DISASTER REDUCTION, BIODIVERSITY, RENEWABLE ENERGY AMONG ISSUES RAISED, AS SECOND COMMITTEE DISCUSSES ENVIRONMENT, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

31 October 2001
GA/EF/2970

DISASTER REDUCTION, BIODIVERSITY, RENEWABLE ENERGY AMONG ISSUES RAISED, AS SECOND COMMITTEE DISCUSSES ENVIRONMENT, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

31/10/2001
Press Release
GA/EF/2970


Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Second Committee

21st Meeting (AM)


DISASTER REDUCTION, BIODIVERSITY, RENEWABLE ENERGY AMONG ISSUES RAISED,


AS SECOND COMMITTEE DISCUSSES ENVIRONMENT, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT


Solar power and other renewable sources of energy should be stressed in efforts to promote sustainable agricultural and rural development, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) was told this morning, as it continued its discussions on environmental issues.


Disaster reduction, desertification, biodiversity, the Programme of Action for small island developing States, and new and renewable sources of energy were debated as part of the Committee's overall consideration of environment and sustainable development.


Conventional energy alone would not be able to address the energy demands of developing countries, said the representative of Zimbabwe.  In many instances those methods did not meet the needs of rural, remote and isolated areas economically.  In some cases, the electricity grid might not reach those areas in a conceivable time frame and, where they did, they may not be economical.  Solar energy could, therefore, provide energy needs and also stimulate economic development at the local level.  That in turn would discourage rural-to-urban migration, which characterized many societies today.


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) continued to stress the importance of renewable sources of energy in the context of its programme to promote food security and rural development, the FAO representative said.  Solar, wind, biomass, hydro and geothermal energies could all be used in agriculture.  Farmers required information on those options.  To that end, local and national authorities in the energy and agricultural sectors in developing countries required assistance in devising the necessary policies, as well as the technical and financial mechanisms, to establish renewable energy programmes.


The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said the almost total dependence on imported petroleum was reason alone to warrant seeking alternative and more sustainable energy systems.  There were, however, significant constraints to the large-scale commercial use of renewable energy resources.  Small island developing States did not have the capacity or means to invest in renewable energy sources or to develop or obtain the right technology.  The international financial institutions, including the Global Environment Facility, should therefore support the efforts of those States in developing energy resources.


Delegates also highlighted the importance of efforts to combat desertification, which they said was a major source of poverty creation.  The representative of Burkina Faso said that desertification today was one of the worst environmental problems facing developing nations.  The ever-decreasing resources of water and soil caused the further degradation of the poor.  Combating desertification called for committed actions by all nations.


Statements were also made by the representatives of Ecuador, Mongolia, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominican Republic, Republic of Korea and Egypt.


The representatives of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; the World Meteorological Organization (WMO); the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also spoke.


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 5 November, when it will take up sectoral policy questions, focusing specifically on the sub-items business and development, and industrial development cooperation.


Background


The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this morning to continue its consideration of disaster reduction, desertification, biodiversity, the Programme of Action for small island developing States, and new and renewable sources of energy, as part of its overall consideration of environment and sustainable development.


For background information see Press Release GA/EF/2969 of 30 October.


Statements


T.J.B. JOKONYA (Zimbabwe) said developing countries were only too aware of energy concerns, principally because the majority of their populations lived in rural areas with no grid electricity and with minimal investment targeted at that sector.  The worsening energy supply situation had seen rural women spending more and more time looking for and collecting firewood -– this was in spite of the fact that many developing countries were within the world’s best sunbelts.  Solar energy could therefore provide energy needs and also stimulate economic development at the local level.  That in turn would discourage rural-to-urban migration, which characterized many societies today.


Conventional energy alone would not be able to address the energy demands of developing countries, he added.  In many instances those methods did not meet the needs of rural, remote and isolated areas economically.  In some cases, the electricity grid might not reach those areas in a conceivable time-frame and where they did, they might not be economical.  The subject of new and renewable sources of energy should receive due attention at the World Summit in Johannesburg, leading to the adoption of concrete initiatives that gave impetus to the implementation of programmes of the World Solar Commission.


MARIO ALEMÁN (Ecuador) said that the 1997-1998 El Niño phenomenon had severely affected several regions of the world, resulting in serious economic and environmental damage.  In Ecuador, there had been about $3 billion in damage.  Those serious consequences had led the Assembly to give special treatment to the phenomenon, in order to better understand it, and elaborate a long-term strategy to deal with it.  During its fifty-second session, the Assembly adopted a resolution on international cooperation to reduce the impact of the El Niño phenomenon, which stressed the need to improve international efforts to improve scientific knowledge on it.


In compliance with that resolution, the first meeting of experts on El Niño was held in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in November 1998, he continued.  That meeting resulted in the Guayaquil Declaration, which recommended the establishment of an international centre on research into El Niño in Guayaquil, an initiative led by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).  The Assembly subsequently adopted all necessary measures to establish that Centre.  In September 2000, the Memorandum on Cooperation between Ecuador and the WMO was signed, starting the work related to the establishment of the Centre.  Hence, work started between the Government, the WMO and the Secretariat on the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). 


He trusted that the international community would respond positively and provide the necessary financial and technical assistance to the Centre, he added.  Also, he hoped the draft resolution, submitted by the "Group of 77" and China and Mexico, would receive the support of all delegations.


VERA WEILL-HALLE, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), on behalf of the Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, said the Convention provided innovative ways and a common framework for removing constraints that trapped the poor in destitution.  The poor often farmed degraded land that was insufficient to meet their needs.  That resulted in desertification, which increased poverty and other social problems.  With as many as 75 per cent of the poor living in rural areas, it was clear that desertification was a threat to more than rural poverty alleviation.  It was also a significant obstacle to achieving the goals of halving poverty by 2015.  Nations must ensure that the Convention fulfilled its potential of achieving concrete results on the ground.


She said the World Summit on Sustainable Development offered a clear opportunity to assess how well the objectives of the Convention had been advanced. However, it was also a moment to raise further awareness of the Convention's potential to incorporate the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development.  The IFAD enabled nations to advocate the goals of the Convention and to explore new opportunities for generating resources to implement it.  In the context of the Summit, IFAD was in the process of consultation with partners and the wider development community to mobilize greater support for financing for rural development.


FLORENCE A. CHENOWETH, Director, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Liaison Office, said that FAO was actively involved in preparations for the World Summit, particularly with regard to preparing documentation for the required intergovernmental process.  It had found that, despite progress at the global level, problems of food insecurity and poverty continued to affect over 1 billion people, three quarters of them in rural areas.  Global trends in land degradation, soil loss and desertification persisted with particular intensity for many lower-income countries and disadvantaged groups, decreasing the livelihoods of small farmers and inducing further resource depletion. 


While adoption of new agricultural technologies had generally resulted in significant production increases, those technologies were not reaching the most needy, she said.  In that regard, efforts had been made to involve resource users in decision-making to address more effectively the needs of low-income countries and fragile ecosystems. 


The FAO, she said, continued to stress the importance of renewable sources of energy in the context of its programme to promote food security and rural development.  Solar, wind, biomass, hydro and geothermal energies could all be used in agriculture.  Farmers required information on those options.  To that end, local and national authorities in the energy and agricultural sectors in developing countries required assistance in devising the necessary policies, as well as the technical and financial mechanisms to establish renewable energy programmes. 


JARGALSAIKHANY ENKHSAIKHAN (Mongolia) said that landlocked developing countries were among the most vulnerable in the global economy.  Heavy dependence on a few export-based sectors, mostly in primary commodities, for economic and social growth increased demands on natural resources in those countries.  Depletion of natural resources and pressures on the environment decreased productivity, especially in the agricultural sector.  Mongolia had already been affected by different degrees of degradation.  The situation now was characterized by both drastically increasing pressures on the environment and the threat of decreased production in agriculture, the backbone of his country's economy.


He also underlined the necessity of continued efforts to combat desertification as a priority for his country.  Bearing in mind the overarching role played by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), he said governments had the responsibility to ensure the adequate replenishment of the Facility, as well as to identify ways and means to improve access to the Facility's resources.  Furthermore, consideration of the scope of the Facility's programme activities, particularly with regard to land degradation and desertification, should be welcomed.  Despite its efforts to implement the National Action Plan to Combat Desertification, financial and human resource constraints still hindered Mongolia's efforts.


ROSLYN LAUREN KHAN-CUMMINGS (Trinidad and Tobago) said that her country had been engaged with the international community in various forums and at the national level to pursue the objectives of the Barbados Programme of Action for small island developing States.  In collaboration with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), it hosted a workshop, in December 2000, to assist small island developing States in enhancing their capacity to deal with environmental degradation and global environmental management.  It benefited from the IFAD, which helped to develop a regional strategic opportunities paper for Eastern Caribbean countries and Trinidad and Tobago, identifying common problems and potential solutions on the integration of natural resource conservation measures into rural development initiatives. 


She noted from the Secretary-General’s report that insufficient attention had been given to activities in the field of information and communications technology, where some small island developing States needed access to digital opportunities and enhanced connectivity to promote development efforts.  There was still work to be done to make the application of a vulnerability index a reality.  She anticipated that those areas would be more fully addressed in the short term and would be considered in the preparatory activities for the World Summit.  Also, she hoped that the International Conference on Financing for Development would provide the political commitment needed to address sustainable development and the financing of it.


DER KOGDA (Burkina Faso) said that desertification today was one of the worst environmental problems facing developing nations and contributed to increased poverty.  The ever-decreasing resources of water and soil caused further degradation of the poor.  Combating desertification called for committed actions by all nations.  His country suffered from repeated droughts and other environmental factors.  In that regard, a number of actions had been taken, including programmes to increase the understanding of the causes of drought and desertification.  There were also national policies for environmental education to promote active partnership from all sectors.


Nations should offer strong support to the efforts of the United Nations to improve the global environment, he said.  Such efforts were key to attaining sustainable development throughout the planet and that would lead to improvements in the living conditions for all.  Greater resources in that regard were needed, especially for combating drought and desertification in Africa.


JOSÉ RAFAEL PIMENTEL PACHECO (Dominican Republic) said he hoped the results of the World Summit would be transparent, sustainable and incontrovertible.  There was not doubt that, with efforts and dedication to reduce poverty, the Summit would produce a positive outcome.  Reducing poverty should therefore be the vital focus of the Summit.  His country considered the preservation of the environment among the most important of its national priorities.  In that regard, a broad national plan had been created to combat deforestation.  There were also plans to help create clean rivers and lakes and ensure clean drinking water. Social support plans were also in place to help the poor and unemployed.


His country considered the El Niño phenomenon to be natural terrorism that left in its wake huge losses of life, as well as material losses, he said.  Nations needed to increase their efforts to find new and innovative ways to combat the effects of El Niño.  He strongly supported United Nations resolutions that would ensure the preservation of land and seas as well as those resolutions that ensured safe, clean and sustainable development in all its aspects.


CHAN-HEE LEE (Republic of Korea) said that the energy issue was one of the key components for discussion of sustainable development.  There were many challenges confronting new and renewable energy development and utilization.  The most serious constraint was the uncertainty in marketing new and renewable energy, which prevented the private sector from active investment.  The adjustment of energy price structure and expansion of public-private joint investments in renewable and alternative energy sources could be solutions to that problem.


Introducing his country’s programmes in that area, he said that the Government was preparing a long-term plan to adjust the energy price structure.  That plan would raise both the absolute and relative price of those types of energy that emitted more pollutants than others.  That would encourage greater investment in energy saving facilities and equipment and development of alternative energy.  Also, by 2004, the Government planned to produce electricity for 17,000 households by recovering landfill gas.  Through that project, it expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 500,000 carbon tons per year.


ENCHO GOSPODINOV, representative of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said that the Federation took part in the various working groups of the inter-agency task force on disaster reduction.  It approached disasters from the viewpoint of the victims.  Programmes which sought to reduce the impact of disasters were vital ingredients in the Federation’s strategies for preparedness.  The number of killed due to disasters was staggering.  Statistics showed that natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, landslides and volcanic eruptions, killed about 70,000 to 80,000 people per year.  During the first 30 years of the twentieth century that number was in the millions.


The statistics which concerned him were those that showed the number of people affected by disasters every year, he said.  The figures of people affected were constantly increasing.  Most disasters did not kill most of its victims instantly.  They wreaked havoc not by killing lives, but by killing livelihoods.  Fifty years ago, an average of 50 million people were affected every year.  Last year, that figure was 256 million.  While the direct loss of life had been averted, the reality today was that millions were forced into living in marginalization, which in turn created new forms of vulnerability.  Disasters were, first and foremost, a threat to economic and social development.  They sought out the poor and made sure they remained poor.


DANIEL D. C. DON NANJIRA, representative of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), highlighted a number of links that were necessary, but were either missing or too weak to make a difference in environmental protection and sustainable development.  First, it was necessary to link the issues discussed under item 98 to the World Summit.  Second, there must be a link between sustainable science and technology and sustainable development.  There was clear evidence, as seen in the experience of Bangladesh, that increased application of scientific and technological advance resulted in better yields in food crops and reduced the negative impacts of natural disasters.


Third, he continued, it was necessary to have an elaborate link between the discussion of item 98 and the outcomes of the Yokohama Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction.  Fourth, every effort should be made to enhance the capacities of developing nations to deal effectively with environment and development-related problems, including natural disasters.  They were the most vulnerable victims.  Finally, there was the need to link indigenous and traditional knowledge and practices to the discussions on the environment and sustainable development.


IRENE FREUDENSCHUSS-REICHL, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said energy was a prerequisite for economic and social development.  It was also a precondition for industrial development.  Access to reliable and affordable energy, however, was very unevenly distributed, both between countries and within countries.  The World Energy Council estimated that slightly more than 1 billion people in the industrialized world consumed nearly

60 per cent of total energy supply, whereas the 5 billion people in developing countries consumed only 40 per cent.  To make matters worse, it was estimated that one third of the world's population, most of whom lived in rural areas of developing countries, did not have access to electric power and other modern energy services.


She said the poor in rural areas could not afford the relatively high cost of extending the electricity grids or investing in stand-alone energy systems.  The rural poor, however, were able to pay for the energy they actually consumed.  The international community and governments had a major role to play in providing reliable and affordable modern energy services to the rural poor.  In those areas, a variety of renewable energy technologies -- such as wind, solar, and small hydro-power -- made the most sense.  Once developed, they stimulated the local economy.   Among its efforts, UNIDO's programmes on the promotion of renewable energy technologies focused on expanding renewable energy applications in commercial, or near commercial, markets, where they were cost competitive with fossil fuel energies.


PATRICK A. LEWIS (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said that while the work on the vulnerability index was progressing, the Assembly had time and again acknowledged the range of constraints that confronted small island developing States.  Those constraints posed direct and specific disadvantages, which included among others, an inability to gain from economies of scale, dependence on remote and alarmingly shrinking market opportunities and high costs for energy, transportation and communication.  It should come as no surprise therefore as to why global solutions were critical to small island States and why the preparations for the Summit were important.


He said that the almost total dependence on imported petroleum was reason alone to warrant seeking alternative and more sustainable energy systems.  As it was, that dependence caused severe imbalances in trade.  There were, however, significant constraints on the large-scale commercial use of renewable energy resources.  Small island States did not have the capacity or means to invest in renewable sources or to develop or obtain the right technology.  Also, many did not have adequate skills or management capabilities.  Therefore, he called on the international financial institutions, including the GEF, to support the efforts of small island States in that area.


Based on the experience of the past several years, he said it was evident that the increasing role for renewable energy should become an important part of the overall strategy for small island States.  In their endeavours to harness renewable energy sources, small island States would require external assistance for enhanced technical, managerial and financial arrangements to make the necessary investments.


CHRISTINE ALFSEN-NORODOM, representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said that the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity had invited UNESCO to launch a Global Initiative on Biodiversity Education and Public Awareness.  That Initiative aimed to mobilize governments, experts and organizations in all countries.  A global team effort was essential and should include as many key institutions as possible.  An overall strategy and draft programme of work for the Initiative had been developed and would be considered by the Convention’s governing body at its sixth session in April 2002 in the Netherlands.


She highlighted four priority areas within the Initiative’s strategy and programme of work.  First, educate and raise awareness about biodiversity by increasing integration of stakeholder’s interests and activities among parties, governments, ministries, and organizations concerned with biological diversity education and public awareness issues.  Second, develop networking and exchange mechanisms for effective development and implementation of plans, programmes and projects.  Third, highlight and integrate the communication and educational aspects of the Convention by identifying key areas linked to biodiversity policies.  Fourth, development of practical models for biodiversity education and public awareness through lessons learned and best practices, based on research findings of actual case studies.


IHAB GAMALELDIN (Egypt) expressed his appreciation to the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat for the Convention to Combat Desertification.  He commended the work done by that Secretariat and called for full support to be given to it on par with other convention secretariats.  He drew attention to the African Regional Ministerial Meeting for the Summit, which emphasized that combating land degradation and desertification was crucial for poverty eradication.


Also, he commended the Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) for its presentation.  The Assembly should give strong support to its work, including strengthening its budget and providing the necessary human resources.  He endorsed the proposal by the Secretary-General to

review the implementation of the Yokohama Strategy.  The Summit should include a strong component on disaster reduction. 


Further, he requested clarification from the ISDR Secretariat on the composition of the Task Force.  He felt the membership of regional organizations on the Task Force should be on a permanent basis, rather than a rotational one.  Also, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs would be selecting representatives of non-governmental organizations and civil society to serve on that Task Force.  He felt that a formal mechanism was needed for that selection, in order to follow the rules of procedure and guarantee that the process was under the oversight of the intergovernmental machinery.


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For information media. Not an official record.