COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT BEGINS FIFTH SESSION MEETING AS PREPARATORY BODY FOR ASSEMBLY'S REVIEW OF AGENDA 2119970408
The Commission on Sustainable Development must propose clear goals and targets within the agreed framework of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), as well as specific recommendations to the General Assembly's special session to review the Rio outcome next June, the newly elected Chairman told the Commission this morning as it began its three-week fifth session -- during which it will function as a preparatory and negotiating body for the Assembly session.
Mostafa Tolba (Eygpt) said the current one would be different from previous sessions since the Commission had a mandate to assess and review everything that had and had not been achieved in the context of the outcome of Rio. Stressing that its recommendations should represent a consensus view, he recalled that the Commission would also have to define its role in the years ahead.
Speaking on behalf on the Under-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, the Director of the Division for Sustainable Development, Joke Waller-Hunter, said the Commission should send a document to the special session that provided solutions. It should go beyond diagnosis to prognosis and set out practical, achievable and, if possible, measurable actions for reversing some of the negative trends which were plain for all to see. That document would be an input to the special session which must convey a sense of urgency and reaffirm the highest-level political support for sustainable development, recognizing the interdependence of its economic, social and environmental components, she added.
Addressing the role of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), its Executive Director, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, said that in order to respond effectively to the challenges of the next millennium, the Programme had to become a true "world environment authority" bringing coherence to an increasingly fragmented system of environmental laws and secretariats. The Programme now had a forum for the world's environment ministers which could function as a place to set the world's environmental agenda.
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Mohamed T. El-Ashry, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), said the Facility represented the first and most significant financial accomplishment arising from the Rio summit. It had 160 participating countries and had been designated the interim financial mechanism for the Biological Diversity Convention and the Climate Change Convention, programming more than $1.3 billion in grants to developing countries. It had also leveraged an additional $3.3 billion from bilateral, national, multilateral and private sources.
Introducing the report of the Commission's Ad Hoc Open-ended Intersessional Working Group, Co-Chairman Derek Osborn (United Kingdom) expressed the hope that firm proposals for action and implementation in key areas would emerge from the high-level segment of the current session. He drew attention to the need for renewed efforts to mobilize financial resources and help for developing countries in gaining access to newer cleaner technologies.
Introducing the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests, Co-Chairman Manuel Rodriguez (Colombia) said its work had brought global consensus a long way from Rio. Commitment to negotiate a forest convention could be presented as a major international initiative at the special session in June. However, the Panel was convinced that the most important action for the world community was to continue the process of cooperation and dialogue it had manifested and to ensure that the many practical actions it highlighted did not lose momentum while a debate over a possible convention continued.
At the outset of the meeting, the Commission elected Mr. Tolba (Eygpt) as its Chairman; and Monika Linn-Locher (Switzerland) and John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) as Vice-Chairmen. The election of the other two Vice-Chairmen was postponed.
Also this morning, the Commission heard the introduction of the report of the High-Level Advisory Board on Sustainable Development by its Chairperson, Birgitta Dahl (Sweden). Maurice Strong, in his capacity as chairman of the Earth Council, reported on the Rio + 5 Forum held in Rio de Janeiro in March.
The Commission will meet again at 3 p.m today to begin its high-level segment focusing on the reports of the Intersessional Working Group and the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests.
Commission Work Programme
The Commission on Sustainable Development met this morning to begin its fifth session, scheduled to end on 25 April. The Commission was expected to elect its officers, adopt its agenda and hear opening statements.
During the three-week session the 53-member Commission will function as a preparatory and negotiating body for the General Assembly's nineteenth special session -- to be held in New York from 23 to 27 June -- which will review the implementation of Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (Rio de Janeiro, 1992).
The Commission is scheduled to begin the fifth session with a three-day high-level segment, with ministerial participation, focusing on two reports, one of the Commission's Ad Hoc Open-ended Intersessional Working Group and the other of the Open-ended Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Panel on Forests.
The high-level segment will be followed by two plenary meetings and six days of dialogue sessions with major groups, considered critical to the effective implementation of Agenda 21. During the second and third weeks, drafting groups will negotiate the proposed final draft text on a review and appraisal of Agenda 21's implementation, to be submitted to the special session in June for adoption. (For background information on the fifth session, see Press Release ENV/DEV/406 of 4 April.)
RUMEN GECHEV (Bulgaria), Chairman of the Commission's fourth session, said the landmark Rio summit had made it clear that sustainable development meant a policy framework which called for a balanced, integrated and mutually reinforcing approach to the goals of economic growth, social equity and the protection of the environment. However, occasionally sustainable development was equated to environment or limited to "environmentally-sound development". Therefore, it was essential to reconfirm the concept of sustainable development as it had emanated from Rio.
Transition to sustainable development was a long-term and sometimes difficult process, he said. The increased efficiency along the whole technological chain of production, starting from the extraction of energy sources, ore and non-ore mineral resources, to the manufacturing of the finished product, required wide-scale introduction of new environmentally- friendly non-waste technologies with closed production cycle or minimized harmful emissions. Therefore, the trend to transfer obsolete technologies of low productivity and high-energy and resource intensity from the North to the South was inappropriate. Access to the latest technologies on a global level
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was a prerequisite for overcoming the technological lag and harmonizing the relationship between production and the environment.
The policy of artificial maintenance of low process of energy resources was incompatible with the objectives of sustainable development, he said. The studies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had shown that the efficiency of the elimination of subsidies was seven to eight times higher than the efficiency of penalty taxation in terms of air pollution levels. In the search for non-conventional methods of raising credit resources for environmental purposes, the active involvement of local businesses and non-governmental organizations was important. Partnerships between nations, among international organizations and among branches of governments were crucial for progress towards sustainable development.
MOSTAFA TOLBA (Egypt), following his election as Chairman of the Commission's fifth session, said UNCED had been a landmark in the United Nations mission and work. It was as historical as the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972. The concept of sustainable development was still debatable, even though it had been accepted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) over 17 years ago and further elaborated on by the World Commission on Environment and Development -- the Brundtland Commission, after then Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, who chaired the Commission. That concept, however, was open to different interpretations.
The last five years had not been enough for identifying whether the international community was able to achieve a proper orientation towards sustainable development or not, he said. It had been, however, sufficient time for determining and grouping the areas of sustainable development into those in which the international community was heading in the right direction, those areas where there had been stagnation and those in which there had been regression, as well as the justifications behind the current state of each grouping.
Examples of all three phenomena were many, he said. He cited the challenges posed by problems related to climate change, conservation of biodiversity, combating desertification, declining levels of official development assistance (ODA) to the developing countries especially regarding transfer of technology from the North to the South, protection of the ozone layer, changing consumption patterns, population issues and the alleviation of poverty.
Although there had been positive and negative developments, many issues had become a source of disappointment and frustration since they had not lived up to the hopes and expectations that came out of the Rio Conference, he continued. The work of the Commission's current session would be different
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from its past sessions; it was asked to assess and review everything that had been achieved and what had not been achieved in the context of the Rio outcome. The Commission would also have to define its role in the years ahead.
The Commission had a broader task of proposing specific recommendations to the special session to be held next June, he continued. Its recommendations should represent a consensus view. In that respect, the Commission faced a heavy burden but should reach serious agreements and specific targets that would allow those who would repeat the task in another five years to judge clearly the achievements and the failures. The work of the Commission's Intersessional Working Group had not been an easy task; neither would the Commission's work during the current session be easy.
Noting that Agenda 21 was a general programme of action and included a number of measurable targets, he said he hoped that the Commission's current session would be able to come up with clear goals and targets within the agreed Rio framework. He added that the Commission should reaffirm what had been agreed upon at Rio and the subsequent conferences and move forward many steps beyond what had been reached at that time.
JOKE WALLER HUNTER, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development, of the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, speaking on behalf of the Under Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, said the current session was special because it served as the preparatory committee for the upcoming General Assembly's special session. One could distinguish at least three criteria against which success in achieving sustainable development could be measured in the following manner: whether assessment reflected the urgency of the situation; whether assessment was followed by a unequivocal commitment to concrete action; and whether partnerships had been acknowledged, renewed and strengthened.
The reports before the Commission showed that in many areas progress made was still far from achieving sustainable development, especially in the fields of water and energy, she said. Both were crucial for development and were matters of grave concern. There was a need for far greater urgency in meeting the needs of the least developed countries. It is unacceptable that at the eve of the twenty-first century the international community had to acknowledge developments such as the lack of drinking water and sanitation by billions of people; that by the year 2025 two thirds of the world population would be subject to severe water stress if current developments continued; and that 2 billion people had no access to commercial energy services.
The special session must convey a sense of urgency and reaffirm the highest-level political support for sustainable development, recognizing the
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interdependence of its economic, social and environmental components, she continued. There was a perception that the developmental dimension of that equation sometimes received less than its due share of attention, and the role of the Commission in promoting that developmental dimension should be encouraged. The opportunities for commitment to action were multiple. One of many clear messages that the special session could convey was the need to provide a concrete action-oriented policy response to the looming water crisis and a focus on the implementation of the over 150 action proposals of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests.
Reaffirmation of the financial commitments to developing countries made at Rio, including those on ODA, could be followed by generous replenishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and of the International Development Association -- the World Bank's arm for concessional lending -- later this year, she said. On the issue of partnership, which was key to sustainable development, she said the special session should send a firm message to all parts of the United Nations system, stressing the need for partnerships for sustainable development at the national, regional and global levels. A similarly strong message should be sent to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization. Coming from the highest political level, it would underline that governments were consistent in their follow-up to the commitments to sustainable development in all intergovernmental forums. No other single issue was more important than partnership in order to facilitate transfer of environmentally sound technology to developing countries.
She added that the Commission had a unique opportunity to recognize the contribution of the major groups to achieving sustainable development during the scheduled dialogue sessions. National reports and relevant background papers provided a good overview of measures undertaken and progress across sectors and issues; they also provided a valuable means of sharing information and a basis for coordinated action. The Commission, however, should take the first steps in the process of streamlining national reporting procedures in the context of Agenda 21 and related agreements.
It was critical that the special session sent a clear message not just about what had gone well but about the critical, priority problems the world community still faced and what could, and should, be done about them, she said. It must renew a sense of urgency and provide a sense of hope and possibility. Such a message could not be developed in just one week in June, so it was up to the Commission's current session to reach agreement on a clear outcome. Noting that there was an abundance of analysis available to the Commission and a good consensus about many of the issues, she said what was essential was to send a document to the Assembly's session which focused on solutions. It should go beyond diagnosis to prognosis and set out practical,
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achievable and, if possible, measurable actions for reversing some of the negative trends which were plain for all to see.
DEREK OSBORN (United Kingdom), Co-Chairman of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Intersessional Working Group of the Commission, presented the report of the group. He said the group had met in New York for two weeks at the end of February and the beginning of March. He had acted as its Co-Chairman along with Celso Amorim of Brazil. The group's task had been to conduct the first stage of review of progress on sustainable development since the Environment and Development Rio Conference. In the light of the discussion, the two co- chairs had been asked to produce a chairman's text which might form the basis for further discussion at the present meeting.
The text that the co-chairs had issued at the end of the intersessional meeting was now available in all languages, he said. He hoped that it would prove a useful starting point for negotiations. He expressed the hope that there were many who would see the need, widely expressed during the intersessional gatherings, for strengthening the text at many places with more positive initiatives and commitments. Since at the high-level segment, beginning this afternoon, ministers and other senior decision makers would be present, it was hoped that some firm proposals for action and implementation in the key areas would emerge.
Since the intersessional meetings the co-chairs had also worked further to prepare a short draft of a more political preamble to the longer text, he said. It had been drafted in the format of a personal and political commitment, which it was hoped the heads of governments and others present at the special session would wish to make. Therefore, the two reports should be read as one. At the core of the intersessional work had been the assessment of progress on sustainable development since Rio. On the ground, progress had been limited and on many matters things were still going in the wrong direction. In the poorest countries environmental degradation associated with poverty had continued to spread and in the developed countries the patterns of production and consumption continued to place a growing burden on the environment.
Therefore, the need for new patterns of behaviour and new policy approaches was as urgent now as it was at Rio, he said. There was a growing awareness of the problems and of the need for change, which was an encouraging sign. To that end, the review process should be used to galvanize the world into more vigorous action at all levels. Among the areas requiring urgent attention were poverty, problems of freshwater resources, of oceans and of energy. The separate stream of work on forestry was also important. There was an acute need to draw attention to the need for renewed efforts to mobilize financial resources and help for developing countries in gaining access to newer cleaner technologies.
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It had been strongly urged at the intersessional meetings that levels of ODA needed to be increased, that GEF needed substantial replenishment, that initiatives for debt relief needed to be taken further, that private sector capital flows needed to pay more attention to investment to be sustainable, and that new forms of financial instruments needed to be explored further, he said. He stressed that everything must be done to foster and sustain contribution at all levels of the follow-up to Rio. It was important to remember that while minute alterations to texts were negotiated in New York, the unstoppable flood of sustainable development was already setting in among individuals, groups and communities.
MANUEL RODRIGUEZ (Colombia), a Co-Chairman of the Commission's Intergovernmental Panel on Forests, and speaking also on behalf of the other Co-Chairman, Sir Martin Holdgate (United Kingdom), said the Panel's negotiations had been lengthy and difficult. There were many differences in positions between countries of the North and the South. Differences surfaced even on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities -- one of the basic principles in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. A large number of countries were still far from taking the necessary measures to combat deforestation and forest degradation. International solidarity on those issues showed the need for political will on the part of all countries to cope with the problems of forests. However, the Panel had been a creative and constructive process and had been able to achieve the mandate set by the Commission. Introducing the Panel's report, he said it had been the culmination of two years of dialogue. While it left some important business unfinished, it represented a significant advance in the international discussion on forests and forest-related issues. It had brought global consensus a long way from Rio. The Panel's principal achievements included a constructive, open dialogue; the forging of partnerships and synthesis of vast amounts of information; the mobilization of the rich expertise available in seven international organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); and the demonstration that the world needed a continuation of the process begun by the Panel. Outlining the range of proposals for action set out in the report, he said they were all areas in which more needed to be done. They required research, the sharing of technology as well as financial assistance so that the developing countries, in which many of the world's rich forest lay, were able to play their part in conservation and sustainable development. The Panel's proposals also needed an enlightened approach to development aid and world trade, so that sustainability was favoured rather than disadvantaged. If the Commission endorsed actions set out in the first four sections of the Panel's report and they were put into practice worldwide, the Panel would have been a success.
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Yet, paradoxically, he said, the Panel was likely to be judged largely by what it said and did not say about the further development of international institutional machinery -- especially about a forest convention or other legal instrument. The Panel appreciated that, in political terms, it might seem the biggest issue, and that a commitment to negotiate a convention could be presented as a major international initiative at the special session in June. However, the Panel was convinced that the most important action for the world community was to continue the process of cooperation and dialogue manifested by its work and to ensure that the many practical actions it highlighted did not lose momentum while a debate over a possible convention continued.
He urged the Commission to endorse the continuation of the cooperation among the United Nations agencies and other intergovernmental bodies in the Inter-Agency Task Force on Forests, and establish a continuing forum for discussing and monitoring the Panel's action proposals. He stressed that the Commission should not let the action proposals starve while it argued about the legal infrastructure in which they would eventually find their place. He added that the world was waiting anxiously for action, and not more words, on those issues.
The Commission Chairman, Mr. TOLBA (Egypt), said the issues focused on by the Panel were definitely political issues. Ministers should signal where they wanted to go on that issue during the high-level segment over the next few days.
BIRGITTA DAHL (Sweden), Chairperson of the High-Level Advisory Board on Sustainable Development, said the Board had been created by the Secretary- General as a group of independent personalities serving in their personal capacities. In its report to the Secretary-General, which had also been distributed to the Commission, the Board had demonstrated the need for assuming circumspect personal and collective responsibility in changing lifestyles. It had certified the necessity of using markets and market-based instruments together with governmental, regulatory ones to enable society to manage natural resources in an efficient and responsible way. It had also pointed very clearly at democracy and a well- functioning democratic framework as the most efficient basis for creating sustainable policies.
Innovation and transfer of technology were basic factors that were crucial for success, she said. The same was true for trade and environment. Rapid globalization made it essential that trade and environment policies were mutually supportive at the national, regional and global levels. In the energy field, the Board had recommended that each country develop an integrated strategy for sustainable energy development and coordinate it through a global intergovernmental process. A reorientation of world's energy sectors should focus on an accelerated development of renewable energy sources. Subsidies to energy production and consumption, especially to fossil
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fuels and nuclear energy, should be gradually phased out during a period of 10 years.
A 10-year period was also set for proposed programmes to provide 2 billion people in the world with electricity, she said. In the field of transportation, the Board had recommended better urban planning and an avoidance of out-of-town shopping complexes. It had recommended proper pricing of transport fuels; an investment in mass-transit systems; and an encouragement of efforts to develop solar-powered vehicles. On the question of water, she said it could not automatically be seen as a "free good". Taxes and subsidies had to be designed in such a way that they did not exclude the poorest from access to water, but, on the other hand, did not encourage wasteful use.
Implementation required cooperation among actors at all levels, she said. Regional and subregional potentials had to be used. Further, in addition to cooperation at the government level, new forums of cooperation would have to be designed among industry, business and non-governmental organizations. Quoting from the report, she said "the proposals are extensive enough, and even if only partly implemented, sufficient to set the world on a path of sustainable development".
ELIZABETH DOWDESWELL, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said five years had passed since a conscious and cooperative venture to rationally manage the earth's natural resources had been initiated at Rio. However, UNEP's recently released "Global Environment Outlook" report revealed that even as the technical ability of the world grew, there was a steady deterioration of the environment. Global warming, the degradation of the ozone layer, the decline of biological diversity, the loss of soil and forests, the contamination of freshwater supplies and even the oceans, vanishing fisheries, the flood of toxic substances entering the environment and threatening health, signalled that "we continue to make excessive demands on the global environment that sustains us", she said.
Unfortunately, there was an immense disparity between the rhetoric and the reality of a threatening environmental future, she said. Whether or not solutions were effectively applied, they would continue to rely upon politics and policy, upon the attitude of leaders, political parties and their constituents. This year, which marked UNEP's twenty-fifth anniversary and when the progress in the post-Rio period was being assessed, the time was right to consider how UNEP could best be empowered to realize its potential as the United Nations voice for the environment. The UNEP now had, as an integral component of its governing structure, a forum for the world's environment ministers, a place to set the world's environmental agenda.
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To respond effectively to the challenges of the next millennium, UNEP had to become a true "world environment authority", not only promoting effective international collaboration and joint actions, but bringing coherence to an increasingly fragmented system of environmental laws and secretariats, she said. It must set standards and norms and effectively promote compliance. "We stand ready to transform UNEP into the organization the world needs", she said. For its part, UNEP had made major contributions to the implementation of Agenda 21. It had assumed and delivered on its responsibilities as a task manager in such areas as toxic chemicals, hazardous waste, desertification, biodiversity and, jointly with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), on atmosphere.
Speaking on the issue of energy, she said UNEP believed that launching an "energy decade" aiming at addressing energy issues in a comprehensive manner was a pressing responsibility of governments. The UNEP could assist countries by building upon its unquestioned expertise in "cleaner production", "ozone action" and on clearing house mechanisms. In the area of freshwater resources, UNEP had been designated by the Secretary-General as the United Nations agency responsible for global mandates for water. Its vision of addressing water issues in a comprehensive manner had facilitated its consolidation of its freshwater and oceans/coastal programmes into a single, integrated water branch.
She stressed that the effective implementation of the Global Programme of Action to protect the marine environment from land-based activities was one of UNEP's highest priorities. In doing that, the concerns of small island developing States were paramount. In the area of tourism, UNEP had already provided a platform for increasing knowledge of environmental impacts. Through its Global Environmental Citizenship Programme, it was finding effective ways to change behaviours, to inform and educate.
MOHAMED T. EL-ASHRY, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), said five years after UNCED the kind of political commitment, financial resources policies and institutional reforms that were required to put life styles, consumption and production patterns, population growth and human settlements on a sustainable path had not materialized. On the positive side, private sector flows to developing countries had more than tripled since 1992, reaching $285 billion in 1996.
The GEF represented the first and most significant financial accomplishment arising from the Rio summit, he said. In less than three years since its restructuring in 1994, through its implementing partners -- UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank -- it now operated in more than 100 countries. It had 160 participating countries and had been designated the interim financial mechanism for the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The GEF had programmed more than
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$1.3 billion in grants to developing countries, while leveraging an additional $3.3 billion from bilateral, multilateral and private sources. At the end of this month, the GEF would review a work programme totalling another $190 million in grant financing.
Five years after Rio, he said, the international community should adopt a more systematic approach to the investments it must make and concentrate on priority goals. Those priority areas where significant results were attainable and where outlays would bring positive returns included action for controlling population growth, integrated land and water resources management and sustainable energy strategies. A fourth priority, he stressed, was immediate action to reform and strengthen national and international institutions for sustainable development. In addition, the Commission should consider establishing under its auspices an intergovernmental panel on finance. Such a panel would further examine various financial instruments for sustainable development and the potential of innovative sources of finance, as well as provide for a dialogue on those matters with the private sector and the non-governmental organizations.
MAURICE STRONG, speaking as Chairman of the Earth Council and Chairman of the Rio + 5 Forum held in Rio de Janeiro from March 13 to 19, reported on the outcome of the Forum, which had discussed "Moving from Agenda to Action". He said, despite progress made on many fronts, the world community had still not made the fundamental transition to a development pathway that would provide the human community with a sustainable and secure future. Environmental deterioration continued and the forces that drove it still persisted. Rio + 5 was the focal point of a process designed to use UNCED's fifth anniversary review as an occasion to revitalize the action process, produce new alliances for action among civil society's stakeholders and help to stimulate renewed impetus to action on the part of governments and intergovernmental organizations.
The Rio + 5 Forum had brought together over 500 knowledgeable and committed people from all parts of the world for six days of intensive plenary and workshop sessions, he said. The results of the Forum included a focus on the governance structures, legal and policy frameworks, financial support, education and consultative processes required to translate promising ideas into action. He outlined some of the conclusions that emerged from Rio + 5, which had emphasized multi-stakeholder participation, and the need for government ministries other than those responsible for the environment to become involved in sustainable development issues. It had also noted that unsustainable patterns of production and consumption in industrial countries were still the major contributors to the world's unsustainable course and the inability of the current United Nations system to enforce compliance with international accords which needed to be rooted in local and national support.
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He elaborated further on major actions and affirmations by stakeholders and recommendations to governments and others as they were contained in the Forum's report. The recommendations to governments included proposals that the GEF should be replenished at a higher level with an expanded mandate; Member States should provide full support to UNEP; industrialized countries should agree to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent from the 1990 levels by the year 2025; and governments should initiate a negotiating process to establish a global framework for the regulation of international capital flows.
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