representatives of United Nations programmes and organizations, international financial institutions and regional organizations.
Among the several events held parallel to the session were a business round table co-led by the Assembly President and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and a presentation by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the theme "Global Partnerships on Technological Innovations for Sustainability".
The convening of a special session of the General Assembly to review and appraise the implementation of Agenda 21 was envisaged in paragraph 38.9 of that document and later endorsed by the General Assembly in resolution 47/190, which adopted the outcome of the Rio Conference. At its fiftieth session, the Assembly decided to convene the session for one week in June 1997 at the highest possible level of participation (resolution 50/113). It also determined that the Commission on Sustainable Development would act as the central intergovernmental forum for the preparations for the special session. That process began in the Ad-hoc Open-ended Intersessional Working Group in February and continued in the fifth session of the Commission in April. It resulted in the draft final outcome that was then submitted to the special session to be finalized.
An account of the final meeting of the special session and a summary of the texts adopted follow.
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MOSTAFA TOLBA (Egypt), Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole, said the special session had provided a unique opportunity to mobilize the implementation of Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration and the Forest Principles. The Assembly engaged in a comprehensive and complex review, and in a frank appraisal of international progress. Negotiations carried out in the Commission on Sustainable Development and in the special session had addressed such sensitive political topics as finance, climate change and forests. The document adopted by the special session articulated the collective political will. Many points could not be worked out until the last moment, particularly those on finance for development and on the transfer of environmentally sound technology.
Consensus had been achieved on the urgency of addressing the problem of adequate freshwater and on the continuation of intergovernmental negotiations on forests. The Assembly would send a strong signal to the upcoming Kyoto Conference that there was a need for binding, mandatory limits on the production of greenhouse gases. The work of the Commission on Sustainable Development would be strengthened by the special session and the multi-year programme of work that it adopted.
Speaking in explanation of vote, the representative of Turkey said the document on the outcome of the special session made reference in its paragraph 29 to "customary uses of waters". That initiative may fail to achieve successful results if States began building upon that term. The term "customary uses" could not be considered on the same level with existing principles, instruments, arrangements and programmes of action on freshwater. The outcome document also stated in its paragraph 30 that there was an "urgent need for all governments to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Sea". Turkey did not agree. It supported all efforts to establish a regime of the sea which was acceptable to all States, but the Law of the Sea Convention did not make adequate provisions for special geographic situations and did not establish a satisfactory balance between conflicting instruments. The Convention also made no provision for registering reservations on specific clauses. Turkey was unable to become a party to the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The representative of Uganda, speaking on behalf of Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda, said there was a need for enhanced international cooperation in the field of freshwater, based upon the internationally recognized norms of international law, in particular upon the sovereign right of States to exploit their resources. Regrettably, the report did not mention that universally recognized element of international law. It also contained a new term, "customary use of water", which was not found in Agenda 21 and which had not been agreed upon or adopted. Any dialogue on freshwater should be
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based solely upon internationally recognized principles of international law, particularly those relating to the equitable and reasonable use of water resources. The report appeared to prejudice future water negotiations by favouring certain categories of water users. The notions and concepts contained in paragraph 29 would not affect their countries' use of transboundary waters. The paragraph could not serve as a basis for future negotiations in the Commission on Sustainable Development or in any other forum.
The representative of the Sudan said paragraph 29 should make reference to international norms and principles based upon the principles of equitable utilization. Those principles are being harmonized in many forums. The Sudan favoured the use of the phrase "vital human needs", rather than the current wording of paragraph 29 which could constitute a backward step. The Sudan reserved its position regarding that paragraph.
The draft resolution entitled "Programme for Further Implementation of Agenda 21" was adopted without a vote.
The representative of Malta said Malta was fully committed to the provisions in paragraph 24 regarding reproductive health, excluding the paragraph's reference to abortion. Malta's national legislation deemed abortion illegal.
The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said the negotiations were tough, often protracted, but they reflected the convergence of views between development and the environment. Progress had been made in the implementation of Agenda 21, especially at the national levels. What had been glaring had been the poor implementation, particularly in the area of financial flows and technology transfer. The Group of 77 and China had expected significant movement. Marginalization was a concept that was heard in many interventions, and the world was waiting for answers. This session had not provided them. There were neither easy answers, nor could we brush aside the problems. The future was bleak, if answers were not provided.
The representative of the Netherlands, on behalf of the European Union, said several conclusions could be drawn. High ambitions had not been fulfilled. There was not much progress on the desertification issue, nor on the finance issue. But on some issues such as forests, eco-efficiency, and water, there was progress, and there was clear recognition of elimination of poverty as a priority. Delegates had worked together in order to attain a sustainable world, and that should lay the basis for further negotiations. There could be no better world without friends all over the world.
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Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN said the special session had sought to deepen the commitments made at Rio. In many areas, much had been accomplished; in others, more time would be needed. Progress had been made in the areas of water and forests, and energy issues had been put on the agenda. More work was needed in the area of climate change, which would be discussed in Kyoto. In the area of finance, more needed to be done to close the gap between rhetoric and performance. Delegations should move beyond the "cut and thrust" of negotiations. The instant judgements of today were seldom the same as the judgements of tomorrow.
The President of the Assembly, RAZALI ISMAIL (Malaysia), said that during the special session, all speakers had underlined the importance of achieving an equitable development process that protected the environment. The international community had reaffirmed the relevance of the Rio agreements. The results of the session are sobering. Short-term and vested interests impeded implementation of global and national commitments. Words had not been matched by deeds.
Important lessons had been learned. Lofty expectations from the Rio conference had been countermanded by an absence of political will to tackle critical issues in the long term. International cooperation continued to bedevilled by constraints. The Organization must address the driving forces of unsustainability, such as the availability and lack of financial resources, the implications of an unequal economic playing field and the effect of those factors on global programmes. The message must be transmitted to governments, non-governmental organizations and all stakeholders that sustainable development required full integration of economic, environmental and social components into policy planning and implementation. There must be a resurgence of true global partnership, based on common but differentiated responsibilities. (For full text of statement by the President of the Assembly, see Press Release GA/9277-ENV/DEV/443.)
The "Programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21" consists of a preambular part -- a statement of commitment and the three following parts: an assessment of progress made since UNCED (Part B); implementation in areas requiring urgent action (Part C); and international institutional arrangements (Part D).
In the statement of commitment (Part A), Member States reaffirm that Agenda 21 remains the fundamental programme of action for achieving sustainable development. They also reaffirm all the principles contained in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the Forest Principles and remain convinced that the achievement of sustainable development requires the integration of its economic, environmental and social components. They
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recommit to work together -- in a spirit of global partnership -- to reinforce their joint efforts to meet equitably the needs of present and future generations.
Although they acknowledge that a number of positive results have been achieved, Member States express deep concern that the overall trends are worse today than they were in 1992. They, therefore, emphasize that the implementation of Agenda 21 in a comprehensive manner remains vitally important and is more urgent than ever. Stressing that "time is of the essence", they recommitted to the global partnership established at UNCED and to continuous dialogue and action inspired by the need to achieve a more efficient and equitable world economy, as a means to provide a supportive international climate for achieving environment and development goals.
Member States also commit themselves to ensure that the next comprehensive review of Agenda 21 in the year 2002 will demonstrate greater measurable progress in achieving sustainable development. The programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21 is the vehicle to achieve that. They, therefore, commit themselves to fully implement the programme.
Among the sections addressed in the programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21, Part C of the document, addressing implementation in areas requiring urgent action, contains the following three sections: integration of economic, social and environmental objectives; sectors and issues; and means of implementation.
Within the section on integration of economic, social and environmental objectives, there are subsections on eradicating poverty; changing consumption and production patterns; making trade, environment and sustainable development mutually supportive; population; health; and sustainable human settlements.
The section on sectors and issues deals with matters such as freshwater, oceans and seas, forests, energy, transport, atmosphere, toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes, radioactive wastes, land and sustainable agriculture, desertification and drought, biodiversity, sustainable tourism, small island developing States and natural disasters.
The section on means of implementation takes account of financial resources and mechanisms; transfer of environmentally sound technologies; capacity-building; science; education and awareness; international legal instruments, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development; and information and tools to measure progress.
The last part of the draft final document (Part D), on international institutional arrangements to support the achievement of sustainable development, contains the following four subsections: greater coherence in
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various intergovernmental organizations and processes; the role of relevant organizations and institutions of the United Nations system; the Commission's future role and programme of work; and the Commission's methods of work. The Commission's proposed multi-year work programme is annexed to it.
In the negotiations on the programme of action, the issue of financial resources and mechanisms was particularly contentious. The introductory paragraph of that subsection establishes that financial resources play a key role in implementing Agenda 21. Accepting that financing would come from countries' public and private sectors, the text states that for developing countries, particularly those in Africa, ODA remains a main source of external funding and is essential for the prompt and effective implementation of Agenda 21 and cannot generally be replaced by private capital flows.
All commitments of Agenda 21, and the provisions of new and additional resources that are both adequate and predictable, need to be urgently fulfilled, it stresses. Special reference is made to the needs of developing countries in Africa and the least developed countries for which ODA remains a main source of external funding and "cannot be replaced by private capital flows".
The subsection, therefore, calls on developed countries to fulfil the commitments undertaken to reach the accepted United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of GNP as soon as possible. Intensified efforts should be made to reverse the downward trend in the ratio of ODA to GNP. In addition, strategies should be worked out for increasing donor support to aid programmes and revitalizing the commitments that donors made at UNCED. In addition, ODA can play an important an catalytic role in encouraging private investment and all aspects of country driven capacity-building and strengthening.
In addition, 10 other paragraphs dealing with the issue of financing contribute to a text that takes up, paragraph by paragraph, the key role that financial resources and mechanisms play in implementing Agenda 21; official development assistance (ODA); the role of multilateral financial institutions; donor commitments to funding Global Environment Facility (GEF) operations; resources for operational activities of the United Nations system; mobilizing higher levels of foreign private investment in developing countries; efforts to resolve the external debt problems of the heavily indebted countries; and the role of the United Nations Secretariat, the international financial institutions and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in considering the interrelationship between indebtedness and sustainable development for developing countries.
On the subject of freshwater, the "Programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21" stresses the need to strengthen regional and international cooperation for technological transfer and financing of
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integrated water resources programmes and projects, in particular those designed to increase access to safe water supply and sanitation. The text also emphasizes the importance of an enabling national and international environment that encourages investment from public and private sources to improve water supply and sanitation services, especially in fast growing urban and peri-urban areas, as well as in poor rural communities in developing countries.
The document states that forests are an integral part of sustainable development and are essential to many indigenous people and other forest dependent people embodying traditional lifestyles, forest owners and local communities, many of whom possess important traditional forest-related knowledge. It recognizes the need for further clarification of the programme elements of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests process.
The special session decided to continue the intergovernmental policy dialogue on forests through the establishment of an Ad Hoc Open-ended Intergovernmental Forum on Forests, under the aegis of the Commission on Sustainable Development, to work in an open, transparent and participatory manner, with a focused and time-limited mandate. Among others, the Forum should identify the possible elements of and work towards a consensus for international arrangements and mechanisms, for example, a legally binding instrument, and report on its work to the Commission in 1999.
Of the areas requiring urgent attention, the text states that poverty eradication is "an overriding theme of sustainable development for the coming years". The empowerment of women is a critical factor for the eradication of poverty. It notes that, since Rio, there has been an increase in the number of people living in absolute poverty, particularly in the developing countries. There was now an urgent need for the timely and full implementation of all the relevant commitments, agreements and targets already agreed upon since Rio by the international community, including the United Nations system and international financial institutions.
The text calls for a number of priority actions to be taken for the full implementation of the Programme of Action adopted by the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development. Such actions include providing universal access to basic social services; progressively developing social protection systems to support those who cannot support themselves; empowering people living in poverty and their organizations; and addressing the disproportionate impact of poverty on women.
The text also takes account of the need for urgent action to change consumption and production patterns. It stresses that unsustainable patterns of production particularly in the industrialized countries are identified in Agenda 21 as the major cause of continued deterioration of the global
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environment and that they should take the lead in achieving sustainable consumption. It calls for the development and further elaboration of national policies and strategies, particularly in industrialized countries, to encourage changes in unsustainable consumption and production patterns.
The document also acknowledges the need to strengthen international approaches and policies that promote sustainable consumption patterns on the basis of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, applying the polluter-pays principle, and encouraging producer responsibility and greater consumer awareness. A number of actions in this area should include promoting the following: measures to environmental costs and benefits in the price of goods and services; the role of business in shaping more sustainable patterns; more sustainable patterns of urbanization; and measures favouring eco-efficiency. Governments -- particularly developed countries -- are encouraged to take the lead in changing consumption and production patterns and encouraging business and industry, among other groups, to develop and apply environmentally sound technology.
On energy, the programme says there is a need for a movement towards sustainable patterns of production, distribution and use of energy. To advance that work at the intergovernmental level, the Commission on Sustainable Development will discuss energy issues at its ninth session. In addition, the document stresses the need for evolving commitments for the transfer of relevant technology, including time-bound commitments to developing countries and economies in transition so as to enable them to increase the use of renewable energy sources and cleaner fossil fuels and to improve efficiency in energy production, distribution and use.
The text also recognizes the need for gradual reduction and elimination of subsidies for energy production and consumption that inhibits sustainable development. However, such polices should take fully into account the specific needs and conditions of developing countries, particularly least developed countries.
On the subject of atmosphere, the programme states that so far insufficient progress has been made by many developed countries in meeting their aim to return greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. In that context, it was most important that the third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at Kyoto, Japan, later this year, adopt a protocol or other legal instrument that fully encompasses the Berlin Mandate.
It goes on say that at the special session the international community confirmed its recognition of the problem of climate change as one of the biggest challenges facing the world in the next century. The ultimate goal which all countries share is to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas
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concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. That requires efficient and cost-effective policies that will be sufficient to result in a significant reduction in emissions.
The document adds that countries had reviewed the state of preparations for the Kyoto Conference. The position of many countries for those negotiations was still evolving, and it was agreed that it would not be appropriate to seek to predetermine results. There was already widespread but not universal agreement that it would be necessary to consider legally binding, meaningful, realistic and equitable targets for Annex 1 countries (a total of 36 developed countries and economies in transition parties to the Convention) that would result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within specified time-frames, such as 2005, 2010 and 2020. There was also widespread agreement that it would be necessary to consider ways and means for achieving them and to take into account the effects of such response measures on all countries, particularly developing countries
The programme says that States which generate radioactive wastes have a responsibility to ensure their safe storage and disposal. In general, radioactive wastes should be disposed of in the territory of the State in which they are generated as far as is compatible with the safety and management of such material. The international community should make all efforts to prohibit the export of radioactive wastes to those countries that do not have appropriate waste treatment and storage facilities. Further, there is a need to support the clean up of sites contaminated as a result of all types of nuclear activity and to conduct health studies in regions around those sites, with a view to identifying where health treatment may be needed and should be provided.
On desertification and drought, the text urges the international community to recognize the vital importance of international partnership and cooperation in combating desertification and mitigating the effects of drought. To increase the effectiveness of existing financial mechanisms, the international community, in particular developed countries, should support the global mechanism that would indeed have the capacity to promote actions leading to the mobilization and channelling of substantial resources for advancing the implementation of the Convention. Another view considers that the international community, in particular developed countries, should provide new and additional resources towards the same ends.
A mutually supportive balance between the international and the national environment is needed in the pursuit of sustainable development, the document goes on. The gap between developed and developing countries points to the continued need for a dynamic and enabling international economic environment supportive of international cooperation, particularly in the fields of
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finance, technology transfer, debt and trade, if the momentum for global progress towards sustainable development is to be maintained and increased.
In the context of areas of urgent implementation, paragraph 17 of the section on integration of economic, social and environmental objectives was one of the most contentious in the negotiations. It establishes that economic development, social development and environmental protection are interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable development. It reaffirms the position of developing countries that "sustained economic growth is essential to the economic and social development of all countries, particularly developing countries". The paragraph also makes reference to democracy, respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, transparent and accountable governance in all sectors of society which are an essential part of the necessary foundations for realizing social and people-centred sustainable development.
On trade and environment issues, the document refers to the need for continuing the elimination of discriminatory and protectionist practices in international trade relations, particularly those affecting developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Moreover, the root causes of environmental degradation should be addressed so as not to result in disguised barriers to trade. The subparagraphs list a number of actions that should be taken, including the timely and full implementation of the results of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations, as well as full use of the Comprehensive and Integrated World Trade Organization Plan of Action for the Least Developed Countries. Also, the promotion of an open, non- discriminatory, rule-based, equitable, secure, transparent and predictable multilateral trading system.
Assessing progress made since UNCED in the quest for sustainable development, the document notes that although economic growth reinforced by globalization had allowed some countries to reduce the proportion of people in poverty, marginalization had increased for others. Five years after UNCED, the state of the global environment has continued to deteriorate. While some progress has been made in terms of institutional development and international consensus-building and a number of countries have succeeded in curbing pollution and slowing the rate of environmental degradation, overall trends are worsening. Marginal progress has been made in addressing unsustainable production and consumption patterns. However, progress in adequately controlling the transboundary movements of hazardous and radioactive wastes remains insufficient.
Further, while there was progress in material and energy efficiency, particularly with reference to non-renewable resources, overall trends remained unsustainable, the documents states. Among the achievements since UNCED, the text notes the entry into force of the Conventions on Climate
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Change, on Biodiversity and to Combat Desertification. Moreover, agreements were concluded on straddling and migratory fish stocks and the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States was adopted. Also, the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of Marine Environment and Land-based Activities was elaborated.
Local authorities have made Agenda 21 and the pursuit of sustainable development a reality at the local level through the implementation of "Local Agenda 21s", the document states. Similarly, hundreds of small and large businesses have made "green business" a new operating mode. Farmer-led initiatives have resulted in improved agricultural practices contributing to sound resource management.
The last part of the document (Part D), on international institutional arrangements to support the achievement of sustainable development, focuses on the need for better policy coordination at the intergovernmental level and on enhancing collaboration among the secretariats of decision-making bodies. In that connection, reference is made to the means of advancing the collaborative work of the conferences of the parties to conventions related to sustainable development, including giving consideration to the co-location of convention secretariats and integrating national reporting requirements.
Two paragraphs are devoted to the question of enhancing the role of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as "the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda", to promote the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and to serve as the authoritative advocate for the global environment. A revitalized UNEP should be supported by adequate, stable and predictable funding and continue to provide effective support to the Commission on Sustainable Development, the document states.
The strengthening of the roles of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNCTAD and the World Trade Organization, and the implementation of commitments by international financial institutions are also considered in the context of implementation of Agenda 21.
By the programme, Member States agreed to strengthen the implementation of the commitment of the international financial institutions to sustainable development. Although it is acknowledged that the World Bank has a significant role to play in that regard, proposals on replenishing by the donor community of the International Development Association and on providing new and additional resources towards the satisfactory replenishment of the GEF are yet to be agreed on.
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In a section on the future role and programme of work of the Commission on Sustainable Development, the document states that it should continue to provide a central forum for reviewing progress and urging further implementation of Agenda 21 and other commitments made at UNCED. Further, it should make concerted efforts to attract greater involvement in its work, particularly in the annual high-level segment, of ministers and high-level national policy-makers. It should continue to provide a forum for the exchange of national experience and best practices in the area of sustainable development. In addition, consideration should be given to the results of ongoing work aimed at streamlining requests for national information and reporting.
The Commission should organize the implementation of its next multi-year programme of work in the most effective way, including through shortening its annual meeting to two weeks, the text says. It adds that the next comprehensive review of progress in the implementation of Agenda 21 will take place in 2002. According to the multi-year programme of work recommended for the Commission, its sectoral theme for 1998 will be strategic approaches to freshwater management; for 1999, oceans and seas; in the year 2000, it would pertain to the integrated planning and management of land resources; and in the year 2001, it would relate to atmosphere.
Special Session Officers
The President of the special session was Razali Ismail (Malaysia), who is the President of the Assembly's fifty-first session. The following were Vice-Presidents: Andorra, Angola, Bahamas, Burundi, China, Cyprus, France, Ghana, Honduras, Latvia, Libya, Niger, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Russian Federation, Sudan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.
Mostafa Tolba (Egypt) was elected Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole. Baghere Asadi (Iran), Czeslaw Wieckowski (Poland), John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) and Idunn Eidheim (Norway) were elected Vice-Chairmen. Mr. Wieckowski also served as Rapporteur.
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