REVIEW OF ACTION PROGRAMME FOR SMALL ISLAND DEVELOPING STATES SHOULD NOT BE RELEGATED TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION

11 April 1997
ENV/DEV/416

REVIEW OF ACTION PROGRAMME FOR SMALL ISLAND DEVELOPING STATES SHOULD NOT BE RELEGATED TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION

11 April 1997

Press ReleaseENV/DEV/416

REVIEW OF ACTION PROGRAMME FOR SMALL ISLAND DEVELOPING STATES SHOULD NOT BE RELEGATED TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION

19970411 Trinidad and Tobago Says That Is General Assembly's Task; Commission Also Discusses National Reporting on Sustainable Development Goals

The review of the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States in 1999 should be carried out by the General Assembly and not be relegated to the Commission on Sustainable Development, the representative of Trinidad and Tobago told the Commission this afternoon as it considered modalities for the review of the Barbados Conference outcome. The Commission also discussed national reporting procedures on implementation of sustainable development programmes and proposed programme of work of the Division for Sustainable Development for the biennium 1998-1999.

Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the representative of Trinidad and Tobago said the Alliance disagreed with the proposal that a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council should carry out the review of the Barbados Programme of Action. Such a recommendation was not consistent with the agreements reached in Agenda 21 and in the Programme and would downgrade the review. The 1994 Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States should not be treated differently from other major international conferences that had taken place since Rio, she said. She did agree, however, that the Commission's sixth session should consider review of all remaining issues related to the Programme of Action.

The Barbados representative said it was now important to speed up the implementation of the Programme of Action, which lacked institutional and financial support. Its integrity should be preserved and it should be addressed urgently by the Sustainable Development Commission. The Programme's rapid implementation was important, both for small island States and for the global commons. The depletion of resources of the United Nations system heightened those States concerns about the implementation process.

__________ * Note that pages 2 to 9 inadvertently referred to this meeting as the 7th Meeting.

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Responding to the concerns of the Alliance, the representative of the Netherlands, speaking for the European Union, said its proposals on the review could be considered in the context of the text of the Co-Chairmen of the Commission's Intersessional Working Group, which was a negotiating text. He stressed that the European Union was committed to the Barbados Programme of Action and would consider appropriate measures for its follow-up.

The representatives of the United States, Papua New Guinea, Jamaica, Japan, Bahamas, Cuba, Benin, Malta and Guyana spoke on the modalities of the 1999 comprehensive review of the Barbados Programme of Action.

On the issue of streamlining national reporting, the representative of Papua New Guinea said small States faced numerous problems in national reporting. They lacked human resources to undertake reporting. In fact, the funds used to support report preparation could better be used implementing projects at the field level.

The representative of the United States said streamlining the procedure would reduce the burden of reporting for smaller countries, as well as improve the coordination of reporting in larger countries. There was value in trying to look at consistency among the various multilateral bodies, he said.

The representative of Canada suggested a "peer review" system to monitor the implementation of Agenda 21. Further, she suggested that national plans be presented instead of reports as those had the potential to set targets, show milestones and reflect a country's unique capabilities, as well as address how the country intended to achieve sustainable development.

The representatives of the Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union), Benin, Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, Bangladesh, Mexico and Paraguay spoke on the matter of streamlining national reporting. A representative of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also spoke on the subject.

Also this afternoon, the Commission heard the introduction of a report on the proposed programme of work of the Division for Sustainable Development of the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development for the biennium 1998-1999. It was presented by the Director for the Division, Joke Waller-Hunter. She also introduced the Secretary-General's reports on national reporting and the modalities of the 1999 comprehensive review of the Barbados Programme of Action.

The representative of the Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union), Australia and the United States spoke on the proposed programme of work of the Division.

The Commission will meet again at a time to be announced in the Journal.

Commission Work Programme

The Commission on Sustainable Development met this afternoon to consider other matters not dealt with in the reports of the Commission's Ad Hoc Open- ended Intersessional Working Group and Open-ended Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Panel on Forests. It was expected to discuss streamlining of national reporting to the Commission and the 1999 comprehensive review of the Barbados Programme of Action adopted at the Global Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.

Streamlining National Reporting

Making an introductory statement, JOKE WALLER-HUNTER, Director for the Division for Sustainable Development, Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, said 125 countries had reported on aspects of implementing Agenda 21. Of those, 72 had provided country profiles. In addition to country profiles, reports from six regional organizations had also been received.

A report of the Secretary-General giving an overview of the implementation of Agenda 21 was also available, accompanied by a series of background documents, she said. However, most of those reports were work in progress, as country profiles were still being received. She announced that additions and corrections to the country profiles should be submitted by delegations by next Wednesday, 16 April. All those documents taken together provided a good overview of actions taken over the years.

She stressed that the process of reporting to the Commission had been useful. Country presentations had been well received and many countries now wanted to start a process of peer review, she said. Further, national reports and country profiles had also proved to be useful. It was clear that there had been some duplication and overlap. Last year, the Commission had asked the Secretariat for procedures to streamline requests for national reporting and, as a result, there was a Secretary-General's report on such proposals. The proposals in the report had been prepared in a constructive process of consultation, from discussions in the Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development. The Convention secretariats had also been represented and consultations had been held with Member States. Therefore, the report incorporated their views.

The report gave a description of actions taken before it went on to the actual proposals, she said. It contained three annexes. Annex III in the report dealt with the question of a web site on sustainable development, which would be launched next month. Without prejudice to any decision by the Commission, it had been agreed that the integrated format of country profiles should form the basis of reporting on sustainable development. Further, efforts were being made to make information accessible through electronic

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means. As described in annex III, information from country profiles would be used for that and she hoped that it would prove useful.

However, not all countries would have access to the site in the short term, she said. In that context, capacity building at the national level should be supported by the donor countries. Further, national reporting to the Commission should continue and countries should update and provide information on Agenda 21. However, to avoid duplication, countries should report separately to the Commission only on issues on which they did not report to conventions.

BRIGITA GRAVITIS (Canada) said that during the high-level segment her Minister had suggested a change to national plans, instead of national reports. The advantages of plans included the potential to set national targets, show milestones and reflect a country's unique capabilities, as well as address how the countries intended to achieve sustainable development. A peer review system should be adopted for monitoring implementation. Countries should be encouraged to have a broad stakeholder base in the development and implementation of plans, she said.

COMO VAN HELLENBERG HUBAR (Netherlands), speaking for the European Union, said he subscribed to the recommendations made on national reporting. He supported the idea of a peer review system. Since there were different systems of peer review, they should be studied to determine how best to introduce it. Such a system was already used in disarmament forums and could be useful in the field of sustainable development. The Commission should request a study of the different modalities for peer review and the issue could be discussed in the Commission's next session.

EDWIN BROWN (United States) said streamlining reporting would reduce the burden of reporting for smaller countries, as well as improve the coordination of reporting in larger countries. There was value in trying to look at consistency among the various multilateral bodies. He expressed strong support for it. He also supported a peer review process, which his country had experienced in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). However, it was very resource intensive. The introduction of the process required considerable discussion.

MARILYN YAKOWITZ, a representative of the OECD, said her organization had developed reporting systems on country programmes and also used a peer review system. She outlined the work of the organization and the type of analysis and data that was provided by its members. That included developing a set of core indicators for environmental concerns, such as water quality, urban environmental quality, fish resources, water resources and erosion. Concerning reporting needs, she said it was imperative that there was coordination of the various reporting activities required of Member States.

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ADAM DELANEY (Papua New Guinea) said, from the perspective of a small island developing State, he would alert the Commission to the numerous problems small States faced in national reporting. One was a lack of human resources to undertake the reporting. The number of reports required in the context of sustainable development, including for the conventions, should be reduced. More coordination by donors and the needs of the Commission was necessary to reduce duplication. The demands on small States were impossible. The funds used to support report preparation could better be used implementing projects at the field level.

COMO VAN HELLENBERG HUBAR (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the representative of Papua New Guinea had made pertinent points. Costly intensive new reporting techniques should not be introduced. He stressed that peer review enhanced the exchange of best practices, but such a review should be among comparable nations.

DAMIEN HAUETO (Benin) said his delegation appreciated the way national reporting had been dealt with in the Secretary-General's report. Benin had drafted and adopted its national Agenda 21 after a long process on 22 January 1997. The task now was to popularize that national agenda. He stressed that communities should be helped in developing their local Agenda 21. However, he was not optimistic in that regard, because assistance from development partners was often not forthcoming.

He also expressed concern that there were still development partners who stuck to old development models, the majority of which had been initiated before the Rio Conference. In the United Nations system there was some cacophony. "The United Nations should tune its instruments and speak in the same language", he said.

RAPHAEL LOTILLA (Philippines) said streamlining reporting would minimize resources that had to be devoted for that purpose. It would be good for the different international organizations and regional bodies to streamline their reporting requirements. Moreover, if a review of country reports was to be conducted, what would be the appropriate forum for review, since the Commission would not have time to consider such reports? she asked.

ANNETE DE ISLES (Trinidad and Tobago) associated herself with the statement made by the representative of Papua New Guinea in relation to the problems of small countries meeting the reporting requirement of Agenda 21. It was difficult to convince the colleagues in capitals to extend human and financial resources for the reports, since the country reports were simply incorporated into larger reports and sent back to the countries. She stressed that the Secretariat should pay particular attention to the problems of small countries. She also supported Papua New Guinea's suggestion that the question of assistance to small countries in meeting reporting requirements should be examined.

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ABDUL MONDAL (Bangladesh) congratulated the Secretariat on its report and joined in supporting the statement made by the representative of Papua New Guinea. Many small countries did not even have smoothly functioning phone systems. Therefore, the need for capacity building could not be overemphasized. The least developed countries did not have necessary means and capacity to meet reporting requirements and a number of least developed countries had not bee able to develop their national Agenda 21. Their needs should be taken into account.

ULISES CANCHOLA (Mexico) welcomed the data base that had been developed by the Secretariat. It was a major asset that should be constantly updated. Since there were differences among Member States, it was important for them to be provided with country information that would indicate the best efforts being made to implement the Rio agreements.

Ms. YAKOWITZ, a representative of the OECD, said her organization was concerned about the numerous planning requirements that countries had to fulfil. Attempts must be made to reduce and streamline planning.

RAPHAEL LOTILLA (Philippines) said better use must be made of existing reports. National reports should also contain the constraints that countries faced in implementing Agenda 21.

Mr. BROWN (United States) noted that there were different requirements for the Agenda 21 and the Habitat reporting processes. He asked how they should be interpreted.

TERESA AGUILERA DE LATERZA (Paraguay) said the methodology for national reporting should be reviewed. The reports were extremely useful, particularly for those countries that did not have the capacity to draft the required reports. The graphics facilitated the reading of the reports. She hoped that the national reports would continue to be provided.

Ms. GRAVITIS (Canada) said she welcomed Member States' support for the principle of peer review. Some consideration should be given to how to change from the reporting to the planning process, especially when one considered the different capabilities of Member States. The plan should be results-oriented, vary from country to country and reflect specific circumstances and objectives. Some flexibility was needed in the early stages of moving from one system to another.

Responding to the comments, Ms. WALLER-HUNTER said she took it that there was support for streamlining of national reporting and that the matrix and calender had been well received. She noted that for some countries reporting requirements to the Commission were the very first steps used to reflect their own priorities and the targets they had set.

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On the issue of assistance required by small States in meeting their reporting requirements, she said Capacity 21 of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was putting an emphasis on providing such assistance. The Division of Sustainable Development was working closely with that and if it identified a need for assistance in reporting or planning for a particular country, it would get in touch with Capacity 21 or would put the sustainable development officers in touch with that country. She had also noted the suggestion about regional reporting. Further, a review of modalities for peer review could be undertaken, since a system of peer review might be useful.

Review of Barbados Programme of Action

Making an introductory statement on the modalities of the 1999 comprehensive review of the Barbados Programme of Action, JOKE WALLER-HUNTER, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development, Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, said General Assembly resolution 51/183 requested that specific modalities for the 1999 comprehensive review of the Barbados Programme of Action be provided for the special session. The report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island States (document E/CN.17/1997/14) had been prepared as a result.

She drew attention to paragraph 28 in the report, which stated that at its fourth session the Commission had carried out an in-depth review of a number of issues that had been covered by the chapters of the Programme of Action. The report went on to say that at its sixth session, in 1998, the Commission might wish to consider conducting a review of the remaining issues. To that end, the Commission might wish to request the Secretary-General to prepare reports on those issues.

Ms. Waller-Hunter also drew attention to paragraph 29, which stated that the Commission had been requested to recommend specific modalities for the full review of the Programme of Action in 1999. It went on to say that the Commission might wish to recommend that the meeting of the ad hoc intersessional working group in 1999 begin the process of the full review, should the work of that body continue after 1997.

ANNETTE DES ILES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said the 1999 comprehensive review of the Barbados Programme of Action was very important for the Alliance. She agreed with the recommendations of paragraph 28 of the Secretary-General's report -- "Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island States" -- that the Commission's next session should consider conducting a review of all remaining issues related to the Programme of Action.

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However, she did not agree with the other recommendations. The Alliance disagreed with the proposal that the Commission should carry out the review. The Global Conference on Small Island Developing States should be not be treated differently from other major international conferences that had taken place since Rio. The review should not be relegated to a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council.

Since the Rio Conference, other reviews had been taken up by the General Assembly, she said. The Secretary-General's proposal, therefore, downgraded the review of the Barbados Conference and was not consistent with the agreements made in Agenda 21 and the Barbados Programme of Action. She stressed that the full review of the Programme of Action should be undertaken by the General Assembly in 1997. The Alliance had prepared a draft decision on the matter which it would submit to the Commission.

Mr. BROWN (United States) wondered if the text of the meeting the co- chairmen of the Commission's Intersessional Working Group would allow the Commission to reflect on the issue.

Mr. HELLENBERG HUBAR (Netherlands) said the Union favoured the thrust of the recommendations in Part IV of the Secretary-General's report, but they must be considered in the context of the text of the meeting of the co- chairmen of the Intersessional Working Group. The proposals of the representative of Trinidad and Tobago could be considered in that context. The European Union was fully committed to the Barbados Programme of Action and would consider appropriate measures for its follow-up.

MOSTAFA TOLBA (Eygpt), Commission Chairman, said the representatives of Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and the European Union should discuss the matter further. The delegations should be able to agree on a language for a draft decision that would take account of the sensitivity the Alliance, he said.

CARLSTON BOUCHER (Barbados) said he fully supported the statement by Trinidad and Tobago. The small island States had been satisfied that Agenda 21 had acknowledged their vulnerability, which had been analysed in-depth at the Barbados Conference and endorsed in the Programme of Action. It was now important to speed up the implementation of the Programme which lacked institutional and financial support.

The integrity of the Programme of Action should be preserved, he continued. It should be addressed urgently by the Commission. Its rapid implementation was important, both for small island States and for the global commons. The depletion of resources of the United Nations system heightened those States' concerns for implementation.

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ADAM DELANEY (Papua New Guinea) said he supported the statement made by the representative of Trinidad and Tobago on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States.

DAVID ALLEN PRENDERGAST (Jamaica) said given the crucial importance of the Barbados Programme of Action he endorsed the proposal of the Alliance to ensure the full review of the Programme of Action consistent with the other global conferences.

Mr. EGUCHI (Japan) said his country supported the South Pacific island States. From 1994, it had provided $150,000 for export promotion seminars for the South Pacific countries. It had also promoted trade and tourism with them.

LYNN HUGOLESKO (Bahamas) said she supported the position stated by the representative of Trinidad and Tobago on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States. Any action that reduced the commitment made to small island States was not in keeping with Agenda 21. A strengthening of the resolve in the Barbados Programme of Action should be undertaken, not its weakening.

SANCHEZ SOSA (Cuba) said his delegation supported the statement made by the Alliance. An in-depth evaluation of the Barbados Programme of Action was called for. He also stressed the importance of transferring financial resources and technology to the small island developing States.

DAMIEN HAUETO (Benin) said Agenda 21 was supposed to support the national Agenda 21. However, Benin had not benefited from Capacity 21 in 1993 when it was trying to establish its national Agenda 21. However, it had been supported in its efforts by Netherlands and later to some extent by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The African countries had met from time to time to find the means to implement programmes and declarations of the United Nations, he said. Last March they had met in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, and had asked for help in implementing national Agenda 21. In that context, Capacity 21 could be directed to help African countries formulate and implement their national Agenda 21.

JOANNA DARMANIN (Malta) supported Trinidad and Tobago's statement on behalf of the 31 member States of the Alliance. Although the Commission had an important role to play in the review of the Barbados Programme of Action, it needed more of a political impetus. Therefore, she would support the proposal for it to be taken up by the General Assembly.

NAVIN CHANDARPAL (Guyana) said he supported the proposals on the review of the Barbados Programme of Action. The approach to implementation since the Barbados Conference lacked the determination. Very little mention had been made of the concerns of small island States during the current session. The Programme of Action and the Barbados Declaration had emphasized the specific needs of small island States. Those needs should be given some priority. The review should, therefore, lead towards the strengthening of the implementation process, with an emphasis on financing and capacity building.

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Budget Proposals for 1998-1999 Biennium

Ms. WALLER-HUNTER, Director of the Division on Sustainable Development, presented the proposed programme of work for her Division for the 1998-1999 biennium for approval by the Commission. It would then be submitted to the Advisory Committee Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) and the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). The work programme was formulated on the basis of subprogramme 5.4 (sustainable development) of the 1998-2001 medium-term plan. However, it would be revised following the outcome of the Assembly special session in June. The items that were highlighted reflected a reliance on extra-budgetary funding. She thanked the Member States that had contributed to the Commission's Trust Fund and the Trust fund for the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests.

Ms. Waller-Hunter, then responded to requests for clarification on some parts of the work programme, explaining such areas as expert group meetings, publications and substantive support for inter-agency meetings.

COMO VAN HELLENBERG HUBAR (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said he wanted to thank Ms. Waller-Hunter for the report. However, he was uncertain as to how to address it. For the first time, he found himself looking at a budget document with no figures. Therefore, he could not make any comments about activities suggested in it, for there was no way of knowing whether some activities suggested therein fell within the Division. He, therefore, wanted to reserve his position.

GEOFFREY TOOTH (Australia) said he shared the difficulty expressed by the representative of the Netherlands. However, the present report was a preliminary document. He hoped that the substantive bodies would not tell the ACABQ and the Fifth Committee what to do. He also wondered if any part of the report required an increase in resources or the creation of new posts. Further, he asked about the staffing and non-staffing requirements.

Ms. WALLER-HUNTER said the document had been presented to the Commission because it was a substantive body. Other bodies would look at the budget. The Division had worked within the mandate given to it. The budget proposals required no increase in staff. She stressed there had been a substantive decrease in the budget of non-staff costs, which would save for the biennium approximately $600,000.

Mr. HAMBLEY (United States) said he found the activities proposed in the report extensive and daunting. It was a matter of concern that programmes mentioned would require additional resources than had been devoted to the Commission in the previous biennium. In that context, it must be noted that the Secretary-General was trying to cut costs and all United Nations activities would be affected in the process. Therefore, his delegation wanted to reserve its view until it saw figures.

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For information media. Not an official record.