|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Commission on Sustainable Development
10th & 11th Meetings (AM & PM)
Commission on Sustainable Development told of need to incorporate climate change
strategies into africa’s bid to close gap between potential, productivity
Efforts to close the persistent gap between Africa’s potential and its current stagnant economic growth and declining agricultural productivity must incorporate sustainable strategies to address adequately the deep threats posed by climate change, the Commission for Sustainable Development was told today as it continued an in-depth dialogue on the continent.
Echoing discussions held during the first week of the Commission’s sixteenth session, which runs through next Friday, Government delegates joined development experts and civil society representatives in highlighting Africa’s particular vulnerability to global warming, stressing that the continent ignored at its peril the need to seed climate change adaptation strategies throughout its policies for economic and agricultural development.
In parallel meetings, the Commission also considered issues that cut across all topics on its 2008-2009 agenda, namely: agriculture; rural development; land; drought; desertification; and Africa. It also held an interactive discussion with representatives from its registered partnership initiatives and representatives of the major civil society groups.
During the full day of expert panel discussions, many speakers emphasized the way in which Africa’s image as a failing continent incapable either of feeding itself or unanimously achieving the Millennium Development Goals belied the untapped wealth of its natural resources. Yet, Africa needed bold and “pro-poor” policies to safeguard its natural resources, diversify its energy infrastructure and boost financial investments in its agricultural, industrial and energy sectors in order to realize that potential.
One expert said energy infrastructure for viable economic development did not exist in Africa, although the continent was rich in both fossil and renewable energy sources, with roughly 9 to 10 per cent of the world’s oil, natural gas and coal reserves. To foster sustainable development in the energy sector, hydro, solar and wind power systems must also be harnessed. There was a need to tap growing indigenous financing schemes for energy which raised the potential for widespread growth, particularly in Kenya, United Republic of Tanzania, Senegal and South Africa.
Another expert said climate change was already causing deforestation, coastal erosion, rising sea levels, drought, flooding and growing food insecurity in Africa. Erratic meteorological events and patterns were putting pressure on water sources, agriculture, livestock and people, who were being pushed in growing numbers to cities, where much of the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change were generated. As a result, designing strategies to adapt to and curb climate change that supported vibrant urban communities was imperative. The use of non-motorized transport, energy-efficient building practices and materials, renewable energy sources and environmental planning and maintenance were among the appropriate urban measures that could be taken.
Noting the increasingly lethal challenges to Africa’s food production posed by climate change, another expert stressed that, given the continent’s relatively low-level of carbon emissions on a per capita basis, adaptation was more important than mitigation. Adaptation should be proactive and make use of trade policy and food aid, as well as technology and human and bio-physical capital. Introducing hybrid, drought-resistant seed varieties and rotating growing seasons would also provide benefits, as would research and education. Though often overlooked, regional economic integration offered further means through which countries could adapt to climate change.
Another speaker, highlighting the efforts of African nations to monitor implementation of sustainable development initiatives, pointed to the African Round Table for Sustainable Consumption and Production, established following the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. That initiative, which would be holding it fifth round table next month, was set to examine how sustainable consumption and production could contribute to Africa’s quest to attain the Millennium Development Goals. It would also consider how to implement and finance a sustainable consumption and production plan.
One speaker said that, while it was understandable that, in the face of the current food crisis, some political leaders were calling for immediate food aid and other short-term remedies, such tactics ignored the most sustainable and cost-effective solution -- boosting agricultural productivity at home. “The answer to Africa’s food crisis is in Africa.” Strengthening agricultural productivity required improvements in soil and water, in addition to crop diversification. Those efforts must be backed by enabling policies and the political will to implement them and effectively monitor their progress. Malawi’s success in transforming itself from one of Southern Africa’s historically food-dependent countries into a major donor of maize over the past year was an example of what could be accomplished.
The Commission will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Monday, 12 May, to consider small island developing States. A parallel meeting devoted to a review of decisions taken at its thirteenth session on water and sanitation will begin at 11:30 a.m.
Thematic Panel Discussions on Africa
Commission Chairperson Francis Nhema (Zimbabwe) presided over the morning panel, which featured panellists Ogunlade Davidson, Dean of Post-Graduate Studies, University of Sierra Leone; Mohammed al Sioufi, Head of Shelter Branch, UN-Habitat; Luigi Cabrini, Director of the Sustainable Development Division of the World Tourism Organization; and Peter Holmgren, Director of the Environment, Climate Change and Bio-energy Division, Natural Resources Management Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The afternoon panel on Africa, chaired by Mr. Nhema and later by Commission Vice-Chairperson Daniel Carmon (Israel), featured: Julie Howard, Executive Director, Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa; Akinwumi Adesina, Vice-President of Policy and Partnerships, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa; Peter Hartmann, Director-General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture; and Robert Richardson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation, and Resource Studies at Michigan State University.
Mr. DAVIDSON opened the morning discussion, which focused on natural-resource management, infrastructure development and climate change, by pointing out that Africa was rich in both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources, with roughly 9 to 10 per cent of the world’s oil, natural gas and coal reserves, but it consumed the least energy globally. Two thirds of the energy that Africa produced was exported, particularly oil and natural gas, although the continent had a huge and urgent need for energy.
Turning to electricity production, 80 per cent of which came from fossil fuels, he said energy infrastructure for viable economic development did not exist in Africa, and rural areas in particular had extremely poor access to electricity. One of the biggest problems facing the continent was energy security. Countries like the United States, China and India were keenly interested in Africa’s resources, and the need to manage those outside interests was becoming increasingly urgent. To foster sustainable development in the energy sector, hydro, solar and wind power systems must also be harnessed. Growing indigenous financing schemes for energy -- particularly in Kenya, United Republic of Tanzania, Senegal and South Africa -- raised the potential for widespread growth and should be tapped. Off-grid energy systems should be expanded and their integration fostered through greater cooperation among different countries.
Mr. AL SIOUFI said humans were contributing to global warming from the moment they woke up. In Africa, climate change was causing deforestation, coastal erosion, rising sea levels, drought, flooding and growing food insecurity, among other ills. Erratic meteorological events and patterns were putting pressure on water sources, livestock and agriculture. Those pressures were ultimately pushing growing numbers of people into cities, which generated much of the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.
As a result, designing climate change strategies to support Africa’s vibrant cities was imperative, he said. Appropriate measures would include the use of non-motorized transport, energy-efficient building practices and materials, renewable energy sources and environmental planning and maintenance.
Mr. CABRINI, noting that tourism could be a powerful tool for sustainable development while contributing greatly to economic development, said it nevertheless remained largely unexplored in Africa, despite its widespread potential there. Tourism growth had been higher in Africa in recent years than in the rest of the world, but its market share remained lower than it could be. Its potential to benefit Africa’s sustainable development agenda, as outlined in the Johannesburg Plan, was stymied as a result.
To reduce poverty, he said, tourism should be developed to employ the poorest people, to encourage direct sales of goods and services produced by poor people and communities, to establish local, micro- and medium-sized enterprises, and to tax or levy tourism in ways that benefited local economies. Africa must also enhance its international reputation as a tourist destination. The tourism supply chain had a high capacity to support and complement other economic activities such as traditional agricultural, transport and handicrafts.
Mr. HOLMGREN said human-induced climate change posed the most serious developmental challenge of the twenty-first century. Food-insecure developing countries with already fragile environments, which were regrettably numerous on the continent, were particularly vulnerable. It was important to identify any mechanisms that enabled the most vulnerable to cope with climate change impacts. Technical adaptation measures, such as crop rotations, agro-forestry and crop and species diversification, could confer a level of protection, as could disaster risk-management plans and insurance systems.
Highlighting soil carbon sequestration as a quick and cost-effective method to mitigate climate change and help local farmers, he said the establishment of a global soil carbon sequestration initiative through FAO could play a leading role in that process. There was also potential in the United Nations initiative reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) in developing countries. Other tools that were, or would soon be, available for developing countries included land degradation assessment schemes and an integrated natural-resource assessment that built on the Forest Resources Assessment programme.
Ms. HOWARD opened the afternoon discussion, by noting the “comprehensive” gap between the embrace of agriculture at the policy level and the investment level. While overall foreign aid and investment in Africa were increasing, the bulk was devoted largely to health and education programmes rather than agricultural ones, even though research showed that agricultural growth had multiplier effects on economies, as well as the potential to lower food prices. Expanded investment in agriculture to raise productivity was the first priority.
To be effective, funding should seek to stimulate a long-term food-grain response in Africa by targeting safety nets, increasing food-for-work programmes and establishing school-feeding initiatives, she said. Efforts to lower domestic food prices could succeed if taxes and tariffs were lowered, as was being done in Mali. One initiative that offered a successful model for funding agricultural activities was the African Union/NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). NEPAD had also identified priority infrastructure development corridors that would help countries, regional organizations and potential donors and investors to sort out the most critical infrastructure needs.
Mr. ADESINA, underscoring Africa’s declining agricultural production, said the continent could ill afford to continue importing food without raising its agricultural yields. Although short-term measures were necessary to mitigate the social and health impacts of escalating food costs, productivity must be accelerated over the long term to drive down prices. A lack of crop diversity and a low rate of fertilizer use were partly to blame for Africa’s low productivity. In addition, Government policies had often been a disaster for small farmers.
To feed itself, Africa should enlist multiple stakeholders, including farmers, Government administrators, the private sector, researchers and investors in fostering a green revolution of its own, he said. Such a revolution should focus on growing the agro-industries sector and addressing the poverty trap crippling small farmers. One way to tackle the latter problem was by supporting small farmers through Government subsidies. Also, a green revolution occurring against the backdrop of climate change required the development of drought-resistant crops.
Mr. HARTMANN said the current food system was under stress and Africa could be an important part of the solution. With numerous concrete assets, from its arable lands to its diversity of agricultural zones, Africa offered untapped yield potential, too, but leadership, research models and greater investment were also needed to boost productivity and unleash agriculture so it could truly serve the continent. Technological advances would also be key to that process. For example, bio-control systems would cut out the need for pesticides that small farmers could not afford.
Describing lessons learned through the Food Security Research Project, Mr. RICHARDSON said research should be integrated into policy dialogue and programme design to promote sustainable agricultural growth and cut hunger and poverty. Both individual and collective action was necessary and should be harmonized. In addition, models should work from the field up, incorporating data from the local community rather than from a mass, national plane.
Turning to threats to the lessons he had learned through the Food Security Research Project, he highlighted the increasingly lethal challenges of climate change to Africa’s food production. Mitigation was not as important as adaptation, given that, on a per capita basis, Africa had relatively low levels of carbon emission. Adaptation should be proactive and use mechanisms like trade policy and food aid, in addition to technology and human and biophysical capital. Introducing hybrid, drought-resistant seed varieties and rotating growing seasons would provided benefits, as would research and education extensions. Though often overlooked, regional economic integration offered further means through which countries could adapt to climate change.
During the interactive discussions that followed both panels, many speakers underscored the continent’s need to develop its energy sector, describing such an effort as a priority for both sustainable and economic development. Africa’s “power problem” threatened all efforts to eradicate poverty, they said.
Many African speakers highlighted the way in which climate change was already affecting the continent, with desertification and drought pushing rural and poor populations to overexploit the environment. Given the scope of existing and looming environmental effects, it was increasingly urgent for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies to be integrated into poverty eradication programmes across the continent, many speakers agreed.
For such efforts to succeed, he said, they would have to be informed by credible local data and practical experiences, and effective data-gathering mechanisms and multi-stakeholder participation would be required. Some speakers also stressed that it was essential for a post-2012 framework for combating climate change to recognize Africa’s particular vulnerability.
A speaker from an industrialized country highlighted the way in which developed countries could and, in fact, already were integrating environmental issues into their development and aid programmes, including through the Global Climate Change Alliance and the European Union-Africa Partnership on Climate Change, among other initiatives.
In recognition of Africa’s need to shape its own future, speakers called for the strengthening of the NEPAD Peer Review Mechanism to encourage African countries in their pursuit of the Millennium Goals. A few speakers recognized NEPAD’s success in addressing local needs and bringing examples from other countries to those local initiatives.
A number of speakers said that achieving any breakthroughs in the new agriculture agenda would be impossible without the international community’s support. Development and the transfer of information and communications technology should be a primary tool for the delivery of such aid.
Thematic Panel Discussion on Cross-Sectoral Issues
The Commission began its work this morning by holding one of two panel discussions on issues that cut across all the issues on its 2008-2009 agenda, namely, agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification, and Africa. The afternoon panel also included an interactive segment with representatives of the major civil society groups focusing on partnerships for sustainable development.
Commission Vice-Chairperson Melanie Santizo-Sandoval (Guatemala), chaired both discussions and the morning panellists were: Peter McPherson, President of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges; Cleophas Migiro, Director of the Cleaner Production Centre in the United Republic of Tanzania; Mona Elisabeth Brøther, Ambassador in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway; and Nadine Gouzée, Head of the Task Force on Sustainable Development in the Belgian Federal Planning Bureau.
The afternoon panel on cross-cutting issues featured Mazlan Othman, Director of the United Nations Office for Space Affairs, and Pedro Sanchez, Director of Tropical Agriculture at Colombia University’s Earth Institute.
Opening the morning discussion, Mr. McPHERSON said education was the link connecting all sustainable development issues and challenges. The National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges provided a forum for the discussion and development of policies affecting higher education and the public interest. Its agenda included projects in the areas of accountability, global competitiveness -- including the education of science and math teachers worldwide -- and the internationalization of university campuses.
He said the Association had just received several grants, including from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for its Africa-US Higher Education Collaboration Initiative. Broad-based development and growth in Africa required the building of significant human and institutional capacity. Higher education institutions were of key importance in the process of developing and nurturing the human capacity, research capability and outreach programmes required for equitable and sustainable growth and transformation. To that end, the Association’s programme aimed to enhance and empower higher education institutions in Africa and the United States to contribute more effectively to African development and transformation, and to increase the competency of higher education institutions in the United States in Africa-related global affairs.
Mr. MIGIRO, highlighting the efforts of African nations to monitor implementation of sustainable development initiatives, said the African Round Table had been established in the aftermath of the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. The panel met periodically to review implementation of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and in 2006 it had launched the African 10-Year Framework Programme on Sustainable Consumption and Production. That initiative -- focused on key priorities to be undertaken under the thematic areas of energy, water, urban development, and industrial development -- was set to examine, among other things, how sustainable consumption and production could contribute to Africa’s quest to attain the Millennium Goals and sustainable development; what specific actions should be considered in the implementation of a sustainable consumption and production plan; and what financing mechanisms should be put in place for the effective implementation of such a plan.
Ms. BRØTHER said discussions during the session’s various expert panels this week had revealed that some countries, especially in the developing world, faced myriad sustainable development challenges. The experts had highlighted now indisputable links between rural and urban socio-economic development, while stressing that international efforts could no longer overlook the three important dimensions of rural development: caretaking and sustainable land-use; food production and agricultural productivity; and sound livelihoods and full, productive employment.
She said the discussants had also noted that secure land tenure was a prerequisite for people to empower themselves, including by gaining access to market and credit, and being able to win social and economic rights. Indeed, it had been made clear that sustainable development -- including adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change effects, access to clean water and proper sanitation -- depended totally on an empowered population. As for lessons learned, it was clear that reform must be bottom-up and that the cross-sectoral approach could only be successful if it was recognized, formulated, supportable and made accountable at the local level.
That was a challenge for both Governments and grass-roots groups to promote and maintain equitable partnerships that addressed key sustainable development issues such as property rights and access to basic services, she said. The focus on the empowerment of women, especially in the rural sector, was also important in that regard. Above all, cross-sectoral approaches required partnerships that would include, among others, the organized poor, women’s groups and indigenous peoples’ organizations, which were crucial because of their broad knowledge of land management, natural resource protection and adaptation to ecological challenges. Cross-sectoral approaches must also link informal and formal sectors and identify the best practices of both. The cross-sectoral approach was inevitable. “Without it [the puzzle] that is sustainable development will always be missing the one piece that will allow us to see the full picture […] the rights-based approach and empowering people to obtain their rights to be partners in sustainable development is our common task.”
Ms. GOUZÉE’s presentation focused on the need for sustainable development strategies because the process required integration of the content of relevant decisions made with actions to be taken. A successful strategy would be based on a cyclical and interactive process of reporting, planning, participation and monitoring, by relevant stakeholders, all emphasizing progress towards specific sustainable development goals, rather than producing yet another plan as an end product.
In the afternoon discussion, Ms. OTHMAN highlighted the role and applications of space technology, such as Earth observation systems, meteorological satellites, satellite communications and navigation and positioning systems, in supporting the implementation of actions called for in Johannesburg. Such technologies could also make a significant contribution to the thematic cluster and cross-cutting issues under consideration by the Commission in the period 2008-2009.
She said space applications had been proven effective tools for monitoring and conducting assessments of the environment, managing the use of natural resources, providing early warning of natural disasters and managing them, providing education and health services in rural and remote areas, and connecting people around the world. They were multifaceted and often offered, through a single instrument or application, the means for States to make development decisions concerning various cross-cutting issues.
Among other examples, she cited the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (SPIDER) -- implemented as a programme of her Office -- as an open network of providers of disaster management support. SPIDER aimed to provide countries and all relevant international and regional organizations with universal access to space-based information and services relevant to disaster management; and support the full disaster management cycle by serving as a gateway to space information for disaster management support, as a bridge to connect the disaster management and space communities, and as a facilitator of capacity-building and institution-strengthening, for developing countries in particular.
Mr. SANCHEZ, who is also Co-Chair of the Millennium Project’s Hunger Task Force, said that, in light of surging food and commodity prices, “The answer to Africa’s food crisis is in Africa.” While it was understandable that, in the face of the crisis, some political leaders were calling for immediate food aid and other short-term remedies, such tactics ignored the most sustainable and cost-effective solution -- boosting agricultural productivity, especially in Africa, where hunger and malnutrition were chronic conditions for so many people. Strengthening the continent’s agricultural productivity required, among other things, improvements in soil and water, and diversification of crops.
Efforts to that end must be backed by enabling policies and political will to implement them and effectively monitor progress so that proper and timely strategy adjustments could be made, he said. In its work, the Millennium Project had found that, when farmers in Africa and elsewhere were supplied with the right inputs, including mineral and/or organic fertilizers, high-yield crop seedlings, and, in some cases, supplemental irrigation, they could increase productivity at significant rates. That would also improve food security, as experience had shown that producing foodstuffs locally cost about one tenth of what it took to import.
He went on to highlight Malawi’s success in transforming itself from one of Southern Africa’s historically food-dependent countries into a major donor of maize over the past year. That was a case where the Government had taken a very courageous position and moved to subsidize the sale of high-yield seeds and nitrogen-based fertilizer to small farmers, leading to an exceptional maize harvest. Crop yields had doubled and last month’s harvest had resulted in a 50 per cent surplus, a considerable turn-around for one of Africa’s poorest nations whose nutrient-depleted, eroded soils and scarce farmland had led to decades-long declines in agricultural production.
Responding to questions, he said the community had been in the driver’s seat and its leaders had interacted with scientists to get the project right. Malawi was now a major food contributor to the World Food Programme (WFP) and had become a major exporter to neighbouring Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland.
During the interactive discussion that followed the morning panel, a representative of the youth caucus said: “We are on fertile ground to set in motion change that will last.” To promote lasting change leading to sustainable development for all, partnerships should be established in education and skills transfer, and Governments should invest more in “green innovation” and clean energy technologies. Other youth representatives stressed the need for a collective and ethical approach to sustainable development that would require changes in government/corporate direction, as well as individual behaviour.
Other speakers from civil society highlighted key needs such as securing water and land resources; ownership of and access to research results; market power; and horizontal partnerships. While applauding the Commission’s effort to examine its chosen themes more broadly, many speakers said discussions about “cross-cutting” issues must of necessity focus centrally on gender equality, land management and natural resource/biodiversity protection.
Many representatives of Government delegations called on stakeholders to support the Marrakech Process, which supports the elaboration of a 10-Year Framework of Programmes on sustainable consumption and production, as stipulated in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. The goals of that process were critical, especially because it sought to help countries green their economies; assist corporations in developing greener business models; and encourage consumers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.
The Commission wrapped up its work in the afternoon by holding an interactive discussion with representatives of partnership initiatives registered with the sixteenth session, and those of the major civil society groups: women, children and youth; indigenous peoples; non-governmental organizations; business; academia; local authorities; scientists; workers; and trade unions.
Commission Vice-Chairperson Sasa Ojdanic (Serbia) presided over the discussion, which included invited guests: Loren Finnell, President and Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director of the Resource Foundation, Latin American Clean Water Initiative; Helen Marquard, Executive Director, Supporting Entrepreneurs for Environment and Development; Kaddu Sebunya, Programme Director for Technical Design, African Wildlife Foundation, Congo Basin Forest Partnership; Amanda Luzande, Regional Manager, Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, South Africa; Clair Servini, Italian Trade Commission for the Global Bio-energy Partnership; and Peter Holmgren of the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development Initiative.
KATHLEEN ABDALLA, Officer-in-Charge, Division for Sustainable Development, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on Partnerships for Sustainable Development (document E/CN.17/2008/10), which notes that 95 registered partnerships with the sixteenth session have identified the Commission’s thematic issues for the 2008-2009 cycle as the primary focus of their work. The report points out that, while these initiatives vary significantly in terms of sustainable development issues addressed, management structures, number of partners and scope, certain factors are common to all registered partnerships.
Among the representatives of the major groups taking the floor, a speaker for farmers’ organizations said there was a lack of communication with Governments, which seemed not to trust grass-roots organizations. That must change, especially as Governments and civil society, especially farmers and producers, needed to share knowledge and experiences in order to craft the adequate conditions and policies that would ensure a sustainable world for all.
A representative of the science and technology community called for more focus on small and medium farm holders, who were critical to the sustainable development process, especially in rural areas. Even though it was widely known that the sustainable development process was multifaceted and complex, Governments and intergovernmental agencies continued to push “one-size-fits-all” policies; a critical mistake, particularly for policies concerning new technologies or technology transfer. Any policies concerning small farm holders must introduce appropriate, low-cost technology for local site-specific application.
A representative of local authorities said that, while “partnership” had been a “magic buzzword” during and immediately after the Johannesburg World Summit, it had since become clear that many such initiatives had foundered because the stakeholders had failed to set out official, binding guidelines and frameworks to ensure implementation. Moreover, many of those touted initiatives had not received promised funding and, ultimately, only a few had reached the implementation stage. Worse, intergovernmental agencies had pressed ahead on their commitments post-Johannesburg, but had experienced trouble finding willing partners to carry out programmes on the ground. With all that in mind, there was a need for “true and fair partnerships” in which the parties would identify common goals and mutual expectations, and agree on funding arrangements at the outset.
Mr. SEBUNYA said that the Congo Basin forest stretched across six countries and was the world’s second largest tropical forest. To protect that invaluable area, the Congo Basin Forest Partnership had been created and launched in Johannesburg. It comprised academics, Governments, international organizations, non-governmental environmental organizations, industry and civil society. The challenge was finding ways to balance the long-term vision for natural-resource management with critical, short-term community-level needs.
Mr. HOLMGREN said the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development Initiative, also launched in Johannesburg, was unique in that it had been founded by civil society actors but maintained strong links to FAO and other intergovernmental organizations. Its thematic priorities included: improving access to resources; fostering fair conditions of employment; and identifying and scaling up good practices.
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