23 February 2009
Economic and Social Council

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Background Release




For the past year, the world has seen a food crisis, an energy crisis, a financial crisis, a global recession and, of course, the looming climate crisis.  These are generally discussed separately in different ministries, different university faculties and different policy forums.  The Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development, which begins today, sees them as interconnected and suggests that the only way of addressing them effectively is through integrated solutions.

Negotiating policy responses to some of the main issues underpinning this crisis, including agricultural productivity, land management, rural development, desertification and drought, will be the focus of the Commission’s work this year.

The food crisis -- an estimated 963 million people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition with many more are at risk due to volatile prices and supplies -- came to the centre of global attention last year when prices for food staples increased dramatically, sharply affecting the poor and the vulnerable.  The Commission on Sustainable Development, whose goal is to ensure that actions are not only economically efficient, but also ecologically sound, and socially equitable -- otherwise they would be unsustainable -- seeks both short- and long-term solutions to the crisis.

That means not only short-term relief for poor communities and poor countries, but also a long-term investment in agriculture that will enable us to feed a growing population, allocate some land and water resources to non-food crops (including, where appropriate, biofuels), while protecting the world’s forests, biodiversity and soils.  It asks for investing in the capacity of poor communities to adapt to climate change.  It asks for a scaling up of rural development experiences, and empowerment of rural communities.  It asks for the empowerment of women as a critical building block of the collective response to the multiple crises.

Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, stressed that such integrated solutions can only come from the framework of sustainable development.  “Now is the time for the champions of sustainable development to step forward.”

The Commission will also focus on the challenges facing Africa, where nothing short of a “double” Green Revolution (both agricultural productivity and environmental protection) is needed to reverse decades of stagnation.

The Commission on Sustainable Development is uniquely positioned to achieve such an outcome.  Tariq Banuri, Director of the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development, notes that sustainable development is a bridge, between environmental, economic and social goals, between north and south, between Governments, civil society and business, between science and policy, and between policy and action.  “Because it brings countries together with major partners such as farmers, scientists, business leaders, academics, women and indigenous peoples, the Commission provides a powerful forum for guiding a prompt and sustainable response to these urgent development challenges,” Mr. Banuri said.

The Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development will be held from 23 to 27 February in New York.  The seventeenth session of the Commission will take place from 4 to 15 May, also at United Nations Headquarters.

For more information, please contact Dan Shepard, United Nations Department of Public Information, tel.:  212 963 9495; fax:  212 963 1186; e-mail:  mediainfo@un.org.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record