DESA News Vol. 12, No. 07 July 2008


Going green at country levelGoing green at country level

National voluntary reports to ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review suggest increasing concern for sustainable development and environmental protection

A major achievement of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development was to bring balance to the triangle of economic, social and environmental development policy and to treat the three dimensions together. Sustainable development means taking an integrated approach to the achievement of all eight Millennium Development Goals, including goal seven of environmental sustainability. On 2 and 3 July, the Annual Ministerial Review of the Economic and Social Council will focus on three aspects of sustainable development – progress towards the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, integration of MDG number seven on environmental sustainability with the other goals, and consensus-building at the national level.

DESA Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang describes the Annual Ministerial Review as “the development implementation ‘ARM’ of the United Nations, where “A” stands for accountability “R” for review and renewal of commitments, and “M” for mobilizing and maintaining the momentum.” He adds that the AMR needs to “lay the foundation for promoting accountability, ensuring review and renewal of commitments, and mobilizing and maintaining the momentum for timely realization of the UN development agenda.”

At this year’s AMR, ministers from four developing countries, Chile, Kazakhstan, Tanzania and Lao People’s Democratic Republic and four industrial countries Belgium, Finland, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom will provide an assessment, through voluntary presentations, of their progress towards the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the millennium development goals, particularly as regards sustainable development. The presentations will be based on their respective national development strategy or policies and their implementation. The available national reports and official public information about these countries reveal numerous lessons learned and good practices that are of interest to all development practitioners.

Chile: strong economic performance

A developing economy now applying for membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Chile remains a strong economic performer. Exemplary macroeconomic management continues to deliver robust public finances and low, albeit recently rising, inflation. Chile has become the first country in Latin America to halve extreme poverty. Chile’s anti-poverty gains are the result of a series of structural and social reforms that led to a consensus among citizens and a wide cross-section of political sectors in favour of increased social spending, with much of it aimed at the poorest of the poor.

Such reforms have been made possible by steady increases in Chile’s per-capita income, which more than doubled between 1990 and 2005. Chile is an emerging donor and facilitator of triangular cooperation. Persistent challenges in Chile include gender inequalities, low average incomes, and an exchange rate that has not favoured value-added in exports.

Environmental policy innovations in Chile include a law on mining royalties which imposes a levy on copper mining operations to feed a national fund to finance science and technology and research to contribute to the diversification of the economy away from extraction, preparing for the time when the copper deposits are depleted. Remaining environmental challenges include strengthening environmental institutions to allow enforcement of legislation, protecting forest and marine areas and their biodiversity, and promoting efficient energy use.

Tanzania: focus on agriculture and forestry

Tanzania’s Vision 2025 plan describes a society free from abject poverty by the year 2025 and a middle-income semi-industrialized economy with high productivity agriculture that manages its natural resources sustainably, particularly its biodiversity. Tanzania has achieved average growth rates of 7 percent in recent years, close to the 8 percent recommended for achieving the MDGs.

Tanzania is particularly concerned with its dwindling forest cover and growing use of wood fuel. The country launched a national tree planting campaign, with 83 million trees planted in 2002 and an additional 48 million in 2003. Tanzania has passed several exemplary environmental laws and regulations. However, enforcement of regulations, particularly on forestry, remains a major challenge. The country is on track to meet its water and sanitation MDGs by 2015, but needs still to ensure full community participation in water and sanitation projects. The government has improved the urban environment by increasing the security of urban land tenure, raising awareness about land rights and creating mortgageable land rights.

As a favoured partner of donors for decades, Tanzania has accumulated six lessons from its long and deep aid relationships. National ownership of projects needs to be ensured. Defining and utilizing policy space takes time and should involve a wide array of national actors. Firmness in sticking to established objectives and benchmarks needs to be balanced with flexibility in the implementation of programmes. Donors should be required to practice a measure of self coordination so as not to overburden national authorities. Finally, national authorities need to build a clear exit strategy for assistance to avoid aid dependence.

Lao People’s Democratic Republic: empty forest syndrome

Development plans in Lao PDR have stressed poverty eradication, health, education, gender equity and sustainable development. Fuelled by strong economic growth, the country has made swift strides towards the MDGs. Poverty declined from 46 percent in 1992 to 28.7 percent in 2006. Literacy has doubled over the same period from 31 to 58 percent. Under-five infant mortality fell from 170 to 98 per 1000 live births from 1995 to 2005. Lao PDR is on track to meet the first MDG of halving poverty by 2015 but is concerned with maintaining high economic growth which is what permits poverty alleviation.

Lao PDR recognizes as its greatest environmental challenge avoiding the disappearance of all forests by 2070, in the absence of countervailing policies and measures. Widespread use of fuel wood, unsustainable logging and slash-and-burn farming have led to the dwindling of the forest cover from 70 percent in 1942 to 64 percent in 1960s and 42 percent in 2002. The country suffers from empty forest syndrome, where wildlife is disappearing wherever forests are exploited. Lack of access to many forested areas of the country has served to protect them.

Among the successful sustainable development approaches are a comprehensive Environmental Protection Law (1999) and a subsequent Implementation Decree (2002). The Environmental Protection Law includes guidelines for the protection, damage mitigation and restoration of the environment and guidelines for environmental management and monitoring. An amended Forest Law (2007) foresees sustainable forest management and a Wildlife Law provides for biodiversity conservation. The body of environmental legislation is now quite extensive, but a remaining challenge is implementation and enforcement. Capacity building for implementation and enforcement is the main focus of future government efforts in sustainable development. Since 2006, Lao PDR has brought about a tree planting boom, through major foreign direct investment in sustainable forestry, and some 146,000 ha have now been reforested.

Kazakhstan: rural development

Rural development and water and sanitation are among Kazakhstan’s most acute sustainable development challenges. The majority of Kazakhstan’s poor live in rural areas. Many rural settlements have practically become isolated communities, lacking access to adequate health, education or cultural services and public transportation to other settlements. Kazakhstan now seeks to achieve by 2020 a significant improvement in the lives of its rural population. Migration from rural territories is leading to the growth of slums around large cities. The State Programme on Development of Rural Territories for 2004-2010 is a response to the rural development crisis and aims to create adequate living conditions for the rural population through the optimization of rural settlements. Once fully implemented, the programme is expected to reduce significantly further migration from rural to urban areas.

Ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a pressing need. Only 48.1percent of people in Kazakhstan had access to sewerage in 2004, including 73.7 percent in the cities and 4.3 percent in rural areas. Compared to 1999 (73.9 percent and 10.4percent, respectively), the situation seems to be worsening, especially in rural areas. Weak environmental management and lack of investment in water and sanitary systems has allowed many sources of water to become polluted. Accordingly, the Drinking Water program for 2002-2010, the State Programme on Development of Rural Territories for 2004-2010, and a number of regional programs that envisage construction and repair of water supply structures have been developed. The Drinking Water program addresses such issues as restoration and enhancement of water supply systems, improvement of water quality, rational use of drinking water, development of new and alternative water sources and water supply options, reorganization of water extraction and supply management.

Belgium: regular sustainable development plans

Since UNCED in 1992, Belgium has produced four five-year federal sustainable development plans. The plans were prepared by the Federal Planning Bureau and then submitted to the Federal Council for Sustainable Development, which has the involvement of all central and sectoral ministries, and then to the parliament for its approval. Every two years, the implementation of the sustainable development plan is evaluated in an interim report.

Belgium’s exemplary 1999 law on development cooperation makes sustainable development the priority objective of its official development assistance. Aid focuses on five sectors – basic health, education and training, agriculture and food security, basic infrastructure, and prevention of conflict - with a respect for human rights and basic freedoms. Belgium has increased ODA from 0.46 percent of its gross national income in 1990 to 0.53 percent in 2005.

The 2005 peer review of Belgian cooperation by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recognized that Belgium has, since 2001, introduced administrative reforms and taken measures enabling it to adapt to the new international context regarding development cooperation. Success stories include the creation of a legal framework to allocate 0.7 percent of gross national income to ODA by 2010 and better geographical concentration of aid. The peer review concluded that Belgium should consolidate the reforms achieved and develop a more strategic approach to the different aid players and ensure sufficient human resources to service its growing development cooperation programmes.

Finland: increasing emphasis on environment

Finland’s development cooperation policy is based on sustainable development goals, the MDGs and takes into account partner country national objectives as well as other internationally-agreed development goals. In 2007, Finland’s ODA represented 0.40 percent of its gross national income. The government’s goal is to reach 0.51 percent by 2010 and 0.7 percent by 2015. Finland had once previously reached the 0.7 percent goal in 1991 but tight fiscal policies ahead of its European Union entry had led to cuts in subsequent aid budgets.

In response to MDG number eight, international partnerships for development, and to the Monterrey Consensus, Finland’s Development Policy Programme stresses comprehensive finance for development, including partnerships for development and private sector investment. Finland has established a high-profile multistakeholder commission for sustainable development and systematic policy work to promote all dimensions of sustainability. Finland’s success in promoting sustainability at home and in its partnerships abroad is the strong multi-stakeholder process, involving civil society, the private sector and numerous other interest groups.

The 2007 OECD/DAC peer review showed Finland to be a committed development co-operation actor that works closely with the EU, the Nordic and other like-minded countries and generally adheres to international best practice. Finland has clearly defined priorities in its new development policy with an increased focus on environment and climate change, crisis prevention and support for peace processes. It is also a keen proponent of policy coherence for development; is making progress in concentrating its aid and is committed to the aid effectiveness agenda including through country ownership, alignment, harmonisation, division of labour and joint donor efforts. It has an active policy on multilateral development agencies.

Among challenges that the peer review identified included making progress towards its 0.7 percent of GNI commitment, making sure its policy coherence for development and aid effectiveness policies bring real results, and ensuring that development policy-related activities are properly resourced and efficiently organised.

United Kingdom: golden age of aid growth

The UK is committed to sustainable development through its development cooperation programme, helping countries balance economic, social and environmental objectives. The 2005 sustainable development strategy sets out the country’s key commitments in international cooperation for sustainable development and poverty eradication The UK’s 2006 Third White Paper on development cooperation also places sustainable development at the centre of policies and priorities for 2006-2011. UK aid programmes focus on direct contributions to environmental management, tacking underlying factors and facing climate change. The UK’s ODA has nearly doubled from 0.24 percent of GNI in 1990 to 0.47 percent in 2005. The UK has committed to reach the 0.7 percent target by 2013.

The 2006 OECD/DAC peer review shows that its coherent and well organized approach to development co-operation has permitted the UK to make good progress, including substantial movement towards the target of 0.7 percent, a sharper focus on poverty, a stronger framework for efforts of government-wide policy coherence, a proactive collaboration with other donors and improved operational guidelines, headquarters-field relationships, and systems of monitoring and evaluation. The UK aid programme has gone through a “golden age” of growth and achievement since 1997.

As remaining challenges, the peer review recognized the need to consolidate those achievements and prepare for the next growth phase, when performance scrutiny will intensify, both domestically and internationally. Other challenges identified included developing a more comprehensive roadmap over time on how ODA increases will be spent, including the geographic priorities, the set of delivery instruments, the balance between main areas for intervention, as well as between bilateral and multilateral channels.

Luxembourg: ODA at 0.9 percent of GNI

Luxembourg’s development cooperation policy concentrates geographically on ten countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and sectorally on infrastructure in education, health, and water and sanitation. In so doing, the country seeks synergies between its bilateral and multilateral assistance. The 2008 OECD/DAC peer review shows that Luxembourg is a generous and committed donor. Its aid rose from 0.31 percent in 1990 to 0.90 percent of GNI in 2007, making Luxembourg the third most generous donor in percentage terms. Every year since 2000 Luxembourg has achieved a ratio of at least 0.7 percent. It has also promoted international efforts to strengthen the quality and increase the volume of aid. Luxembourg has improved the management of its aid programme, with an efficient use of financial and human resources.

Luxembourg has opened regional offices in five priority countries and is translating its international commitments into practice. Its second generation of multi-year co-operation programmes with ten priority countries makes aid more predictable. Luxembourg’s ambitious programme is coherent and well structured. Aid allocations are concentrated and aligned to the expressed needs of a few priority least developed countries. It also works with a small number of multilateral organisations which share Luxembourg’s aid objectives. Its record in implementing humanitarian assistance is exemplary in many respects and follows the lines of internationally agreed principles.

Luxembourg’s developing country partners appreciate the open and flexible manner in which it engages in policy dialogue and implements its aid programme. The peer review recognized some of the Grand Duchy’s continuing challenges in implementing its aid effectiveness agenda: making further use of partner country administrative systems, co-operating in new ways with other donors, ensuring the necessary human resources and expertise for development cooperation and enhancing the Development Co-operation Directorate as a learning organization.

Solidarity transfer in a shared world

The 2008 AMR is the first of its kind involving on an equal footing developing and industrial countries and symbolizes the global partnership for development enshrined in the international development goals. The AMR brings out the dual responsibility of developed and developing countries in realizing sustainable development. It recalls the interconnectedness of all countries and the importance of development aid as a solidarity transfer mechanism in a shared world.

The four industrial countries are active, committed and, in different ways, innovative donors. All four have made significant strides towards the 0.7 percent of GNI goal, have concentrated their aid geographically and sectorally and are making sustainable development a unifying theme for development cooperation, guided by multistakeholder consultations as well as by sustainable development strategies for their own economies. Finland reaffirms the importance of partner country national development objectives and the broader international development goals in addition to the MDGs in guiding its aid programmes. They are all faced with the challenge of ensuring adequate human resources and structures to handle their growing aid programmes.

The four developing countries, representing four major regions of the South, present several innovative policies for sustainable development. Their experience reveals that strong growth is essential to meeting the poverty MDG, social investment rather than assistance should be undertaken, and that beyond robust environmental legislation, effective capacity must be built for implementing and enforcing environmental objectives. Tanzania’s experience highlights the importance of national ownership, donor self–coordination, and concrete exit strategies to prevent aid dependence. This AMR shows that both developed and developing countries share a common responsibility for global sustainable development, and that their roles and responsibilities, while different, are highly complementary.

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Help from forests on global warmingHelp from forests on global warming

Costa Rica, India, Congo basin offer lessons on reducing emissions from deforestation and ecosystem degradation

As climate change moves to the top of the global agenda, world attention is returning to the role forests play in moderating atmospheric conditions. Perspectives on forests vary among different groups of countries. Mega-diverse developing countries – those with large tropical forests and the bulk of the world’s flora and fauna – see forests on their sovereign territory as a source of livelihoods for current and future generations. Industrialized countries, meanwhile, rely on raw materials and biodiversity from forests for production while using forests as carbon sinks to offset greenhouse gas emissions. The forest product industry is a source of economic growth and employment with trade in this sector on the order of $270 billion.

With its universal membership and equal voice for all countries, the United Nations serves as the ideal neutral space to bring about consensus among all countries on the sensitive subjects of sustainable forest management and climate change. DESA lends analytical and normative support to this consensus building through its secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Forests. The adoption of the comprehensive non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests in April 2007 represents a landmark in the Secretariat’s work and the crowning of some fifteen years of negotiations. It was the first time states have agreed to an international instrument for sustainable forest management. Forum Chair, Hans Hoogeveen, hailed the agreement as an outstanding achievement and said it ushered in a new chapter in forest management. In Mr. Hoogeveen’s words, the livelihoods of over a billion of the world’s poor are at stake: “We have only one planet to share, and we must ensure its health and sustainability.”

The new agreement, although not legally binding, sets a standard in sustainable forest management that is expected to have a major impact on international cooperation and national action to reduce deforestation, prevent forest degradation, promote sustainable livelihoods and reduce poverty for all forest-dependent peoples. For years countries debated whether to negotiate a formal treaty or a non-legally binding instrument on forest management. But many developing countries with significant forest cover objected to any action that would compromise their sovereignty or control over their natural resources.

The resulting agreement is considered a reflection of a strong international commitment to promote on the ground implementation of sustainable forest management through a new, more holistic approach that brings all stakeholders together. In addition, the agreement is expected to reinforce practical measures at the country-level to integrate forests more closely with other government policies. The challenge is enormous as only some 12 percent of the world’s tropical forests are under sustainable forest management.

Another area of disagreement that has long plagued forest negotiations concerns a financing mechanism to mobilize funding for sustainable forest management. The agreement calls on countries to adopt, by 2009, a voluntary global financing mechanism for forest management.

The current challenge – as countries work towards achieving a new 2012 climate framework in Copenhagen in 2009 – is to ensure that forests are part of the climate change governance equation in such a way that respects the interests of all stakeholders, particularly those of countries that are home to the forests, but also the interests of future generations of all mankind who will depend on the biodiversity and carbon sink capabilities of the world’s forests in order to survive. Forests are both a sovereign national resource as well as a global public good. Reconciling their dual nature to the satisfaction of all countries is a task that only the United Nations can address. Countries with significant forests are keenly conscious of and often refer to the dual role of forests. Alongside their commitment to the livelihoods of their forest populations, they are also conscious of the trust for all humankind inherent in the carbon sinks that tropical forests represent.

A magnificent storehouse of carbon

Seen as a global public good, forests are a magnificent storehouse for carbon. Trees are made up largely of carbon. Felling them releases the carbon into the atmosphere particularly if they are burned. Additionally, as the cut organic matter decays it slowly releases more carbon. Conversely, growing new trees captures carbon. The world's forests and forest soils store more than one trillion tons of carbon – twice the amount found in the atmosphere. Current estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Food and Agriculture Organization reveal that 13 million hectares of the world's forests are lost to deforestation every year, which contribute some 5.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year – between 17 and 20 percent of total greenhouse emissions.

The IPCC also concluded that reducing or preventing deforestation is the mitigation option with the largest and most immediate carbon stock impact in the short term per hectare and per year globally as the release of carbon as emissions into the atmosphere is prevented. The methodologies to measure the carbon cycle from forests are still being perfected and there are still significant uncertainties in the measurement of carbon stocks and flows.

To address these methodological challenges, a workshop in Tokyo held from 25 to 27 June, was devoted to reducing emissions from deforestation and ecosystem degradation. The event was organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat, which through its Executive Secretary, Yvo de Boer, reports to DESA Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang. Methodological issues addressed at the workshop included demonstration of reductions in emissions from deforestation, reference emissions levels, estimation and demonstration of reductions in emissions from forest degradation, and implications of national and subnational approaches and related displacement of emissions. Participants also shared best practices and lessons learned in emissions reduction policies from around the world that can lead to better management of the carbon cycle from forests through combined global and national actions.

Lessons from Costa Rica, India, Congo

Methodologies for measuring emissions reduction range from the simplest and least expensive, which merely rely on the approximate data for countries from the IPCC studies, to more sophisticated systems involving elaborate ground monitoring, surveys and high definition remote sensing and computer models. Successful policies for emissions reduction include a historical analysis of the drivers of deforestation and active measures to counteract them.

The experience of Costa Rica in achieving emissions reduction is particularly remarkable. Forest cover had declined from 75 percent of total land area in 1940 to 21 percent by 1987. A series of policy measures in the 1990s, particularly following the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development in 1992, led to the regrowth of forest cover to an impressive 51 percent by 2005. Costa Rica achieved this through a national timber production policy, a policy to promote ecotourism, a programme of payment for forestry services, decreasing cattle ranching. Six lessons emerge from the Costa Rican experience: the importance of a strong institutional and enforcement mechanism, monitoring and transparency, the need for long-term financing mechanism, basing investment priorities on scientific studies and clear national policy, the need for international finance to contribute to global goals, and the need for finance for maintaining current carbon stocks as well as for unmet demand for forest services.

India pioneered in 1987 a fully operational system for monitoring forest cover using high-definition satellite data plus physical verification and measurement called “ground truthing” – the first of its kind in the world. The country also has developed an innovative and more accurate approach to estimating carbon stocks including biomass carbon and soil organic carbon through a comprehensive forest-related emissions reduction mechanism. Using these methodologies, India has successfully estimated its stored forest carbon stocks at 8.7 billion tons of carbon in 2005 and projects these to rise to 9.75 billion tons in 2030. By a series of policies, the corresponding land area forested has increased from a little over 63 million hectares in 1997 to slightly below 68 million in 2005. By 2030, India estimates that its total forest area will increase to just under 75 million hectares.

The countries of the Congo basin are home to the second lung of the world, the largest tropical forest after the Amazon covering 200 million hectares, 20 percent of the world’s tropical forests and 45 percent of African forests. Based on the more approximate IPCC data, rather than a comprehensive measurement system, the current total stored above-ground carbon stock of the Congo subregion – excluding soil organic carbon – is some 9 billion tons. The armed conflicts of the region place the fauna and flora of these forests at serious risk. Various private investors, therefore, propose to invest in a more robust carbon cycle monitoring system to assist countries of the Congo basin in combating emissions. The enforcement of existing forestry laws will be the remaining challenge, particularly in the large conflict areas that lie outside government control.

Moving forward

The results of the Tokyo workshop will feed into the preparatory process leading up to the new climate agreement at the 16th Conference of Parties of UNFCCC in Copenhagen in December 2009. Additionally, in April 2009, the eighth meeting of the Forum will inform this process by focusing on forests in a changing environment, forests and climate change, reversing the loss of forest cover, preventing forest degradation and biodiversity conservation. In examining the means of implementation for sustainable forest management, the Forum is expected to decide on a voluntary global financial mechanism or a portfolio approach to financing or a forest financing framework.

Sustainable forest management, including reducing emissions from deforestation and destruction of forests, has a significant contribution to make to slow global warming. As Sha Zukang points out, slowing global warming will call for an integrated approach involving afforestation and reforestation, re-vegetation, increased soil carbon capture, water and soil conservation, biodiversity preservation, and environmental protection. “Only by acting in partnership can we achieve synergetic results of all three Rio Conventions – the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Convention on Biological Diversity and UN Convention to Combat Desertification.”

At the same time, the renewed focus on forestry and land use changes in climate talks should, of course, not detract from global and national efforts, particularly in developed nations, aimed at controlling the bulk of carbon emissions that emerge from industrial and other processes that only the adoption of more sustainable consumption and production patterns as foreseen in Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, the Kyoto Protocol and other sustainable development instruments can bring about.

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Development Cooperation Forum: Inclusive participation and broad ownership

Development Cooperation Forum: Inclusive participation and broad ownership

Speaking at the opening of the first Development Cooperation Forum in New York on 30 June, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Thomas Stelzer, said that the Forum would have a special niche in both form – through its inclusive participation and broad ownership – and function, adding that all stakeholders should take full advantage of the rich set of views and perspectives on offer. Mr. Stelzer was delivering a statement on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

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