World must tackle over-consumption of energy, resources, UN panel chair warns

UN Commission on Sustainable Development Chairman Luis Alberto Ferraté Felice

6 May 2010 – The world is consuming too much energy and materials to sustain itself and the global community must summon the political will to tackle a whole raft of challenges, from mineral extraction to waste recycling to the more than 200 toxic chemicals entering the blood of foetuses, the head of a United Nations commission warned today.

The central question is “how to achieve green and equitable growth and development for a growing population through better management of materials,” UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) Chairman Luis Alberto Ferraté Felice told a news conference in New York “More specifically, how can we de-couple development from resource use?”

The Commission is currently holding its 18th session amid growing concerns that present consumer-oriented trends have potentially damaging effects on ecosystems, climate, food and water supplies and human health. It will review ways to assist countries come up with environmentally-friendly technologies and help corporations to develop greener business models, and consumers to adopt lifestyles that are more sustainable.

Mr. Ferraté, who is Guatemala’s Environment and Natural Resources Minister, said the CSD had started a new two-year cycle reviewing five major themes – mining, chemicals, transport, a 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, and waste management.

“These five themes come together to form what we call the ‘materials cycle’ that starts with the excavation of minerals and other natural resources to their transformation into goods and services to their final processing and recycling as wastes,” he added.

“Quite simply, the world is consuming too much energy and materials,” he said, noting that while over-consumption occurs largely in the developed world and parts of the emerging and developing worlds, over 1 billion people suffer from under-consumption, including of basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter.

“Here is an example of the inequality in consumption: the 20 per cent of the population in the highest-income countries accounted for 77 per cent of total private consumption in 2005, while the poorest 20 accounted for only 1.3 per cent,” he stressed. “This CSD cycle must address both over- and under-consumption around the world.”

Among other concrete challenges he cited the volume of municipal solid waste that in 2006 was estimated to be 2 billion tons globally and is currently increasing by 8 per cent per year.

“When it comes to chemical management, we now know that babies are coming into this world with over 200 toxic chemicals in their blood,” he said. “CSD’s first task is to assess where we are today, identify what has been done and where policy action is still needed.”

On specific issues such as biofuels, the green economy, or payment for ecosystem services, CSD allows consensus outcomes to be woven out of the threads of diverse positions. “No other forum integrates economic, social and environmental dimensions of the materials cycle from such a range of countries and major groups as does CSD,” Mr. Ferraté said.

“CSD will help mobilize the political will and forge partnerships needed to accelerate the implementation of decisions,” he added, noting that next week’s high-level segment is intended precisely to build such political will.


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