13 May 2011
Economic and Social Council
ENV/DEV/1213

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

Commission on Sustainable Development

Nineteenth Session

9th & 10th Meetings (AM & PM)


Sustainable Development Commission Concludes Session without Agreement on 10-Year

 

Framework, Policy Options on Transport, Mining, Waste, Chemicals

 


The Commission on Sustainable Development ended its nineteenth session early Saturday morning, unable to agree on policy decisions on practical measures to advance chemical and waste management, transform transport and mining practices, and establish a long-awaited 10-Year Framework of Programmes for sustainable consumption and production patterns, which was first called for at the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development.


After lengthy discussions and several suspensions, Commission members declined to adopt a draft outcome document that was submitted by its Chair László Borbély, Minister of Environment and Forests of Romania, in lieu of a negotiated text after the 53-member Commission did not meet its last deadline for negotiations.  In proposing his text, Mr. Borbély acknowledged that "probably, in this moment, nobody is happy in this room."  But, he stressed, "We have no other alternative… we have no time to renegotiate."


Appealing for the text’s acceptance, he underlined the importance of concluding the work of the Commission's most recent two-year thematic cycle, saying that, while imperfect to some, it would, in the lead-up to Rio+20, be "a sign given by us to all the world."  Nonetheless, Commission members could not support what many of them called a "take it or take it" text, detailing a number of areas of concern that largely focused on the draft's references to the rights of people living under foreign occupation, as well as its treatment of the means of implementation.


Noting that the text fell far short of how the Rio Declaration and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation addressed the situation of people living under foreign occupation, a number of delegations, including the Arab Group and the Group of 77 and China, argued that it should at least include the language agreed during the Commission's seventeenth session.  Other delegations said the text imposed "a new reality" regarding means of implementation in which there would be no new funding.  Further, it seemed that terms that had already been defined would have to be reviewed and, perhaps, renegotiated over and over again.


Even as consensus eluded them, many Commission members seemed reluctant to move past a "tipping point” which would result in their collective failure to adopt a text.  These delegations, including Pakistan and Nigeria, offered to keep negotiating, despite the late hour.  However, when their calls did not gain support, the Commission decided to include a Chair’s summary in the final report on the nineteenth session (document E/CN.17/2011/L.2), which was adopted at meeting’s end.  The Chair’s summary is expected to be published within a week.


Earlier Friday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the Commission at the conclusion of its last session before the "vital" 2012 United Nations Conference of the Sustainable Development, which, like the original 1992 Earth Summit, will be held in Rio de Janeiro.  He particularly highlighted the need to transform patterns of production and consumption and to reverse the trends of excessive resource use.


“Achieving this goal will take a fundamental transformation in consumption patterns, lifestyle and values,” he said, emphasizing the vast challenges inherent in shifting global consumption and production patterns toward sustainability.  Among other things, “equity, not only within our societies but globally, will need to become more fully integrated into our institutions and our policies,” he said.


While the international community could not turn back the clock, it had the power to pursue a development path that took a more balanced and sustainable approach to the world’s resources.  But, to do that, he said, there wasn’t “a moment to lose”.  Thus, at “Rio+20”, the global vision must be clear and focused on a sustainable green economy that protected the health of the environment, while supporting the Millennium Development Goals through growth in income, decent work and poverty eradication.  An enhanced architecture for sustainable development governance at the national regional and international levels must also be created.  As the world community embarked on the next important leg of the journey to Rio and beyond, “our watchwords must be ‘implementation’ and ‘action’,” he said.


During a ministerial dialogue on “moving toward sustainable development:  expectations from “Rio+20” held in the morning, Ministers and other high-level Government officials, along with representatives of civil society and United Nations bodies, joined the Secretary-General in highlighting the urgency surrounding next year’s landmark conference.  They said that in tackling its two themes — the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development — Rio+20 must seek to modify the world’s systems of production and bring about a change in the ethical standards of daily life in order to change human consumption patterns.


A number of speakers expressed strong concerns, however, that “ Rio+20” must not be just another event, but a catalyst to drive the sustainable development agenda forward through concrete policies.  Citing a “lacklustre” approach to preparations, one delegation said they were inadequate, particularly with regard to the inclusion of developing countries, which needed assistance to engage in the preparatory process.  In her assessment “the spirit is weak, and the pace is too slow,” and she feared the conference would not meet global expectations.


Others questioned the conference’s very focus, pointing to the lack of a shared definition of “green economy”.  Several said the meeting must serve to strengthen the Rio principles, not weaken them, including, in particular, that of differentiated responsibility.  In that regard, developed countries should take the lead.  Another delegate suggested that, if the discussions witnessed at the Commission’s current session were any indication of what the road to Rio would be like, it looked to be rocky.


In other business, the Commission approved the provisional agenda for its twentieth session (document E/CN.17/2011/L.1).  According to the agenda, the thematic cluster for the implementation cycle 2013-2014 review session would address matters related to forests; biodiversity; biotechnology; tourism; and mountains.


The Commission also took note of the draft programme of work for the biennium 2012-2013 for the Division of Sustainable Development (document E/CN.17/2011/11).


According to tradition, the Commission briefly opened its twentieth session in order to elect the Chair and Bureau members for that session.  Mazhit Turmagambetov, Vice-Minister of Environmental Protection of Kazakhstan, was elected as Chair, while Bosiljka Vuković, Acting Head of the Office for Sustainable Development of Montenegro, was elected as one of the four Vice-chairs from the Group of Eastern European States.  The remaining Vice-Chairs from the African States, the Latin American and Caribbean States, and the Group of Western European and Other States will be elected at a later date.


Background


The Commission on Sustainable Development met today to conclude the high-level segment of its nineteenth session, focusing on the priority themes:  transport; chemicals; waste management (hazardous and solid waste); mining; and the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns.  Today’s programme is expected to include a ministerial dialogue on “Moving towards sustainable development:  Expectations from Rio+20”, as well as action on the session’s final report.


For more information, please see Press Releases ENV/DEV/1205 of 29 April and ENV/DEV/1206 of 2 May.


Ministerial Dialogue:  Opening Remarks


Opening the ministerial dialogue, United Nations Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON said the Commission had focused over the last two years on transport, chemicals, waste, mining and sustainable consumption and production, noting that those issues were emphasized because the natural environment was under unprecedented stress, with far-reaching social and economic implications.


“Our excessive resource use and consumption and production patterns are no longer sustainable,” he said, stressing that the Commission’s current session offered an opportunity to reverse those trends.  “We don’t have a moment to lose.”


While the international community could not turn back the clock, it had the power to pursue a development path that took a more balanced and sustainable approach to the world’s resources, he said, underling that “the choice is ours.”  For its part, the Commission had made substantial progress toward agreement on its current thematic issues and on the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on sustainable consumption and production patterns, and he looked forward to its successful outcome.


A strong framework, he said, would also provide crucial momentum towards success at next year’s vital “ Rio+20” conference.  In that context, the United Nations system would work in partnership with the world community to implement the sustainable consumption and production programmes and to deliver tangible results over the coming decade.


“ Rio+20”, which he said would be one of the most important global meetings on sustainable development in our time, was around the corner.  That meeting would provide the chance to complete the unfinished business of Rio 1992 — specifically to accelerate sustainable development.


“Achieving this goal will take a fundamental transformation in consumption patterns, lifestyle and values,” he said.  “Equity, not only within our societies but globally, will need to become more fully integrated into our institutions and our policies.”


He stressed that, at Rio, the global vision must be clear and focused on a sustainable green economy that protected the health of the environment, while supporting the Millennium Development Goals through growth in income, decent work and poverty eradication.  An enhanced architecture for sustainable development governance at the national, regional and international levels must also be created.  To advance that sustainable development agenda, the watchwords must be “implementation” and “action”, he said.


Urging delegations to let the initiative and energy generated during this final session before Rio+20 provide direction and momentum for the way ahead, he pledged the full support of the United Nations system as they embarked on the next important leg of the journey to Rio and beyond.


Dialogue


Following the Secretary-General’s statement, Commission Chair LÁSZLÓ BORBÉLY, Minister of Environment and Forests of Romania, kicked off the high-level dialogue focused on hopes and expectations for the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), slated to take place in 2012 in Rio de Janeiro.


During the discussion, the European Commissioner for the Environment, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed appreciation for the “many inspiring thoughts” that had been expressed during the current session.  Many challenges remained, however, and Rio+20’s two themes — the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication — offered a unique opportunity to address them.  Several key changes would be needed to achieve those goals.  An economy that put the management of natural capital and the efficient use of resources at its centre was needed, and required policy makers to identify the value of ecosystem services and biodiversity.  The transition toward an inclusive green economy also required the right regulatory and market conditions, including the removal of environmentally harmful subsidies and the use of fiscal incentives, as well as an “ambitious reform of global governance” for sustainable development.


The representative of Argentina, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing States and China, stressed the urgency of implementing the issues and changes discussed over the past two weeks — in particular at Rio+20.  Sustainable consumption and production was the core issue of all the Commission’s current discussions, she said, and the Group hoped that those charged with negotiating that topic would reach a consensus.  Moreover, she said, in order to make strides in that area, it was critical to modify the world’s systems of production and bring about a change in the ethical standards of daily life, with the aim of changing human consumption patterns.


Other delegates agreed that implementation had become a core concern, and emphasized the need, in that respect, for strong political will.  “What we need now is not more speeches or more text, but more will to commit to the changes that are needed in the twenty-first century,” Grenada’s representative said, speaking on behalf of the Small Island Developing States.  Recalling that those States had proposed the notion of a “blue-green economy”, or a green economy that also respected and promoted the needs of the ocean and island States, she urged its integration into the Commission’s various streams of work.  Unless changes in several areas — including consumption and production, poverty eradication and climate change — came together, neither a blue, nor a green economy would ever be possible, she said.


Rio+20 must not be just another event, she continued; it must be a “catalyst” to drive the sustainable development agenda forward through concrete policies.  In that vein, she echoedthe call issued by many delegations to make the best possible use of the opportunity provided by that conference.  Among other speakers stressing their commitment to that goal, China’s representative urged delegates to turn Rio+20 into a “milestone” in environmental policy, and said that his country had donated $500,000 to the Trust Fund supporting the participation of developing countries at that conference.  Nonetheless, he expressed concern over several issues related to the green economy, which he said should never be used as an “excuse” to attach conditions to global trade policies.


Expressing a similar reservation, India’s Secretary in the Ministry of the Environment and Forests worried that standards implemented to advance the green agenda could limit the development of individual States, and stressed that any decision taken at Rio+20 must respect their right to “adequate policy space to carry out national development policies”.  Moreover, instead of bans and tariffs, he said, green economy policies could utilize other methods, such as trade regulators.  Meanwhile, other speakers expressed concern about what could amount to a “one-size-fits-all” approach to green policy-making.  The State Secretary of Croatia, among others, called for different national circumstances to be taken into account when defining workable policy tools.


Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science and Technology said her delegation was concerned that there had been “inadequate preparations” for the Rio+20 meeting, in particular with regard to the inclusion of developing countries, which needed assistance to engage in the preparatory process.  Moreover, in the run-up to Rio+20, “the spirit is weak, and the pace is too slow,” she said, warning that the “lacklustre” approach to preparations could mean that the conference would not meet global expectations.


Suggesting that Rio+20 was “at a crossroads”, Bolivia’s representative said it prompted a question:  would the international community continue to commercialize nature, or begin to respect it?  The challenge of sustainable development was not to put a price on environmental services, as the green economy agenda called for, but to respect the essential cycles of nature.


Like others throughout the morning debate, he said the conference must strengthen the Rio principles, not weaken them, including, in particular, that of differentiated responsibility.  Developed countries must take the lead, he stressed, since they were primarily responsible for the environmental degradation in evidence today.  He called, in particular, for the creation of a tax on global financial transactions, which would make it possible to finance sustainable development in developing countries. Overall, Bolivia hoped that the “green of nature”, and not the “green of money and profit” would prevail at Rio+20.


Anexpert in Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources suggested that adding new institutions or even expanding existing ones would not fill the existing gaps in the sustainable development agenda.  Indeed, the problem was not an institutional one, he said, stressing that the Commission on Sustainable Development was “the right vehicle”.  If that vehicle lacked fuel, however, it would not run.  If the discussions witnessed at the Commission’s current session were any indication of what the road to Rio would be like, he feared it would be rocky.


Also participating in the dialogue were ministers or high-ranking officials from Brazil, Belgium, South Africa, Colombia, Spain, Algeria (on behalf of the African Group), Finland, Senegal, Tajikistan, Italy, Sudan and Uzbekistan.


The representatives of the United States, Russian Federation, France, Switzerland, Pakistan, Venezuela and Ethiopia also spoke.


Speakers from the following major groups offered comments:  farmers; non-governmental organizations; workers and trade unions; business and industry; and the scientific and technological community.


Representatives of the following United Nations system agencies also participated:  United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


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For information media • not an official record