30/10/2001
Press Release
GA/EF/2969



Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Second Committee

20th Meeting (PM)†


`CONSCIOUS HUMAN ACTION, POLITICAL WILL’ CAN REDUCE VULNERABILITY

TO DISASTERS, SECOND COMMITTEE IS TOLD


Concluding Discussion of Implementation of Agenda 21, Committee

Takes up Disaster Reduction, Biodiversity, Small Island Developing States


Effective response to disasters required increased emphasis by the international community on strengthening disaster preparedness and early warning systems, the representative of Nigeria told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) this afternoon.† The Committee was beginning its discussion of disaster reduction, desertification, biodiversity, the Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States, and new and renewable sources of energy, as part of its overall consideration of environment and sustainable development.


Continuing, the representative of Nigeria said special efforts must be made to enhance local capacities, including disaster planning, management and facilitation of transfer of early warning technologies, as well as utilization of already existing capacities in developing countries, which were closer to disaster zones.


It was clear, said Iran’s representative, speaking on behalf of the

"Group of 77" developing countries and China, that both developed and developing countries were vulnerable to disasters, given the fact that natural disasters did not know boundaries.† However, the vulnerability of developing countries to those hazards was much greater than that of developed countries because of a lack of early warning systems and emergency response.† They also lacked technical, institutional and trained human resources.


Salvano Briceno, Director of International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), said one of the most valuable lessons learned since the adoption of the Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action in 1994 was that natural hazards did not necessarily lead to disasters.† Disasters resulted from the adverse impact of such hazards on vulnerable economic and social systems.† That meant that conscious human action and political will could reduce vulnerability, thus preventing disasters from causing uncontrollable damage.


He underlined that, in light of the increasing importance of disaster reduction within the United Nations system and for the international community at


large, the institutional arrangements for the ISDR -- namely the Inter-Agency Task Force and secretariat -- needed to be given appropriate and far more predictable

resources to carry out their functions effectively.† Part of those resources should, in the future, come from the regular budget of the United Nations.


Statements were also made by the representatives of the Russian Federation, Japan, Israel, Venezuela, Barbados and South Africa as well as the Observer for Switzerland.


In addition, the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat for the Convention to Combat Desertification, Hama Arba Diallo, and the Programme Officer of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Werner Obermeyer, introduced reports.


Also, this afternoon, the Committee concluded its discussion of the implementation of Agenda 21 -- the programme of action adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro -- and the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21.† Statements were made by the representatives of Peru, Suriname, Philippines and Sri Lanka.


The Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Nitin Desai, responded to queries raised during the general discussion.


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 31 October, to continue its consideration of environment and sustainable development.


Background


The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of environment and sustainable development.†


Before the Committee is the report of the Secretary-General on implementation of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (document A/56/68-E/2001/63).† It reviews the status of implementation, includes a review of the institutional arrangements after the first year of operation, and makes appropriate recommendations on the subject.† Among other things, the report recommends that the donors should increase their contributions in support of disaster reduction activities as an investment in protecting lives and avoiding catastrophic economic losses resulting from the destruction of physical assets.


The report also recommends that the Economic and Social Council and the Assembly should launch a 10-year review of the implementation of the outcome of the Yokohama World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction preparatory process, beginning in 2002, to ensure that a comprehensive assessment is made of progress in disaster reduction with a view to identifying ways of further strengthening the efforts of the international community in support of this objective.†


With regard to institutional arrangements, the report urges donors to increase their contributions to the Trust Fund for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in order to provide an optimal level of funding for the Fund's secretariat and its activities.


Also before the Committee is the report of the Secretary-General on international cooperation to reduce the impact of the El Niño phenomenon (document A/56/76-E/2001/54), which reviews ongoing activities designed to reduce the impact of the El Niño phenomenon, as well as the initial recommendations of the Working Group on Climate and Disasters, which was established under the leadership of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).† The recommendations include the need for the effective coordination of information flows between different agencies of the United Nations system on future El Niño events.


Another recommendation is for the Working Group to continue supporting studies such as the review of sectoral monitoring and warning systems, both within and outside of the United Nations system, to establish shortfalls in the coverage of climate monitoring and explore further the applications of climate monitoring information and forecasts.


The report of the Secretary-General on implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, particularly in Africa (document A/56/175) lays out several actions the General Assembly may wish to take.† Among them, the Assembly may wish to reiterate its appeal to the States which have not yet ratified the Convention to do so as soon as possible.† Also, it may wish to make an appeal for the funding of the Convention, particularly regarding contributions to the core budget, which are to be paid promptly every 1 January.


Also before the Committee is a note by the Secretary-General containing the report of the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (A/56/126).† The report details the ongoing work regarding the Convention.† In particular, it discusses the meetings over the last year of the subsidiary and other bodies related to the implementation of the Convention.


Among other activities, the report discusses the sixth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, which took place from 12 to 16 March 2001 in Montreal.† The main theme of the meeting was alien species, which after habitat destruction are the most significant threat to biodiversity.† In one of the recommendations coming out of the meeting, the Subsidiary Body further developed existing guiding principles for the prevention, introduction and mitigation of impact of alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species.† There are 15 guiding principles in all.


Another important outcome of the meeting was its recommendation on biological diversity and climate change, the report states. In it, the Subsidiary Body agreed to undertake a pilot assessment to prepare scientific advice to integrate biodiversity considerations into the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.† For that purpose, an ad hoc technical expert group was established.† This would be part of a wider assessment of the interlinkages between biological diversity and climate change.


The Subsidiary Body also considered coral bleaching and developed a programme of work to address the issue, the report states.† The work programme will concentrate on two issues considered to be the major causes of coral reef mortality worldwide:† coral bleaching and the physical degradation and destruction of coral reefs.† The Subsidiary Body also acknowledged the urgent need to take prompt action to address the impact of climate change on those ecosystems, as a potential major cause of their loss of biodiversity.


Also before the Committee is a report of the Secretary-General on further implementation of the outcome of the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (document A/56/170).† The report details the activities undertaken by the United Nations system and its various organs over the last year in the areas of globalization and trade liberalization; information and communication technologies; and the creation of a vulnerability index.† It also provides conclusions based on these experiences.


Among other activities, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has aimed to reduce the structural economic handicaps of small island developing States (SIDS), as well as increase economic efficiency and competitiveness by decreasing “transaction costs”, the Secretary-General states.† Also, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been carrying out a special training programme for small island developing States on the follow-up to the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations.† The programme aimed at strengthening national capacity on WTO issues to derive maximum benefits from existing WTO agreements and to meet their obligations.


In regard to vulnerability indexes, the FAO is currently working on a Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System, which consists of a network of systems that assemble, analyse and disseminate information about the problem of food insecurity, the report states.† The UNCTAD has also been taking an active part in the work to construct indicators that would measure the vulnerability of small island developing States, including the use of the new economic vulnerability index.


The report also discusses the Small Island Developing States Network (SIDSNet), which is hosted by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.† The SIDSNet Web site has developed into a central resource for small island developing States development information, with interactive tools for discussions, island news, events and virtual documents.† Currently in phase II, the project emphasis is now on raising awareness of and participation in SIDSNet.†


In his conclusions, the Secretary-General states that, although SIDSNet continues to be seen as a successful activity, it has not received sufficient funding to continue its functioning and is in serious need of financial support. In regard to a vulnerability index, he says it is clear that the work has not yet progressed to a stage where a definitive ruling can be made on the application of a vulnerability index or indices.† The lack of available data for all countries, including small island developing States, makes a conclusive statement in favour of any particular methodology at best premature.


Also before the Committee is a report of the Secretary-General on concrete action being taken for the promotion of new and renewable sources of energy, including the implementation of the World Solar Programme 1996-2005 (document A/56/129).† It states that concrete action being taken for the promotion of new and renewable sources of energy, including the implementation of the World Solar Programme, represent progress at the international and governmental level.† However, an analysis of the obstacles and constraints indicates that there was much more that could and needed to be done at the national, regional and international levels, and suggested that many options that could be considered to overcome them.


In preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the report states, the Ad Hoc Inter-Agency Task Force on Energy was continuing efforts to enhance cooperation on programmes, projects and activities that promoted the full integration of the Solar Programme in the mainstream of United Nations efforts for sustainable development.† However, there remained a number of challenges confronting new and renewable energy development and utilization.† Those include: low priority given to new and renewable energy development in national energy planning and policy development; uneven playing field because of subsidies for conventional energy systems; lack of commensurate institutional arrangements; high upfront costs of small-scale projects; and paucity of human resources.


Statements on Implementation of Agenda 21


RAUL SALAZAR (Peru) said the objective of sustainable development remained important for all nations.† The availability of resources, poverty eradication and social exclusion were key issues to be addressed at the Summit.† The meeting should also work to help developing countries attain the goal of sustainable development.† Natural resource protection depended on the decisions Member States would take on topics such as unsustainable modes of production and consumption.


His country had acceded to a number of environmental instruments, including the convention on deforestation, he said.† The destruction of forests led to global warming and increased pollution and should be addressed by the Summit, as should natural disasters and extreme weather and their effects on the environment.† In that regard, greater attention should be given to the effects of El Niño.† The sustainable development of mountain regions was also an important topic.† Peru had arranged for various workshops and cooperative projects to consider policies for the environmental protection of mountainous regions.


IRMA LOEMBAN TOBING-KLEIN (Suriname) said that delegations left Rio with a new paradigm of sustainable development to eradicate poverty, protect the environment and achieve greater social and economic equity in the world.† Many promises were made in Rio and in subsequent conferences, promises which the international community had not been able to honour.† However, a good start was made and the work needed to continue.† Limited institutional capacity, information, public and governmental awareness, and faltering financial resources were some of the obstacles faced by developing countries in implementing

Agenda 21.† Another important factor impeding proper planning to achieve sustainable development was a lack of data collection.


Environmental protection was included in Suriname’s Multi-year Development Plan, whose implementation was closely monitored by the National Parliament, she said.† “Sustainability”, however, had to be addressed more adequately.† Sustainable development education had to be incorporated into formal education, and the media needed incentives for broadcasting environmental programmes.†


MIGUEL R. BAUTISTA (Philippines) said that the Summit should not be viewed as an opportunity to renegotiate what was agreed to at Rio.† Rather, it must result in a programme of action that was tangible, implementable, time-bound and adequately funded.† Secondly, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities should continue to be the framework of discussions.† The spirit of partnership and cooperation should permeate the preparatory process and the Summit itself.† Attention should focus on how individual countries could help themselves face the challenges of development, including poverty eradication.† At the same time there should be discussion of how the international community could help.


Fourthly, he continued, the various preparatory processes should, as much as possible, incorporate the views of all stakeholders, including the business sector and civil society.† In the Philippines, the national preparatory process was composed of the Government, business, labour and civil society.† Finally, the Summit must emphasize that international governance should be aimed at enhancing the participation of developing countries.† The approach should therefore be balanced and democratic, minimizing duplication of efforts.† The strengthening of existing institutions and mechanisms, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), would help in the implementation of the Johannesburg Plan of Action.


KULATILAKA LENAGALA (Sri Lanka) said there had been progress in promotion of awareness of sustainable development since the 1992 Earth Summit.† However, many targets of Agenda 21 had not been reached.† Countries had a long way to go in developing policies for sustainable development, which called for careful use of resources and ensuring that future generations would also be able to enjoy the benefits of limited global resources.


Nations had come to the point where they had identified their common problems, he said.† There was now a need for concrete actions and timetables for implementation of action.† It had been recognized that such problems as deforestation, desertification and general natural resource scarcity could spread far beyond national borders or even regions.† Such problems could exacerbate social tensions and conflicts, sometimes stimulating increased flows of refugees.† At the Summit, countries must work to address such problems to ensure sustainable development and peace for the future.


Introduction of Reports


HAMA ARBA DIALLO, Executive Secretary of the secretariat for the Convention to Combat Desertification, said that during the period under review, the secretariat had given special attention to the formulation and/or launching of national action programmes to combat desertification.† In countries that had already finalized and adopted their national action programmes, the secretariat had been able to assist in the convening of consultative forums to facilitate the building of partnership agreements at the country level.† It had also helped to organize the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification consultative events related to the Convention in order to integrate national action programmes into national sustainable development frameworks.† To date, some 40 countries had adopted their national action programmes.


One of the achievements that the World Summit on Sustainable Development would have to acknowledge, he said, was the Convention to Combat Desertification, which was the only Rio Convention to stem from a direct recommendation of

Agenda 21.† It was expected that the Summit would take stock of progress achieved in the implementation of that instrument in arid lands where over a billion people lived, and give new impetus in addressing difficulties impeding implementation.


SALVANO BRICENO, Director of International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, said that since the adoption of the Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action in 1994, considerable progress had been made in understanding the negative impact of natural and related technological and environmental disasters.† One of the most valuable lessons learned was that natural hazards did not necessarily lead to disasters.† Disasters resulted from the adverse impact of such hazards on vulnerable economic and social systems.† That meant that conscious human action and political will could reduce vulnerability, thus preventing disasters from causing uncontrollable damage.† That was why the overriding task of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction was the promotion of a global “culture of prevention”.


He underlined that, in light of the increasing importance of disaster reduction, within the United Nations system and for the international community at large, the institutional arrangements for the International Strategy, namely the Inter-Agency Task Force and secretariat, needed to be given appropriate and far more predictable resources to carry out their functions effectively.† Part of those resources should, in the future, come from the regular budget of the United Nations.


Introducing the report on El Niño, he said that experience had shown that international cooperation was vital in the monitoring, analysis and research of

El Niño.† In November 1998, an international seminar was convened in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to carry out a scientific and technical analysis of the 1997-1998 El Niño event.† The meeting also inspired the development of a project to assess the impact of the event in 16 developing countries, which provided valuable lessons from each country in the area of climate-related early warning and disaster preparedness.


It also laid the basis for the establishment of an international centre for the study of El Niño, he added.† He was pleased to see that the Government of Ecuador and the WMO had entered into an agreement to make the Centre a reality.


Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, NITIN DESAI, addressed some general questions that had been raised in the general debate on Agenda 21.† He said he had been asked about local initiatives for Agenda 21.† Such initiatives had been an important factor in furthering the Rio process.† In that regard, questionnaires had been sent to countries by the Secretariat in order to learn more about those local initiatives.† On the topic of national assessments, he said those were reports that would be submitted to the Summit preparatory committee by national governments on the implementation of Agenda 21.† Those national profiles would be used to help set the agenda and goals for the Summit.


WERNER OBERMEYER, Programme Officer of the Convention on Biological Diversity, introduced the report on the Convention.† Among the activities undertaken in support of the Convention over the last year had been the launch of the pilot phase of the bio-safety clearing house.† That would be an Internet-based system for information on biological diversity.† There had also been an ongoing focus on preparing for the World Summit and on implementation of Agenda 21.† Food security, freshwater security and climatic stability all depended on maintaining the world’s biological diversity.


Statements


NASROLLAH KAZEMI KAMYAB (Iran), on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said it was clear that both developed and developing countries were vulnerable to disasters, given the fact that natural disasters did not know boundaries.† However, the vulnerability of developing countries to those hazards was much more than that of developed countries because of a lack of early warning systems and emergency response capability.† Those countries also lacked equipment and trained personnel and, in general, suffered an insufficiency of technical, institutional and trained human resources.† That was the root cause of the great losses inflicted on that group of countries by natural disasters.† Particular attention must be given to the situation of developing countries and their respective regions.† For the sake of effectiveness and to avoid duplication, the Inter–Agency Task Force and the secretariat must enhance synergy and coordination with relevant organizations and institutions.


On reducing the impact of the El Niño phenomenon, he said that strengthening the International Research Centre on El Niño in Guayaquil, Ecuador should be strengthened.† Such an effort would help create better scientific understanding of El Niño.† Reviewing sectoral monitoring and warning systems (within and outside the United Nations system) and supporting international cooperation to reduce the impact of El Niño were important steps.† Reducing the impact of environmental emergencies through early warning and preparedness was crucial for developing countries.


On the topic of the World Solar Programme and energy, he said that obstacles and constraints which hindered the promotion of new and renewable sources of energy -- as well as the means of their resolution -- should be addressed.† Also important was the role of governments in developing energy services in remote and rural areas, as well as their role in removing barriers in the implementation of policies for renewable energy development in those areas.† Countries should take more advantage of the World Solar Programme as one means for enhancing the application of solar energy and technology.


YURIY N. ISAKOV (Russian Federation) said the entry into force of the Convention on Biological Diversity had made a real contribution to setting up and building national policies and enhancement of international cooperation in that field.† He drew attention to the vast experience of his country in addressing

biodiversity problems, particularly in the establishment of areas under special protection, which could be applied to interested countries.


He viewed the Cartagena Protocol as a means of enhancing international cooperation in ensuring biosafety at the global level.† Its entry into force should contribute to the establishment of a universal system of biosafety and the creation of a global standardization mechanism and global network in the sphere of transboundary movement of genetically modified organisms.†


He attached great importance to the further strengthening of cooperation and complementarities among the major environmental conventions and other environmental instruments and organizations, as well as United Nations bodies related to sustainable development.††


KAZUHIKO KOKUBU (Japan) said that sustainable use of wildlife was the key to maintaining biodiversity.† For sustainable use to be effective, local traditions concerning wildlife should be respected.† It was important for governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to uphold the concept of sustainable use and to put it into practice for the protection of biological diversity, especially endangered species.† For the maintenance of biodiversity, it was also important to protect the ecosystem from living modified organisms.† To contribute to that end, Japan was preparing to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity.


Japan, he said, actively supported the SIDS in their efforts to achieve sustainable development.† For example, in 1998, his country was the top donor in 10 SIDS and the second largest in 15 others.† In assisting SIDS, Japan placed high priority on the development of human resources through remote education system and basic infrastructure, to help them overcome the problems arising from the structural handicap of smallness and environmental vulnerability.


DANIEL MEGIDDO (Israel) said his country had been experimenting with dryland development since its birth 53 years ago.† It had eventually managed to develop in a sustainable manner, thus defeating the menace of desertification.† Israel was willing to share its expertise.† The main lesson for people who must endure the harsh climatic conditions of dryland was to use its apparent disadvantages for generating economic advantages.† Food insecurity was most acute in semi-arid and arid regions.† Yet, the know-how and technologies for substantially increasing the income and agricultural productivity of farmers in those climates already existed.† The challenge was to put the tools -– both for irrigated and rain-fed agriculture –- into the hands of those who could benefit from them in the shortest possible time.


Continuing Israel’s statement, ALI YAHYA said that his country, which was poor in natural resources but rich in sunshine, was dedicated to developing solar energy technology and implementing it as broadly as possible.† Currently more than 90 per cent of Israeli citizens used solar energy to heat water for domestic use.† The potential for solar energy in general, and photovoltaic technology in particular, had also taken on a more important role in academic research and industrial development.† Israel’s development of photovoltaic technology could be used to provide power to outlying areas that had difficulty receiving power from traditional sources.† Among the advantages of that technology:† it produced no pollution and could operate for long periods of time without maintenance.† Secondly, the power came from the sun and was therefore free and abundant.


JULIA LOPEZ-CAMACARO (Venezuela) said her country had stepped up efforts at disaster reduction.† It had also set up an ad hoc task force for risk management, based on a multidisciplinary approach.† Among the major factors in assessing risk was social vulnerability.† She appreciated the support of the United Nations in setting up the centre for research on El Niño.† Disaster reduction could be strengthened by the use of appropriate technologies and the investment of the necessary resources.


Her country had ratified the Convention to Combat Desertification in 1998 because, although desertification particularly affected African countries, it also affected the soil in semi-arid zones of countries like hers.† Venezuela had joined recent efforts deployed in the fifth session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention, in which countries adopted measures to effectively implement the Convention.


Venezuela had always supported the sustainable development of SIDS, particularly those in the Caribbean region, she said.† Despite some success attained by the Barbados Programme of Action, those countries continued to need international assistance to reach their sustainable development goals.


I.B. MOHAMMED (Nigeria) said that over the decades the international community had seen an extraordinary rise in the number, scope and scale of disasters, particularly in developing countries.† Forest fires, drought, earthquakes, hurricanes and floods had devastated many parts of the world, especially in Africa.† That situation was often complicated in Africa by destabilizing conflicts.† In that regard, the establishment of the Inter–Agency Task Force for Disaster Reduction was a welcome forum for coordination and policy formulation.† Because they were more vulnerable to natural disasters, special attention should be given to the needs of the developing countries by the Task Force.


In order to respond effectively to disasters, Nigeria had adopted national plans for disaster reduction and established the National Emergency Management Authority, he said.† Effective response to disasters required increased emphasis by the international community on how to strengthen disaster preparedness and early warning systems at the local level.† Special efforts must be made to enhance local capacities, including disaster planning, management and the facilitation of transfer of early warning technologies, as well as utilization of already existing capacities in developing countries, which were closer to disaster zones.


JUNE CLARKE (Barbados) said the ongoing collaborative efforts between SIDS and their development partners had been critical to their efforts to achieve the integration of sustainable development imperatives into national and regional policy options.† The demonstrated commitment of Barbados to the achievement of sustainable development had not wavered, despite the failure of the promised resources of Rio to materialize.


Notwithstanding the substantial progress made by her country in the implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action, there remained a number of

issues which continued to constrain its efforts at pursuing sustainable development.† Unfortunately, sustainable development continued to compete for already scarce resources with other national priority area, such as unemployment, crime, housing, transport and tourism.† Also, for the effective implementation of policies and recommended actions, the necessary accompanying legislation with law enforcement mechanisms was required.† She added that regional efforts at implementation continued to be hampered by the lack of a regional implementation mechanism.


JOELLE JENNY, Observer for Switzerland, said all nations needed to take into account and implement the new strategies for disaster reduction that had been emerging around the world.† On the topic of desertification, her country had taken a substantive role in efforts to implement the convention on that issue.† And more needed to be done to address the specific recommendations of that convention.


On the topic of biodiversity, she said the Cartagena Protocol was a valuable mechanism.† It took into account the needs of developing counties, as well as the needs of industry and the commercial sector of the developed countries.† More must be done in that important area, however.† There should be voluntary international directives created for the sustainable use of biological resources.† Her country had always called for strengthening coherence and cooperation between various conventions.† In that regard, better coherence was needed between the Convention on Biodiversity and the Convention on Climate Change.


NOMBASA TSENGWA (South Africa) said that effective implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification could contribute to addressing the socio-economic problems Africa was facing as a result of land degradation, thus contributing to the overall goals of sustainable development.† Desertification threatened large areas of the African continent, and it had been estimated that it affected as much as 65 per cent of agricultural land.† A major consequence of that had been the loss of the natural resource base.† Hence, more African countries had become net food importers.


South Africa was said to be the third most biologically diverse country in the world, she said, and it supported the effective implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity at all levels.† She welcomed the opportunities presented by the Cartagena Protocol, which would minimize and manage the impact of living modified organisms on the environment and human health, as well as ensure safe transboundary movement thereof.† South Africa had begun to build national legal and administrative capacity to ensure that it participated fully in the Protocol’s implementation.


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