Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Second Committee of the General Assembly on the Item “Sustainable Development”
New York, 2 November 2009

Distinguished delegates,

It is my pleasure to be invited to this session introducing the agenda item on Sustainable Development. The need for us to find a more sustainable path to development has never been more urgent. Only an integrated approach to addressing the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development will ensure progress in addressing the multiple international crises we face.

The world economy remains crippled by global recession, with global unemployment exceeding 6 percent. Up to 100 more million people will fall below the poverty line than expected prior to the crisis. Fluctuations in food access and availability – made worse by the current financial crisis – have negatively impacted the poorest and most vulnerable groups. Hunger and extreme poverty remain the reality for many in developing countries. And great disparities in access to resources and opportunities persist between rich and poor countries. These circumstances describe a global landscape of inequality, which remains a fundamental obstacle to sustainable development.

Climate changes compounds these challenges and must be effectively addressed as an urgent priority. As the final phase of the Copenhagen UNFCCC negotiations draws near, we are aware of what is at stake.

A comprehensive global response to climate change demands intensified engagement in adaptation and mitigation measures, using appropriate technologies. This will require substantial investment of resources. Adaptation to climate change in developing countries alone is estimated to cost some $100 billion per year for the next 40 years. We cannot afford to let the financial crisis impede our response to climate change. Expanded use of renewable sources of energy should become an integral part of the core mitigation strategies. I will return to this point in a moment.

The increased frequency and intensity of weather events is one example of the broader related impact of climate change. The past year saw more than 343 natural disasters, ranging from drought to hurricanes and floods, affecting more than 42 million people, and causing economic damage in excess of $57 billion. The recurrence and impact of disasters clearly slow growth and development, undermining efforts to alleviate poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Again, the very poor and most vulnerable are disproportionately affected. More concerted attention must be paid to disaster risk reduction – such as through implementation of the Hyogo Framework and the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction – in tandem with shaping strategies for climate change adaptation.

Our planet faces an unprecedented loss of biodiversity and increased environmental degradation. The world’s ecosystems are under heightened pressure to meet the demands of expanding populations. Declining forest cover and increasing soil degradation has negatively impacted the livelihoods of local communities that depend on forest and mountain ecosystems for subsistence. It is absolutely essential that we conserve, enhance and restore key ecosystems through sustainable management and prudent use of biodiversity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The convergence of crises demands a cohesive and collective response that would set a sound foundation for shared growth and sustainable development. Our challenge is to move toward more sustainable patterns of consumption and production. This will require providing incentives and financing to promote low-carbon green growth and facilitate the adoption of sustainable lifestyles.

Supporting international efforts towards transformation to a Global Green Economy is an initiative to which the wider United Nations system is committed. We are convinced that such a strategy is necessary to promote a sustainable global economic recovery, while enhancing food security and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The very same strategy offers the international community to way to address climate change, and thus work toward reversing its negative impact on biodiversity and fragile ecosystems.

This ambitious, yet essential approach will require substantial investment in renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies, sustainable agriculture and sustainable management of natural resources. It will require investing in training and education in new job skills, while expanding employment. It will require promoting income and economic growth, while simultaneously forging ahead in mitigation and adaptation to climate change. And its success will depend also on the delivery of substantial assistance to developing countries through capacity development and the transfer of knowledge and technology. Encouraging and supporting green investments now is the only way toward a future of greener economies.

Distinguished delegates,

We have a shared responsibility to provide solutions that ensure the economic and social well-being of our peoples and preserve the quality of the natural environment. The importance of maintaining and enhancing participatory action through partnerships – another hallmark of sustainable development – cannot be overstated. We must engage civil society and the private sector, and work together with local and indigenous communities to address the full range of sustainable development challenges.

We, the representatives of the United Nations system, will continue to play our part in supporting the sustainable development efforts of the international community through research and analysis, normative and policy support for intergovernmental processes, technical assistance and support for capacity building.

Yet, the achievement of sustainable development requires political will, commitment to strengthen national and regional institutions for effective governance, resilient development institutions, and a collective resolve to pursue meaningful international cooperation. Let all of us renew our pledge to connect these efforts, and to work together to make sustainable development a truly attainable objective for the benefit of the global community.

Thank you.