AD HOC COMMITTEE OF WHOLE OF ASSEMBLY'S SPECIAL SESSION BEGINS WORK19970623
The adoption of policies fostering a stable macroeconomic and financial environment was essential because high inflation affected the real incomes of the poor who, unwittingly, caused unsustainable environment use, the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole of the special session of the General Assembly was told this afternoon by a representative of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The Committee of the Whole has the task of completing negotiations on the draft final outcome of the special session which is reviewing implementation of Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). As it held its first meeting, the Committee heard from observers, heads of sustainable development-related convention secretariats, representatives of United Nations programmes and organizations, international financial institutions and regional organizations.
All too often, concerns for children and women in the social sphere were considered separately from those in the areas of environment and economic development, the Director, Office of United Nations Affairs and External Relations of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said. He drew attention to the fundamental importance of sanitation, hygiene and water supply as essential elements of rights for life and health. Those elements should be kept in mind in formulating a global strategic approach on fresh water.
The Deputy Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Maxine Olson, said while Agenda 21 had recognized women's resourcefulness and centrality to sustainable development, the special session could translate that recognition to ensure that women had opportunities that opened doors for them to be decision makers. The Social Affairs Officer of International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women
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(INSTRAW) said policy makers and planners should recognize the medium- and long-term economic benefits of including women in the solution of environmental problems.
Also focusing on gender issues, the Deputy Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO) said for women the poverty of female- headed households due to lack of access to land and other economic resources was notable. To that end, the ILO had developed environmentally sound guidelines on gender, poverty and unemployment.
The special session should send a strong message to developed countries to reduce their levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the Minister for Environment and Tourism of Zimbabwe and Chairman of the Second Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change said. Further, a full replenishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) was crucial.
Statements were also made by the Chairman of the High-level Advisory Board on Sustainable Development, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) (who spoke on behalf of the United Nations five regional commissions), the Head of the Environment and Sustainable Development Division of the African Development Bank, and the Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference,
Also this afternoon, the Committee elected Baghere Asadi (Iran), Czeslaw Wieckowski (Poland), John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) and Idunn Eidheim (Norway) as its Vice-Chairmen. Mr. Wieckowski was also elected as the Committee's Rapporteur.
The Committee of the Whole will meet again at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, 24 June, to hear more statements.
Ad Hoc Committee Work Programme
The Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole of the General Assembly's nineteenth special session met this afternoon to begin its plenary meetings.
The Committee has the task of completing the negotiations of the draft final outcome of the special session as well as hearing statements of observers, heads of secretariats of the various sustainable development- related conventions, representatives of United Nations programmes and organizations, international financial institutions and regional organizations.
MOSTAFA TOLBA (Egypt), Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, said the proposed outcome of the special session would now be called the draft programme of action for further implementation of Agenda 21. He then outlined the progress of the negotiations on the draft texts and raised a number of issues related to the Committee's organization of work.
BIRGITTA DAHL, Chairman of the High-level Advisory Board on Sustainable Development, said the Ad Hoc Committee would have to define attainable targets for real and immediate constructive action and to indicate ways and means to reach them. A holistic overview was needed, from which there could be agreement on how to proceed. Essential for achieving sustainable development was education, information and a functioning democratic structure which would be best served by an active local government, listening attentively to the voice of the people and having the political stamina to make courageous decisions to execute good governance. The Board had selected energy, transportation and water as the three sectors of paramount importance to create better living conditions. The outcome of the special session would have to deal with lofty ideas but also with practicalities. It should merge those ideas into workable plans of action, which would maximize economic, social, cultural and environmental long-term benefits to as many individuals as possible. "This was the time for constructive and far-sighted action", she added.
CHEN CHIMUTENGEWENDE, Minister for Environment and Tourism of Zimbabwe, and Chairman of the Second Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the special session should send a strong message to developed countries to reduce their levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Such a measure could trigger technological innovation. In fact, research, development and transfer of technology were important for sustainable development. Further, a full replenishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) was important. In that context, a strong United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was crucial as it would benefit the
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Climate Change Convention. The Assembly should also encourage countries to coordinate their responses to various conventions. The United Nations should ensure that its messages got beyond the environment ministries to the economic and financial ministries. The special session should also call for enhanced international cooperation and broader stakeholder consultation. In that context, the full participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society was important.
ARBA DIALLO, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, said it was expected that 100 countries would have ratified or acceded to the Convention by the end of this week. The first Conference of the Parties would be held in Rome at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) from 29 September to 10 December. The Convention was seen as the first sustainable development treaty adopted in the framework of the Rio follow-up. Its secretariat looked forward to a closer collaboration with the Rio sister conventions on biodiversity and climate change for strengthening the institutional support for sustainable development. The Anti-Desertification Convention differed from previous initiatives by including an integrated approach, adopting a "bottom-up" approach and establishing a Global Mechanism to identify sources of funds and promoting the mobilization and channelling of funds. Some issues still to be resolved included a decision related to the location of a permanent secretariat and issues related to the Global Mechanism -- its functions, housing and the draft rules of procedure.
KATHERINE HAGEN, Deputy Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO), said the activities of the ILO were aimed at improving the working environment. It had also played a significant role in the sound management of chemicals. In fact, the ILO had taken the lead in the classification of chemicals. It had also been concerned with occupational safety and health. Its programme on worker education had aimed at increasing worker awareness about the environment. Agenda 21 had recognized the role of business in cleaner production and in entrepreneurship. The organization's programme urged businesses to work proactively towards cleaner production. It was also working at the macro and sectoral levels for poverty eradication. Making development sustainable meant putting an end to poverty. The ILO work on employment and sustainable development had received a new impetus from the Rio Conference. Further, focusing on gender issues had been a priority for ILO. The poverty of female-headed households due to lack of access to land and other economic resources was notable. To that end, the ILO had developed environmentally sound guidelines on gender, poverty and unemployment.
YVES BERTHELOT, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), speaking on behalf of the United Nations five regional commissions, reaffirmed the willingness of those bodies to pursue and reinforce their activities in support of national implementation of the global
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commitments made at the Rio conference and to promote initiatives which responded to the specific needs of each region. For the future implementation of Agenda 21, the commissions should continue to provide multisectoral expertise, promote conventions and norms and offer an open forum at the regional level. Their lines of action could include increased coordination among them with the participation of regional representatives of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC). Also, they could strengthen cooperation among them along established lines, such as water management, air pollution and protecting transboundary water courses. The commissions could also streamline the problems and needs emanating from national reports on the implementation of Agenda 21.
ADO VAHER, Director, Office of United Nations Affairs and External Relations of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said children had the biggest stake in the environment. All too often concerns for children and women in the social sphere were considered separately from those in the areas of environment and economic development. Following the Rio Conference, the UNICEF had adopted a programme placing emphasis on community empowerment for improved management of local natural resources so that basic needs could be met on a sustained basis. In addition, it was taking a more holistic view towards household water security stressing conservation, watershed protection and equity of access. He drew attention to the fundamental importance of sanitation, hygiene and water supply as essential elements of basic rights for life and health in formulating a global strategic approach on freshwater by the Commission on Sustainable Development at its sixth session in 1998.
BORJANA BULAJIC, Social Affairs Officer of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), said the subject of women, the environment and sustainable development encompassed such varied areas as agriculture, water, energy and forestry. Policy-makers and planners should recognize the medium- and long-term economic benefits of including women in the solution of environmental problems. The main constraints which women confronted in achieving full integration and participation in natural resources management included a lack of education and training; lack of participation in planning, programming and projects; lack of information and awareness-raising methods; lack of financial means; and lack of choice of the various types of technologies. The main reasons for those constraints was that policy-makers, planners and project managers lacked a comprehensive database on women's involvement and/or the capacity to plan for and implement appropriate interventions to promote women's participation. In that connection, she outlined INSTRAW's activities in relation to selected chapters of Agenda 21, including chapter 3 on combating poverty, chapter 4 on demographic dynamics and sustainability, chapter 18 on protecting freshwater resources and chapter 24 on global action for women towards sustainable and equitable development.
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VED P. GANDHI, Assistant Director of the Fiscal Affairs Department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said the Fund saw its main contribution to sustainable development as being that of encouraging countries to adopt policies that fostered a stable macroeconomic and financial environment. High inflation acted as a serious impediment to sustainable development because it affected the real incomes of the poor who, then unwittingly, caused unsustainable environment use. The Fund had reinforced its activities in recent years by paying more attention to: the composition of public expenditures and to labour market policies; integrating cost-effective social safety nets and reallocating public expenditure to meet the needs of poor and vulnerable groups in the design and implementation of economic adjustment programmes; and providing technical assistance to help countries build institutional capacity. Looking ahead, it would continue to do its part in promoting sustainable development through the achievement of macroeconomic stability. It would encourage member countries to adopt macroeconomic policies that were needed to achieve financial stability. Further, it had begun concerted efforts to help heavily indebted poor countries seek major external debt relief. In addition, it would encourage countries to adopt structural reforms, vital for a market-based economy, as well as good governance.
KNUT OPSAL, Head of the Environment and Sustainable Development Division of the African Development Bank, said in the recent past the Bank had undergone major changes and was now much leaner and less top heavy. As a result of those internal changes, there was now a renewed focus on sustainable development. It had to be understood that sustainable development encompassed much more than environmental management. Among other things, it involved poverty eradication. To enable the Bank to focus more on environment, its division on environment had been replaced by an environment and sustainable development division. A number of new positions had been created and the Bank was in the process of recruiting at least a dozen environmentalists. Extensive environment training sessions for the staff were also being organized. To encourage stakeholder participation, a major meeting with NGOs had been arranged at the end of last year. The Bank recognized that it needed to do much more for the implementation of Agenda 21 and to that end, it now planned to play a more active role.
IBRAHIM A. AUF, Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the enormous difficulties faced by OIC member States required redoubled efforts and funds to assist them with their responsibilities in the field of the environment. Some of the problems faced by OIC member countries included desertification, floods, rising sea levels and calamities such as earthquakes and hurricanes. They also experienced the dumping of radioactive toxic wastes, poverty, debt and lack of technology transfer. Of extreme concern to the OIC members was the escalation of the illegal and inhuman practices perpetuated by the Israeli occupation. They
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resulted in serious consequences to humans and to the environment in the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories and included usurping 70 per cent of Palestinian water resources, destroying plants and crops, interrupting irrigation water and burning forests. Israel also used extensively suffocating gases and teargas bombs and dumped toxic wastes in the Palestinian territories. That State's nuclear programme also remained a source of extreme concern and constituted a serious threat to life and the environment in the Middle East region.
MAXINE OLSON, Deputy Director of United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said a key outcome of the Rio Conference was the recognition that women play an essential role in the management of resources. As producers of most of world's food, as caretakers of their families, as educators, women were at the centre, advocating for and implementing sustainable development. The Fund had worked with United Nations organizations to mainstream gender into their programmes. The multiple collaboration had resulted in a series of peasant women's congress on indigenous knowledge in Mexico. In Africa, it had resulted in the recognition of women's roles as traders and producers, linking them with markets and strengthening them to achieve a higher degree of food security. While Agenda 21 had recognized women's resourcefulness and centrality to sustainable development, the special session could translate that recognition to ensure that women had opportunities that opened doors for them to be decision-makers.
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