13 May 2013
Economic and Social Council
ECOSOC/6574

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

Economic and Social Council

Integration Meeting (AM & PM)


Economic and Social Council Explores Integration of Three Sustainable Development


Pillars — Economic, Social, Environmental — to Achieve ‘Triple Win’ Solutions


The international community could end hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition sustainably by 2025 through holistic and “win-win” sustainable agriculture approaches, the head of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said this morning.


“It is an ambitious goal, but we need to be bold.  And countries around the world are showing that this is possible,” José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, said via video link in a keynote address to the Economic and Social Council.  Towards that goal, FAO was co-leading the Global Thematic Consultation on Hunger, Food Security and Nutrition, along with the Colombian and Spanish Governments and the World Food Programme (WFP), he said. 


The Council’s day-long meeting brought together policymakers, key stakeholders and the United Nations system to examine how science, technology and innovation could help integrate the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development to achieve “triple win” solutions in energy and agriculture and the Millennium Development Goals.


Mr. Graziano da Silva said FAO’s strategy to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and rural poverty focused on more sustainable production and management of natural resources; improving the governance of food systems; and strengthening resilience.  Agriculture, on which billions of people and 500 million small-holder farms depended directly for food and employment, was a key, as it could be used to drive inclusive growth and poverty reduction in economically depressed rural areas.  For example, extra income from cash-for-work and cash-transfer programmes that supported small-scale production and social protection programmes could be used to buy locally produced food, thus keeping income within the community. 


The world was already making the fundamental changes in food and agriculture governance to transition to a sustainable future, and many countries were committed to ending food insecurity, he said.  Through the Committee on World Food Security, Governments, institutions, civil society and the private sector were working together to build consensus on responsible governance and other issues that impacted food security and nutrition.  The Economic and Social Council also played an important role in bringing together diverse stakeholders and in sharpening the focus on hunger’s socioeconomic dimensions.


Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson agreed, adding that with its mandate to increase system-wide coherence and coordination, the Economic and Social Council had a key role to play in the follow-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20, to promote the balanced integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development in the United Nations system. 


“The world is counting on the United Nations to deliver, to be a catalytic force and to set the direction for the road ahead.  This means that we have to work with the Millennium Development Goals not yet achieved and at the same time look beyond 2015 and the new sustainable development agenda,” Mr. Eliasson said. 


The Economic and Social Council’s focus on the role of science, technology and innovation in energy and agriculture was timely, he said.  The Sustainable Energy for All initiative — which provided a partnership platform for Governments, multilateral banks, business and civil society to promote universal access to electricity, while doubling renewable energy and rates of efficiency — was a high priority for the Secretary-General.  More than 70 developing countries were already engaged; billions of dollars had been committed. 


At Rio+20, world leaders had stressed the need to revitalize the agricultural sector and strengthen system-wide coherence and integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development throughout the United Nations system, he said.  Agriculture featured dominantly in the Zero Hunger Challenge, launched by the Secretary-General in Rio, which aimed to end stunting of children over age two; promote sustainable food systems; double the productivity and income of small-holder farmers; and eliminate the loss and waste of food.  We must work together to achieve these important goals.


He recalled, too, that world leaders had also committed to set up a universal intergovernmental High-Level Political Forum to provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations on sustainable development.  A United Nations system task team was already working with them to ensure that a single UN development agenda emerged after 2015. 


Similarly, Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that addressing food insecurity required investment in sustainable agriculture, research, development and innovations to both increase agricultural productivity and produce food more sustainably.  Such investments were needed to adapt crop production to changing climate conditions. 


Science, technology and innovation were also essential for promoting sustainable energy, increasing energy efficiency and addressing key technology bottlenecks, he said.  Such complex, interlinked challenges must be addressed in an integrated way.  Moreover, they could be used to promote health, increase productivity, improve the efficiency of resource use, and reduce negative human impacts on the environment.


Echoing other speakers’ sentiments about the Economic and Social Council’s importance, he said the Rio+20 outcome document — “The Future We Want” — had mandated that body to play a key role in the balanced integration of sustainable development.  The Council’s subsidiary bodies were central to forging consensus around critical policies and their implementation, and could also be instrumental in strengthening the global partnership for development through its Development Cooperation Forum.


Néstor Osorio (Colombia), Economic and Social Council President, who opened the meeting, said it aimed to identify integrated policies and scalable initiatives to achieve sustainable development in energy and agriculture.  Speakers would discuss potential trade-offs for policy-makers, as well as identify short-term policy choices that could result in longer-term gains.  To achieve that, an improved science-policy interface to integrate environmental and social dimensions holistically was needed, as were a clear institutional framework, governance arrangements and contribution by the Council system.


Energy had been a key component of economic growth and increased standards of living, Mr. Osorio said.  Access to affordable, reliable energy sources spurred operational efficiency in energy, while access to electricity, fuels and cleaner cooking systems reduced air pollution and carbon emissions, improved health and combated hunger and poverty by increasing food productivity, wealth creation and equity.  Boosting renewable energy sources and clean technologies could substantially lower greenhouse gas emissions.  Farmers could lower their ecological footprint through sustainable agricultural practices, while simultaneously improving yields, food security and climate resilience.


In two panels, participants considered “policy convergence for sustainable development” and “scaling up for sustainable development”.


Session One


Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General, International Renewable Energy Agency, moderated the panel titled “policy convergence for sustainable development”.  It featured a keynote address by José Graziano da Silva, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as well as presentations by Michael Anderson, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for the United Nations Development Goals, United Kingdom; Sus Ulbæk, Ambassador, Global Challenges, Global Green Growth Forum (3GF), Denmark; Gisela Alonso, President, Cuban Agency of Environment; Ian Noble, Lead Scientist, Global Adaptation Institute, Washington, D.C.; and José Antonio Ocampo, Chair, Committee for Development Policy. 


Jan McAlpine, Director, United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat, would head a discussion on the potential short-term policy choices and longer-term gains inherent in an approach that balanced and integrated the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, as well as the elements needed to achieve policy coherence for the balanced integration of those three dimensions of sustainable development.


Introducing the panel, Mr. AMIN said the integration agenda was central to the United Nations institutional design and the way in which the Organization would function in the future.  The 2008 food crisis had negatively impacted the global economy, followed by a cycle of instability, structural unemployment and economic crisis.  The 2011 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20, was an important milestone, characterized by a move from institutional proliferation to institutional effectiveness.  The old development cooperation model was too limited to deal with the dynamic nature of current global changes.  A science-policy interface would be central to integrating the three pillars of sustainable development and launching a new model.  


Mr. ANDERSON noted that a high-level political forum on sustainable development would submit a report to the Secretary-General in two weeks.  Its deliberations were an “instructive process”.  The panel was seeking new solutions to challenges, not based on the “old model”.  It had held numerous consultations with civil society and communities, which had fed into its deliberations.  By the end of 2014, the General Assembly would have received a lot of inputs from various processes, including the high-level panel and regional inputs.  In addition, interest was high in industry and academia about sustainable development, with volumes of papers being written about it.  The panel should avoid several things, including an ambiguous framework, long lists of targets, business as usual and pursuit of utopia.  The key was to make tough decisions about priorities.


He also said the Economic and Social Council’s contributions, such as national voluntary presentations and its dialogue with Bretton Woods institutions, would be extremely important.  Turning to measures taken by the Government of his own country, the United Kingdom, he said that successive Governments had seriously sought to implement Agenda 21.  The single most important measure had been the establishment of the Cabinet Committee charged with scrutinizing progress on sustainable development.  He also cited its green food project to improve the food system, and a natural capital committee for natural capital accounting.


Ms. ULBÆK, speaking by video link, said clearer goals and realistic policy frameworks were needed to further the clean energy agenda.  All stakeholders must be involved.  The private sector must be more closely involved with Governments, particularly for the introduction of financing and innovative technology.  Short-term policy choices were essential to advance the agenda.  The Global Green Growth Forum would work on the pricing issue.  Something must be done about subsidies to achieve a more efficient, cleaner world.  Lack of funds was the biggest obstacle to transfer technology to developing countries in order to eliminate fossil fuel use and achieve renewable energy.  “Green growth” was really a transformation to a greener, more sustainable economy, taking into account that millions of people worldwide needed better living conditions.  Investors must make long-term choices.  In Denmark, the move from oil and gas to renewable energies was made possible because of policy instruments, including high taxes on oil and gas, and tax incentives to foster development of renewable energy.  By 2050, Denmark would be free of fossil fuel; it would work with international instruments to achieve that. 


Mr. NOBLE said he had worked as a research scientist before taking a policy interface position.  Through experience, he learned about the importance of sharing the results of scientific research.  Few scientists were comfortable in all of the three dimensions of sustainability, and there was a lack of collaboration.  Rather, scientists often competed with each other.  Academic reports were important, but access to those papers was costly.  For instance, he wondered how access to a 3-page research paper could cost $200, and he stressed the need to address the issue of disseminating and transferring knowledge.  He also emphasized the importance of fellowship as early-career scientists later moved into policy interface positions.  It was also essential to ensure the right mix of fellows from the developed and developing countries.


Mr. GRAZIANO DA SILVA, delivering the keynote address by video link, said the Rio+20 Conference had made a clear link between food security and “the future we want”.  True sustainable development required eradicating hunger and malnutrition.  The Zero Hunger Challenge launched by the United Nations Secretary-General at the Rio+20 Conference underscored that link.  The challenge’s main pillars — ensuring universal, year-round access to food and fully sustainable food systems; a 100 per cent increase in small-holder productivity and income; zero loss or waste of food; and no stunted children under the age of 2 — would help align the work of member agencies and programmes of the Secretary-General’s High-level Task Force on Global Food Security.  The challenge could also help orient work in the post-2015 period.


Towards that end, he said, FAO was co-leading the Global Thematic Consultation on Hunger, Food Security and Nutrition, along with the Colombian and Spanish Governments and the World Food Programme (WFP).  During a high-level consultation in Madrid last month, a common vision emerged that hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition could be ended sustainably by 2025.  “It is an ambitious goal, but we need to be bold.  And countries around the world are showing that this is possible,” he said.


There had been progress in the fight against hunger, he said.  Eighteen countries already had reached the World Food Summit goal, which proposed halving the total number of hungry people worldwide between 1990 and 2015, a more ambitious undertaking than the first Millennium Development Goal, which proposed halving the proportion of the world’s hungry over that time period.  Still, the road ahead was long; almost 870 million people were still undernourished.  Today, the main cause of hunger was not insufficient food production, but a lack of access.  Many people did not have the money to buy the food they needed or the means to produce it themselves.  Food insecurity was a multidimensional challenge that must be addressed in an integrated way. 


FAO was taking a holistic view to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and rural poverty, with a focus on more sustainable production and management of natural resources; improving the governance of food systems; and strengthening resilience, he said.  Agriculture was the key to addressing those challenges.  It was crucial to feed a population expected to exceed 9 billion in 2050.  Billions of people depended directly on agriculture for food and employment, including 500 million small-holder farmers, who were among the most important managers of natural resources.  “We can use agriculture to promote win-win situations, driving inclusive growth and poverty reduction in economically depressed rural areas,” he said.  For example, support to small-scale production and social protection programmes, such as cash-for-work and cash-transfer programmes, would produce extra income that could be used to buy locally produced food, thus keeping income in the community. 


The transition to a sustainable future required fundamental changes in food and agriculture governance, he said, adding that the world was on the right path; many countries were committed to ending food insecurity.  United Nations agencies and programmes were coordinating action through the High-level Task Force on Global Food Security.  The Committee on World Food Security was a unique example of an inclusive platform in which Governments, institutions, civil society and the private sector were working together to build consensus on issues that impacted food security and nutrition, such as responsible governance.  The Economic and Social Council also played an important role in bringing together diverse stakeholders and in sharpening the focus on hunger’s socio-economic dimensions.  “We are all in this together — citizens, companies, Governments, civil society and institutions alike.  Together, we can build the future we want.  A sustainable and hunger-free future,” he said. 


Mr. OCAMPO stressed the need to underline the dominance of economics in the debate on sustainable development.  Referring to “triple wins” in a background paper, he said that it was essential to look for “double wins”, such as integrating social and economic dimensions on one hand and integrating environmental and economic dimensions on the other.  He also said that it was the political interface, and not the science interface, that mattered.  Financing science, technology and innovation was too reliant on intellectual property rights.  Granting monopoly to inventors impeded dissemination of science, technology and innovation.  Regarding the reform of the Economic and Social Council to better promote sustainable development, he highlighted such mechanisms as development cooperation and peer review follow-up as helpful tools.


Introducing the discussion segment, Ms. ALPINE said business as usual would not work, but neither would utopia.  Too much of the United Nations system and sustainable development community functioned within separate silos.  For example, in academia, very few scientists were comfortable working outside their own fields.  She asked how the Economic and Social Council could be structured differently and framed to perform an integrating role that took on scientific issues within the three pillars of sustainable development.  The United Nations structure could not be changed overnight, but the Council could look at the whole of existing institutional structures to line up how the necessary changes could be introduced.


Speakers took the floor to highlight the need for better coordination among nations and within nations’ ministries to enhance the sustainable development policy agenda, take the agenda beyond discussion to the action stage, and adapt the Economic and Social Council towards that end.  One speaker lamented the loss of the United Nations relevance in development-related decisions. 


Speakers from developing countries asked what financing options were available to them to replace fossil fuels with cleaner energies and called for a more in-depth debate on various renewal energy options, their feasibility, as well as related costs and benefits.  One called for a partnership between farmers, private enterprises and civil society, and asked for guidance on how to help people in rural areas that were dependent on coal and firewood for fuel to make the switch to cleaner energies.  He also pointed to a Bloomberg study that revealed that, from 2006 to 2011, some $90 billion was invested in hydro, thermal, biomass, geothermal and other renewable energy in Latin America.  


One speaker stressed the need for strong social support to underpin sustainable consumption and production patterns.  Another said the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) system was outdated and lopsided, and only promoted a market model, rather than a focus on sustainable energy and food.  The European Union’s delegate shed light on the Union’s new strategy for international research and development cooperation, which linked agriculture, energy, health, climate change and the green economy.  He stressed the need for stronger links between science, policy and decision-making, and for reliable, consistent statistical data in all three sustainable development pillars.


Responding, Ms. ULBÆK said that, to be relevant, the United Nations must have one set of clear, realistic goals.  Integrated policy frameworks were essential to move to a green growth path.  It was important to bring in real people with real issues, and hold the discussions at a high political level.  Mr. OCAMPO said the Economic and Social Council should be responsible for creating a good follow-up mechanism for whatever goals the international community set.  Mr. Noble agreed, saying clear goals and an agenda for action were needed to attract peoples’ attention.


Speaking during the discussion were the representatives of the United Republic of Tanzania, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Morocco, United States, Pakistan, Nicaragua and Nigeria.  A representative from the commons cluster within the NGO major group also spoke.


Session Two


Moderated by Masood Khan (Pakistan), Economic and Social Council Vice-President, the panel, entitled “Scaling up for sustainable development,” explored how science, technology and innovation intersected with sustainable development and could be better used to promote the successful integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development.  It also sought to identify institutional framework and governance arrangements needed at the regional and country levels and specific steps for the Council and its subsidiary bodies to take to effectively promote a balanced integration of the three dimensions.


The panel featured presentations by Florence A. Chenoweth, Minister of Agriculture, Liberia; Hunter Lovins, President, Natural Capitalism; Gary Lawrence, Corporate Vice-President and Chief Sustainability Officer, AECOM Technology Corporation; and Philip Dobie, Senior Fellow, World Agroforestry Centre.  Felix Dodds, former Executive Director, Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future, served as a discussant.


Ms. CHENOWETH said that agriculture could contribute to poverty reduction, employment, and environmental sustainability, and in Liberia, agriculture held the greatest potential to do all of those.  To that end, there must be the successful integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development.  She also stressed the need for sustainable use of natural resources and sound land use, among other things.  Much progress had been made since Liberia had started to rebuild the country that had been totally destroyed by conflict.  The food insecurity level had dropped to 35 per cent last year, from 42 per cent in 2010 and 58 per cent in 2007.  Despite that significant drop, 35 per cent was still a serious problem.


Liberia had become self-sufficient in feeding children in school, as well as in seed production.  “Scaling up efforts works,” she said, stressing that “with additional capacity, we can turn things around.”  Her Government did not have resources, so private-sector investment was vital.  Liberia attracted more than $16 billion in foreign direct investment.  Large investment was needed in agriculture and also to lower energy cost, currently at 57 cents per kilowatt hour.  Regarding reform of the Economic and Social Council, it could strengthen coordination with the Peacebuilding Commission as peacebuilding must be mainstreamed into sustainable development.


Ms. LOVINS said the evidence that sustainability made good business sense was overwhelming.  There were about 45 separate studies from all the large management consulting houses, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and others stating that companies leading in sustainability were outperforming their competitors.  But they were roundly being ignored partly because of the concept of the “triple win” or “triple bottom line”.  In business, there was only one bottom line.  Why then was it that the sustainability leaders were financially better off?  That performance was beginning to be tracked in places like South Africa and Denmark through corporate social responsibility reports.  The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board was also a step in the right direction. 


Some 13 aspects, such as a company’s behaviour around sustainability and the value sustainability added to a company, formed the “integrated bottom line”, she said.  If a company used resources more productively, it cut its costs.  Managing climate and water wisely contributed to profitability.  “If you behave sustainably, you better attract and retain the best talent,” she said, adding, “if you are a more responsible company, you have easier access to capital”.


The energy market was “broken”, she said.  China had accessed solar capacity, but countries like Liberia were not being flooded with it because there were too many subsidies for fossil fuels.  Bringing solar energy to scale meant removing the “perverse” incentives for fossil fuels.  There was talk of integrating civil society, the corporate sector and government at the United Nations and other multilateral forums, and companies were starting to have a legitimate seat at “the table”.  The problem was that the Economic and Social Council and the United Nations had largely been irrelevant.


The economy was very fragile and countries like Liberia were swimming upstream to meet those challenges.  She cited the universal sustainable living plan, by which companies committed themselves to halving their environmental impact by 2020 and to source everything they owned from sustainable agriculture, thus helping to lift 1 billion people out of poverty.  She stressed the need to preferentially source small countries emerging from conflict and in need of solar energy.  Entrepreneurs were the key to food security and to enabling agriculture to become truly sustainable.  Some energy sources favourable to nature were already known, such as “Biochar”, which took carbon out of the air through trees and put it back into the soil. 


Mr. LAWRENCE described how corporations were tackling the issue of sustainable development, such as by seeking ways to reduce costs, save energy, reduce travel miles and deliver products in a most cost effective way.  More importantly, companies were trying to achieve sustainability in supply chains — from manufacturing to distribution of products — and not just in-house.  Companies that genuinely sought to implement those measures would attract and retain the best talent at a time when there was a fierce global competition for talent. 


Regarding the linkages between AECOM Technology Corporation and the topics being discussed today, he said it would be difficult for his company to operate in a country where there were food shortages and social instability.  Global fixes sometimes required a sacrifice of individual liberty for the sake of greater cause.  There was a need to put a positive spin on that notion.  To the business world, it was frustrating that the United Nations had a lot of discussions but few conclusions that could inform actions.  Regarding Economic and Social Council reform, he said the Council should be clear about its purpose and its future vision, consider what it was today as an organization and how different it would be 10 years from now.   


Mr. DOBIE drew attention to the link between agriculture and energy.  Statistics showed that the world must produce more food in next 40 years to feed the planet than it had in the last 40,000.  A simple lesson had been provided by the Poverty Environment Initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) — which provided financial and technical aid to Government partners to set up institutional and capacity-strengthening programmes to mainstream poverty-environment linkages into national development planning:  when approaching finance ministers, environmentalists must not seek a handout; they must present strategies for sustainability as a tool for fulfilling financial goals.  He did not subscribe to the “triple win” concept.  Agriculture was not a sector in itself.  Achieving food security involved many sectors, not just agriculture.  A sustainable future depended on how “productive landscapes” were managed.


In Africa and many parts of the developing world, many people depended on wood and charcoal for fuel, he said.  Energy from trees had been discarded as something backward and dangerous.  But that was not true.  Finland generated more electrical power from forest waste than the entire energy generation of Kenya.  Today, over 50 per cent of farms worldwide had more than 40 per cent tree cover.  Trees were a highly abundant renewable resource; they needed help from scientists to grow short-rotation tree crops.  Trees were also natural photosynthetic factories.  It could take nature 200 years to create one meter of soil, he said, stressing the need to have zero net land degradation.  The World Agroforestry Centre, with support from Ireland’s Government, was helping to manage an agro-forestry food programme in Malawi, focusing on that country’s national priorities.


As for the Economic and Social Council, the problem was that it had not included an environmental component when it was formed and it had been hamstrung ever since, he said.  In light of the talk today about how to bridge science and policy, the Council should hire more scientists, listen to them and bridge those gaps. 


Mr. DODDS summarized several key points of today’s discussion, highlighting financing for sustainable development, issues related to urbanization, climate change, increased demand for energy and water, and the complexities involved in those linkages.  He also discussed the topic of natural capital accounting while underscoring the failure of reaching agreement on a global reporting mechanism during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio last year. 


He also described how science, technology and innovation could change society.  The impact of a three-dimensional “3-D” printer on manufacturing in China, for example, or the downloading of lessons through iTunes on education would be huge.  Cuba, he noted, offered the best example of promoting urban agriculture in a very difficult economic condition.


During the ensuing interactive discussion, panellists were asked to address several questions relating mainly to food production, diffusion of technology and the nexus between investment and trade.


The representative of India noted that there was enough food to feed the world’s 7 billion people, but the problem was that tons were wasted.  He wondered, therefore, if there really was a need to increase food production, as some panellists had indicated.


A speaker stressed that the Council should address the use of information and communications technology in promoting sustainable development, proposing the use of diasporas in diffusing technology and innovation from the developed world, such as Europe and the United States, to the developing world.


Ms. LOVINS agreed, describing how technology could empower rural communities.  Use of solar power in a poor community enabled people there to be connected with the rest of the world through the use of computers and satellite uplinks.  Mr. DOBIE said food production needed to increase to support the growing world’s population. 


Mr. LAWRENCE, responding to a question about the nexus between investment and trade, said his company went to the markets in Africa where investment capital was scarce.  Even though market conditions were not ripe, AECOM Technology Corporation invested some capital upfront because there was no need to recoup the money immediately.  But eventually, it must recoup investment for shareholders, because a company was not a non-profit organization, but a for-profit entity.  It was always challenging to deliver profit, expertise and political well-being at the same time, he added.


A delegate of Honduras, participating in the meeting as an observer, sought advice from panellists on ways to get out of underdevelopment.  In response, Ms. CHENOWETH said that a land tenure system could help Honduras farmers as it had helped Liberia.  Once farmers had an official paper, they took ownership of effective land use.  For instance, they started making such deals as importing seeds and paying back with a portion of harvests.


Bolivia’s representative stressed the importance of tapping the ancestral knowledge of indigenous people, who were directly connected to nature and agriculture.  They knew how to take advantage of land.   Bolivia was promoting the International Year of Quinoa.


Ms. LOVINS cautioned that companies could come to the communities of indigenous people, steal their knowledge and patent it. The Economic and Social Council should give serious consideration to Bhutan’s approach to run the economy based on “gross domestic happiness”. 


Also speaking in the debate were the observers of Tenure and Ecology, ITC and Commons Cluster.


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