INTERGOVERNMENTAL PREPARATORY MEETING OF COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT BEGINS WEEK-LONG SESSION BY DISCUSSING CLIMATE CHANGE, SMALL ISLAND STATES

23 February 2009
ENV/DEV/1026

INTERGOVERNMENTAL PREPARATORY MEETING OF COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT BEGINS WEEK-LONG SESSION BY DISCUSSING CLIMATE CHANGE, SMALL ISLAND STATES

23 February 2009
Economic and Social Council
ENV/DEV/1026
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on Sustainable Development

Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting

1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)

intergovernmental preparatory meeting of Commission on Sustainable Development

begins week-long session by discussing climate change, small island States

Under-Secretary-General:  Integrated Solutions for Multifaceted Challenges

The intergovernmental preparatory meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development this morning began its week-long session to discuss policy options and actions to facilitate policy work related to the six thematic areas of agriculture, drought, desertification, land, rural development, Africa, and interlinkages and cross-cutting issues.

Featuring presentations by the United Nations regional commissions and major groups, as well as a panel discussion on challenges faced by small island developing States, the meeting aimed to lay the groundwork for the Commission’s policy session in May, which would draw on obstacles, lessons learned and best practices identified in the priority areas since the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development and the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which created the environment-targeted Plan of Action known as Agenda 21.

Opening the preparatory meeting’s first day, Commission Chairperson Gerda Verburg ( Netherlands), said the global financial and economic crisis had created serious repercussions for sustainable development, crippling millions of the world’s poorest people with food shortages and other hardships while making it difficult to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

For too many years, agriculture and competition for water had been ignored, while less than 5 per cent of Africa’s arable land was irrigated compared with 40 per cent in Asia, she said.  Moreover, far more of the world’s natural resources were being used than it could replenish.  How the world met those challenges would have a huge impact on the future.  Competing claims on food production and the use of agricultural crops for biofuels must be balanced and a formal set of criteria for biofuel production developed.

True determination and political commitment were needed to change global policy, as were new ideas, technology and policies for a green revolution to take root, she said.  To aid that effort, the developed world should not use the global economic crisis as an excuse to pull back from past promises or avoid future ones.  A green revolution could in fact occur within environmental constraints and productivity could be increased through investment in sustainable methods.

She stressed the importance of encouraging the participation of women in decision-making processes as they were the driving force behind rural and agricultural development.  In addition, poor farmers must be empowered with adequate financing and critical inputs to increase production and better protect them from unreliable weather.  There was also a need to promote climate-change mitigation and adaptation, and to provide safety nets in case of natural disasters.

In a similar vein, Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said a more integrated sustainable development policy framework was needed to diversify economies, develop climate-friendly development pathways, reduce dependence on a few commodity exports, protect the resource base that supported economic activity, and benefit from technological change.  Food and energy price hikes, deepening poverty, hunger and malnutrition and the threat of climate change were multidimensional challenges that did not have purely economic, social or environmental solutions.  Rather, they required integrated solutions combining all three elements within the framework of sustainable development.  The task ahead was to lay the foundation for discussions that could lead to concrete, meaningful results.

He noted that his Department had organized technical and expert inputs for the upcoming discussions, which were posted on the revamped website of the Department’s Division for Sustainable Development.  They included publication of the Secretary-General’s reports on key themes before the Commission and access to several important databases, such as the one on case studies of successful sustainable development actions, a compendium of national sustainable development strategies and a large database on civil society and major group institutions that supported and participated in the sustainable development agenda.

Namibia’s representative reported on the Intersessional High-level Meeting on “Agriculture in the 21st Century:  Meeting the Challenges, Making a Sustainable Green Revolution”, which his country had hosted in Windhoek in early February, saying it had adopted a Ministerial Declaration that provided strategic direction for action plans and called for greater efforts to meet the goal of the 2003 Maputo Declaration to raise the share of national budgets devoted to agricultural and rural development to at least 10 per cent.

Commission Vice-Chairman Javad Amin Mansour ( Iran) reported on the outcome of the Capacity Development Workshop for Improving Agricultural Productivity, Water Use Efficiency and Rural Livelihoods.  Held in Bangkok in January, it was an important step in advancing key elements of the sustainable development agenda with the aim of overcoming obstacles and barriers identified by the Commission’s last session.

An official of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), speaking on behalf of the five United Nations regional commissions, said sustainable agriculture and rural development, secure and equitable access to productive land resources, mitigating the impact of drought and combating desertification were essential steps towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.  For all regions of the world, land lay at the heart of social, political and economic life, and at the core of the response to many of those challenges.  Indeed, equitable access to land, security of tenure and sustainable land and resource management were shared priorities, particularly in Africa, where agriculture employed more than 60 per cent of the continent’s labour force and accounted for 20 per cent of its gross domestic product.

Also during the meeting, Tariq Banuri, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s reports on policy options and possible actions to expedite implementation in the Commission’s six thematic issues.

Commission members also heard from the representatives of Sudan (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Bangladesh (on behalf of the least developed countries), Grenada (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)), Tonga (on behalf of the Pacific island developing States), Oman (on behalf of the Arab Group), Senegal (on behalf of the African Group), Canada, United States, Russian Federation and Australia.

Also making presentations were representatives of major groups:  women; children and youth; indigenous peoples; non-governmental organizations; local authorities; workers and trade unions; business and industry; the scientific and technological community; and farmers.

The meeting devoted its afternoon session to an interactive panel discussion with experts from small island developing States on policy options that would enable those nations to best overcome the unique challenges they faced in terms of drought, desertification, sustainable land management, rural development and agriculture.

Setting the stage for that dialogue were Djaheezah Subratty from the Ministry of Environment and National Development of Mauritius; Donovan Stanberry, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture of Jamaica; and Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia, Permanent Representative of Samoa to the United Nations.  They addressed diverse issues and challenges, ranging from the crucial need for increased agricultural productivity and investment in agriculture, to the high vulnerability of small islands as the “first and worst” victims of climate change.

The interactive panel discussion also saw the participation of delegates from Japan, Switzerland, Nigeria, Jamaica, Federated States of Micronesia, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Fiji, Guatemala, India, Norway and Chile.

In other business today, the intergovernmental meeting approved its provisional agenda and programme of work for the Commission’s seventeenth session (document E/CN.17/IPM/2009/1).

It also endorsed the Commission’s Vice-Chairpersons as follows:  Kaire Munionganda Mbuende ( Namibia) for the African Group; Tania Raguz ( Croatia) for the Eastern European Group; and Ana Bianchi ( Argentina) for the Latin American and Caribbean States Group.  The Chairperson announced that Ms. Raguz would also serve as Rapporteur of the intergovernmental preparatory meeting and the Commission.

The intergovernmental meeting will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 24 February, to continue its discussions

Background

The Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting for the seventeenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development opened this morning, with delegates gathering to discuss possible policy options and actions to facilitate the work of the Commission’s upcoming substantive session, to be held from 4 to 15 May 2009.

In addition to the outcome of the sixteenth session, Commission members had before them seven reports of the Secretary-General on, respectively, agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification, Africa and interlinkages and cross-cutting issues (documents E/CN.17/2009/3, E/CN.17/2009/4, E/CN.17/2009/5, E/CN.17/2009/6, E/CN.17/2009/7 and E/CN.17/2009/8).  Also before the Commission was a note by the Secretary-General on the contributions of regional and major groups (document E/CN.17/2009/10).

Based on a two-year cycle with a clear set of thematic issues, the Commission’s work programme provides the global community with a unique opportunity to focus in-depth attention on specific issues.  As the “policy session” of the third implementation cycle, the seventeenth session will build on the outcomes of its sixteenth session by continuing to focus on Africa, agriculture, drought and desertification, land and rural development.  At the end of the week-long preparatory session, a report will be submitted to the Commission for consideration at its seventeenth session.

Opening Statements

GERDA VERBURG ( Netherlands), Commission Chairperson, noted that, due to the financial and economic crises sweeping the globe, sustainable development had been “hit in its heart”.  But while the crises dominated the headlines, the effects of the food crisis posed challenges that could be far more devastating in developing countries.  The crippling impact of the multiple crises on millions of the world’s poorest people could be seen every day, and although Governments in the developed countries had made commitments to assist the developing world, it was clear that attainment of the first Millennium Development Goal was farther away than ever.

Emphasizing that it would be a mistake to think the food crisis was over, she said agriculture had been ignored for too many years, while at the same time, increased energy consumption and the growing menace of climate change posed immediate and future problems.  In that light, competing claims for water should not be forgotten.  Less than 5 per cent of arable land in Africa was irrigated compared with 40 per cent in Asia.  The challenges ‑- and the way in which the world acted to meet them ‑- would have a huge impact on the future.  Far more of the world’s natural resources were being used than it could replenish.

Those dilemmas ‑- in addition to competing claims on food production and the use of agricultural crops for biofuels ‑- must be balanced.  According to the World Bank, it took the same amount of grain to fill an SUV’s tank with ethanol as it did to feed one person for a year.  Clearly, the focus should be placed on second- and third-generation biofuels but without preconceptions as to what was good or bad.  A formal set of criteria for biofuel production should be developed.  Moving forward, Governments should work shoulder to shoulder with the private sector to improve communication and coordination.

That work should move beyond generalities, she said, underlining that only when concrete action plans were created would the first and seventh Millennium Goals be achieved.  True determination and political commitment would be needed to allow structural changes in world policy.  For a green revolution to take root, a revolution in ideas, technology and policies would be necessary.  In aiding that effort, the developed world should not use the global economic crisis as an excuse to pull back from past promises or to avoid future ones.  A green revolution could occur within environmental constraints and productivity could be increased through investment in sustainable methods.

But even as those improvements were made, she said, the question should constantly be asked:  how much more water and fertilizers could be used?  Indeed, efforts had moved beyond providing more to providing the tools and guidelines that would allow for more effective aid.  Further, women’s participation in decision-making processes must be encouraged as they were the driving force behind rural and agricultural development.  Agro-industry also needed more attention as a safe and developed food chain would allow countries to increase domestic productivity and open doors for export.

For the latter goal, more world-market access for products from developing countries would be decisive, she said, adding that empowering poor farmers was also a critical factor.  With adequate financing and critical inputs, farmers could increase production, but they must also be protected from the risks posed by unreliable weather.  Policies promoting climate-change mitigation and adaptation measures were needed, as were those providing safety nets in case of disaster.  The seventeenth session should be a forward-looking, action-oriented one and, to that end, a comprehensive draft report would be presented at the end of the preparatory session.  “Yes, we can”, she said, quoting a “famous son of Africa”.

SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said several challenges threatened progress towards the attainment of sustainable development goals:  the spike in food and energy prices in 2008 had led to a severe food security crisis; food prices remained high as the global financial and economic crisis exacerbated the situation; and poverty was deepening, with hunger and malnutrition on the rise again.  The world also faced the threat of climate change, which the Secretary-General had made a top United Nations priority for 2009.  Such multidimensional challenges did not have purely economic, social or environmental solutions; they required integrated solutions combining all three elements within the framework of sustainable development.

He said the task ahead was to lay the foundation for discussions during the Commission’s seventeenth session in May that could lead to concrete, meaningful results while demonstrating the relevance of sustainable development in addressing the multiple crises.  The themes on the Commission’s agenda were at the core of the sustainable development agenda:  agriculture; rural development; land; drought; desertification; and Africa.  Each was central to the Millennium Development Goals and was affected adversely by climate change and the global recession.  The policy responses in each area could help solve each challenge, but a more integrated sustainable development policy framework was needed to diversify economies, develop climate-friendly development pathways, reduce dependence on a few commodity exports, protect the resource base that supported economic activity, and benefit from technological change.

Drawing the Commission’s attention to actions by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs to organize technical and expert inputs for the upcoming discussions, he said they were all listed on the newly revamped website of the Department’s Division for Sustainable Development.  They included publication of the Secretary-General’s reports on key themes before the Commission; access to several important databases, such as the one on case studies of successful sustainable development actions, a compendium of national sustainable development strategies and a large database on civil society and major group institutions that supported and participated in the sustainable development agenda; and the convening of two intersessional meetings, the first held in Bangkok in January and the second in Windhoek in early February, that had brought together experts and policymakers.

Introduction of Reports

TARIQ BANURI, Director, Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s reports on policy options and possible actions to expedite implementation in the Commission’s six thematic issues:  agriculture (document E/CN.17/2009/3); rural development (document E/CN.17/2009/4); land (document E/CN.17/2009/5); drought (document E/CN.17/2009/6); desertification (document E/CN.17/2009/7); Africa (document E/CN.17/2009/8); and interlinkages and cross-cutting issues (E/CN.17/2009/9).

He said it was no secret that the global system of agriculture and resource management suffered from several problems:  the persistence of hunger and malnutrition despite high and rising aggregated food production; the propensity for price volatility, with severe consequences for poor and vulnerable communities; the widening gap between finite land and water resources, stagnant yields and rising demand for food, non-food production and ecosystem needs; the threat of climate change; the lack of universal sustainable and equitable management of natural resources, as well as universal rural development and empowerment; poor agricultural productivity in Africa; and a lack of yield increases in some regions of the world.

The agriculture report stressed the urgency of expanding food production to feed the expected global population of 9 billion people by 2050, mostly in the developing world, he said.  It also underscored the need to improve access to agricultural inputs, rehabilitate irrigation and marketing infrastructure, promote practices to decrease post-harvest losses, and strengthen capacities in research, extension and market systems.  It also called for gender-response interventions across all policy and institutional domains in order to enhance the role of women, and advocated integrated management approaches that could enhance both water and land productivity.

He said the key message of the report on rural development was the need for local multisectoral policies using an integrated approach and focused on enhancing human and social capital.  Such approaches served to improve the access of rural communities to economic and social services and infrastructure, strengthen agro-industrial bases, and promote non-farm employment.  They were also the most effective means of introducing the sustainable management of natural resources, building capacity for adaptation to climate change, and harnessing the power of technology, including information and communication technology.

According to the land report, sustainable land management could help mitigate and adapt to climate change, he said.  It also stated the need for policies to limit competition for and reduce pressure on land, including through effective stakeholder engagement at all levels, local ownership of policies and practices, greater accountability and transparency in land planning and administration, and a pro-poor stance.

The report on drought advocated the building of adaptation capacity and community resilience, including through dissemination of sustainable water-management practices through projects and economic incentives, he said.  A good example of innovative schemes was an index-based weather insurance system, which could facilitate investment decisions and reduce financial risks for small holders.  The report also drew attention to the potential of biotechnical innovation that had led to drought-tolerant crops in many countries.  The report on desertification called for action linking land-use and livelihoods to sustainable development, including preparation and implementation of national action plans to combat desertification, in line with national development priorities, which could ensure that implementation was not affected by lack of funding.

He said the report on Arica recognized that the continent faced important challenges because of lower per capita income, slower growth and several adverse ecological trends.  Many of those challenges related to agriculture and rural development, drought, desertification, and land.  The report stressed that improving agricultural production in Africa was a strategic entry point comprising enhanced provision of inputs and infrastructure; credit and education; agricultural extension to promote modern farming practices; and support for the strengthening of supply chains in order to develop higher value-added products locally.  The report also advocated appropriate policies to address land degradation and desertification, and to ensure that national food security was not jeopardized because of biofuel production.

All six thematic issues were closely linked and must be examined in a holistic, coordinated manner, he said, citing the report on interlinkages and cross-cutting issues.  A common theme was the need to build capacity, transfer technology, create an enabling environment and promote partnerships.

KAIRE M. MBUENDE (Namibia), reported on the Intersessional High-level Meeting on “Agriculture in the 21st Century:  Meeting the Challenges, Making a Sustainable Green Revolution”, held in Windhoek, Namibia, on 9 and 10 February 2009, saying it had adopted a Ministerial Declaration that provided a strategic direction for action plans and programmes.  It also underscored the urgent need to address regional development needs through investment in agriculture for a uniquely African green revolution that would be underpinned by the diversity of the ecosystems on which the continent’s agricultural production depended, and which could also provide resilience to climate change, pests and other threats.

By drawing on the experiences of both Asia and Latin America, he said, the African green revolution would avoid the mistakes made in those regions, particularly by striking a balance among the three pillars of sustainable development:  economic development; social development; and environmental protection.  But because it must be tailored to the continent’s specific conditions, the African green revolution must give due consideration to the role played by mixed crop-livestock systems in providing income and food security while reducing risks.

He said the Windhoek meeting had also recognized the importance of active State engagement in supporting agriculture, providing rural infrastructure, supporting research and development and enabling a policy environment that provided incentives for innovation and risk-taking by farmers.  There was now a need for strong political will and international support.  The Windhoek Declaration thus called for accelerated efforts to meet the goal of the 2003 Maputo Declaration to raise the share of national budgets devoted to agriculture and rural development to at least 10 per cent.  The Declaration also appealed for international support for the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme and emphasized the need to transform African Agriculture through an enabling environment of policy, institutions, infrastructure and investment.  It stressed the importance of sustainable land management and underlined the potential of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa, to address food security.

The Windhoek Declaration stressed the need to promote international trade and called for a redoubling of efforts towards the conclusion of a development-oriented Doha Round, he said.  It also urged the global financial institutions to significantly increase their support for investment in Africa’s agricultural and rural development.  It noted that the growing global demand for biofuels had opened up significant new opportunities and challenges, and stressed the need to develop such fuels in ways consistent with Africa’s food-security needs.  In other areas, the Declaration recognized that, as the significant majority of farmers in Africa, women should be empowered in ways that increased their land tenure and ensured their full participation in decision-making processes.  A request had been made to circulate the Declaration as an official United Nations document, and it should be used during the current meeting, as well as the seventeenth session.

JAVAD AMIN MANSOUR ( Iran), Commission Vice-Chairman, then reported on the outcome of the Capacity Development Workshop for Improving Agricultural Productivity, Water Use Efficiency and Rural Livelihoods, held in Bangkok from 28 to 30 January 2009.  It had been attended by senior policymakers in the region and the summary of the recommendations emanating from the workshop were available in document E/CN.17/2009/13.  The workshop was an important step in advancing key elements of the sustainable development agenda, particularly those outlined in Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, to overcome obstacles and barriers identified by the Commission’s last session.  There was a need for land-use planning and management, as well as for adaptation to climate change, among other things.

He said the workshop’s recommendations were grouped in five areas:  the need to increase agricultural productivity through policies developed with the participation of all stakeholders; to promote integration of land and water resources; to build social capacity through broad-based investment in rural areas that would benefit entire communities and communities engaged in agricultural activities; to provide secure access to tenure, particularly for marginalized groups in order to allow full participation by the entire spectrum of land users; and to address climate change through coping strategies that were in line with national socio-economic conditions.  Workshop participants had conveyed that addressing sustainable development challenges required multidimensional efforts; that agricultural development required a long-term vision aimed at stimulating economic growth with respect to environmental and natural resources; and that policies and actions should be targeted at scaling up and mainstreaming successful practices.

Statements

OUSMANE LAYE, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), speaking on behalf of the five United Nations regional commissions, described sustainable agriculture and rural development, secure and equitable access to productive land resources, mitigating the impact of drought and combating desertification as the keys to enhancing progress on meeting the Millennium Development Goals.  Agriculture was re-emerging as a priority on the international agenda due to the increasing pressures on the sector to produce food and agro-industrial products to sustain world economic growth.

He said that, while high output had been achieved in the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) regions, there were signs, as shown by the results of the sixteenth session, that agricultural development and trade regimes had been socially and environmentally unsustainable in those, as well as other, regions.  Rural poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean remained largely unchanged and, despite producing more than 50 per cent of the world’s agricultural crops, the Asia and Pacific region had experienced some 2 million deaths attributable to food insecurity.  In those areas, constraints on the natural resource base were becoming more evident as population growth and market development created mounting pressures.  Meanwhile, the degradation of two thirds of Africa’s lands directly impacted 485 million people.

As shown by the results of regional implementation meetings and related processes, regional and national differences had significantly influenced implementation experiences and priorities, he said, adding that outcomes and priorities in each region had been influenced by various challenges.  Africa was plagued by policy inconsistency, the low priority assigned to agriculture, severe undercapitalization, poor natural-resource development and management, and the policies of trading partners were among the primary challenges.  In Asia and the Pacific, persistent poverty highlighted the need for policies to prioritize farmer empowerment and provide incentives for environmentally sustainable consumption and production patterns.  In Europe and North America, key concerns included the conversion of agricultural land to other uses, bioenergy production and risks related to real-estate markets.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, environmental and socio-economic outcomes had been influenced by inequitable access to land and markets, as well as pricing systems that did not take environmental externalities into account.

For all regions, land lay at the heart of social, political and economic life, and at the core of the response to many of those challenges, he emphasized.  Indeed, equitable access to land, security of tenure and sustainable land and resource management were shared priorities.  The thematic cluster was highly integrated and several cross-cutting issues had been identified for policy action, including water and energy security, sustainable land use and ecosystem services, climate change, gender equity, empowerment of small farmers, rural communities and women and education for sustainable development.  Practical, cross-cutting measures identified by regional commissions included international cooperation, financing for development and public-private partnerships.  Each region had contributions to make in highlighting policy options and practical measures that had been proven to address barriers and constraints.

In Africa, capacity-building at the household level through crop diversification support for storage, processing and marketing, and access to water had proven helpful, he said.  Farmer-to-farmer extension systems had empowered farmers, and improved efficiency in the use of fertilizers had expanded yields and raised incomes.  Initiatives in the Asia and Pacific region had empowered communities, women and small farmers, while investments in research and technology for the use of agricultural residues, including the production of biofuels, had paid off.  Public-private partnerships had also been effective in raising finance while linking land rights with responsible stewardship.

In Europe and North America, the revitalization of former State farms and extension support for farming by non-farm families had had positive environmental and social impacts, he said.  A database on land and soil desertification had enabled assessment, analysis and forecasts.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, the provision of access to capital and technology had helped farmers participate in and create niche markets.  Comprehensive approaches to water, integrated river basin management, regional planning and environmental management tools were increasingly promoted.  Economic support and incentives for local communities, landowners and small- to medium-sized producers had improved sustainable land use.

While Africa was part of each thematic cluster, it was clear that the present held more than the usual importance for its sustainable development, he said.  Agriculture, which employed more than 60 per cent of the continent’s labour force, was Africa’s economic backbone and responsible for 20 per cent of its gross domestic product.  There was a need for collective efforts and dynamic political commitment to achieving regional integration while expanding opportunities for investment, greater private sector support and outreach to civil society.  It was also important to build on emerging structures and practices.  In the face of the global financial crisis, ways must be found to sustain high growth rates to empower countries financially.  Donor coordination and the specific use of policy tools were also necessary to further improve effective cooperation.

He said the fuel, food and financial crises had made the challenges to sustainable development more acute.  The United Nations system was leading a vigorous debate on biofuels, the greening of economic stimulus measures in major economies and global discussion on a green “new deal”.  Increasing political and public awareness of and support for investment in sustainable development could provide a unique opportunity to reverse unsustainable trends to the benefit of all, including developing countries.  Looking to the future, greater policy attention should be paid to the environmental sustainability of economic growth and the inherent ability of socio-economic systems to transform themselves for the better in the face of crisis.

ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the session must take into consideration the special needs of developing countries, particularly those in Africa, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and small island developing States.  It was also important to take further effective measures to remove obstacles to the realization of the right to self-determination, particularly for people living under colonial and foreign occupation, which continued to have an adverse impact on their economic and social development, were incompatible with the dignity and worth of human beings and, therefore, must be eliminated.

Reaffirming the special needs and challenges of countries emerging from conflict, he urged the international community and the United Nations to address those needs through financial assistance, technical support and infrastructure development in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Agriculture, rural development and land management were crucial sectors, especially in developing countries.  Advancing implementation of the agricultural development agenda required renewed commitment and a new vision for global cooperation to implement policies that simultaneously aimed to increase agricultural productivity, create fair trade regimes, conserve natural resources, and invest in agriculture-related infrastructure.

He said policy options and measures must include improving developing countries’ access to developed-world markets and to the development, acquisition, transfer and diffusion of new technologies, particularly environmentally sound technology and the corresponding know-how, in order to increase productivity and competitiveness.  Through international mechanisms such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Global Environmental Facility, the international community should intensify its support to developing countries in the areas of sustainable land management, agricultural development, addressing drought and combating desertification and degradation.  There was a need for a fully supportive and enabling international environment to facilitate and promote implementation of national development strategies by developing countries.  Strategies to reverse the global economic downturn should take into account measures to ensure a supportive international environment for sustainable development.

BEDRICH MOLDAN (Czech Republic), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the work of the intergovernmental preparatory meeting should not duplicate that of the review session, but propose consensual, action-oriented policy decisions and identify real solutions and deliverables that further mobilized concrete action to expedite the internationally agreed development goals.  It should also react constructively to the current world financial crisis, which underlined the need to reform global economic relations.  The current crisis should be used as an opportunity to move towards a low-carbon and low-resource economy.  The Commission could contribute greatly to such a shift by focusing on previously neglected important thematic and cross-cutting issues.

For its part, the European Union hoped to address the complex topics on the agenda in an integrated manner, and by following the “red thread” of food security, which was at the heart of the current cycle, he said, adding that a major outcome of the upcoming session should be to strengthen the international community’s long-term response to the global food crisis.  Not only should responsible agricultural practice be one of the central elements of future development policies, rural development should seek to diversify rural economies and improve the quality of rural life.  Improving land-tenure systems, securing land rights and sustainable land and water management were fundamental to that goal.  In addition, the synergies of the Rio Conventions should be strengthened to address desertification and drought.

Turning to Africa, he said that in addition to agriculture and rural development, the European Union hoped the achievement of the Millennium Goals would also be part of the focus.  Another key issue was the further development of regional economic integration on the continent, as well as an ambitious, comprehensive and balanced outcome of the Doha Development Agenda.  The Commission had an important role to play in achieving concrete results on cross-cutting issues and interlinkages.  Changing unsustainable consumption and production patterns was a top priority and should pave the way for the Commission’s next cycle.  Support for education, a proper reflection on gender aspects and a focus on water and sanitation were also highly relevant.  The needs of small island developing States, least developed countries and landlocked developing countries should also be recognized in the outcome document.

ISMAT JAHAN ( Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the least developed countries, said the Commission was meeting at a time when the global economy had been shattered by the worst global recession since the Great Depression, and least developed countries would be affected disproportionately.  A recent World Bank study estimated that, in 2009, the financial crisis would trap 46 million more people in poverty, in addition to the 130 million to 155 million pushed into poverty in 2008 by soaring food and fuel prices.  The study found that 43 of 107 developing countries were highly exposed to the poverty effects of the crisis, two thirds of which were least developed countries.

She said the global financial crisis would affect access to credit and other capital inputs, and had a strong food-security dimension, especially because more retrenchments, unemployment and poverty would bring great pressure to bear on the affordability of food for many people.  Any recovery plan must take into account the specific conditions and problems of rural areas where agriculture was the main economic activity.  The continued maintenance and upgrading of rural infrastructure such as roads and soil conservation works, as well as the development of water sources could lead to economic sustainability and social uplifting, she said.  Immediate action was needed to develop efficient agricultural production across the developing world.  Investment in agriculture and rural infrastructure should be scaled up significantly.

Expressing concern that external assistance to agriculture had been declining since the 1980s in real terms, she pointed out that the sector had accounted for 16 per cent of bilateral assistance in 1980, but just 3 per cent in 2006.  Agricultural exports from developing countries continued to face high tariff and non-tariff restrictions, a trend that must be reversed.  It was important that developed countries fulfil their commitment to devote 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product to official development assistance and 0.2 per cent to least developed countries by 2010.  In addition, all external debt owed by least developed countries must be cancelled without discrimination or conditionality.

She called on developed countries and developing ones able to do so to provide duty-free and quota-free market access to all goods from least developed countries prior to the conclusion of the Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations.  The current intellectual property regime must provide access to appropriate technologies and related fields at an affordable cost in order to ensure the cultivation of climate-resilient crops.  Assistance must be given to help least developed countries build disaster preparedness and establish early warning systems.  There was also a need to support least developed countries with climate-resilient development, including through regional cooperation, access to finance for the rural poor in particular, and mainstreaming gender into agriculture, land use and better environmental management.

DESSIMA WILLIAMS (Grenada), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), recalled that the Bruntland Commission had stated in 1987 that sustainable development was founded on the concept of intergenerational equity by which “the needs of the present [were met] without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.  For small island developing States, the cross-cutting issue of climate change posed a threat that affected all development sectors.  Thus, it was a moral and legal imperative that all Member States immediately commit to action to collectively ensure the development aspirations and survival of all nations.

Noting that the Commission was the sole follow-up platform for sustainable development goals, she said the sustainable development goals of small island developing States had already been identified and there was, therefore, need to avoid “over-studying” or “over-workshopping” them for the sake of implementation.  Instead, there was a need to improve direct access to development funding mechanisms, including the Global Environment Facility (GEF).  Small island developing States sought a more responsive structure within global development strategies to address their unique barriers, geographies and challenges.

Food security challenges for small island developing States could be improved through partnerships that addressed reliance on imported food by strengthening domestic agricultural sectors, she continued.  Such efforts should provide economic opportunities for rural communities, while also increasing the coastal health of subsistence fisheries and marine areas by integrating them in such a way as to reduce erosion and minimize the use of fertilizer and agro-chemical methods that might harm vital watersheds.

She stressed that small island developing States were not only stewards of some of the world’s most valuable natural resources, but also guardians of traditional culture and self-definition.  With many rural communities threatened by heightened vulnerability to climate change, however, limited island infrastructure could not bear greater urbanization.  Improving market access could reduce urban migration and rural poverty, as could comprehensive planning strategies that integrated diversified tourism, agricultural production, rural development and “ground-up” conservation initiatives.  Land and rural development strategies should integrate local consultations and traditional cultural knowledge into global sustainable development goals.

VILIAMI MALOLO (Tonga), speaking on behalf of the Pacific island developing States, described subsistence farming and reliance on collective sharing of agricultural resources and land as ways in which communities in small island developing States sustained food sources.  Agricultural produce and fishing were their main exports, but they faced serious challenges in rural agricultural development, and the use of land would determine their future development.  The adverse impact of climate change, rising global oil prices and the increasing threat of global food scarcity had had an enormous impact on the Pacific region’s sustainable development.

Appropriate policy frameworks and the mainstreaming of national sustainable development strategies were crucial to any adequate response to the challenges faced by the region, he continued.  Sustainable solutions must encourage community participation in planning, executing and maintaining development solutions to bring about change at the local level.  Climate change was a primary issue for development that must be incorporated into all development sectors.  Adaptation strategies must be mainstreamed across the governmental agencies of all Pacific island States to ensure the incorporation of food and water security, as well as land scarcity, into policies.

He said efforts were also needed for integrated coastal management and intense capacity-building for food production, particularly in relation to climate change adaptation strategies, and to minimize reliance on imported foods by strengthening domestic production.  Effective land use was also important and land-conservation strategies should take into account traditional land-tenure systems and efforts to adapt to climate change.  Raising community awareness of soil erosion was particularly important, as saltwater intrusion into the soil further limited available farming land, directly increasing the threat of food scarcity.

MOHAMMED AQEEL BA-OMAR (Oman), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group and associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said questions of rural development, land use, drought and desertification were priorities of the Arab Group, and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) had drawn up a report on regional efforts and activities to address them.  While those efforts and activities had achieved considerable progress, they continued to face numerous obstacles, including rising population growth rates that impacted social services.  Further, all Arab States suffered from high food costs, and the international community must continue to address the root causes of the food crisis.  There was a need to ensure funding and assistance for South-South cooperation, as well as for continued provision of food aid.  The transfer of technology and the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers were also critical.

Turning to the impact of conflict and warfare on the region, he emphasized the need to deal with the problems posed by landmines and cluster bombs, which remained in various countries.  The vestiges of Second World War-era combat must also be addressed.  Today’s dumping of waste and other practices also had an impact on local communities, worsening the ability of countries in the Middle East to produce food and weakening infrastructure.  It was important to address Palestine’s dependence on foreign aid as a result of Israeli aggression, which must be ended.  Arab countries were making every effort to adapt to climate change, and they needed support through the transfer of technology.  Among other things, the Arab Group hoped particularly that a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol would be developed in Copenhagen.  It also called upon developed countries to meet their commitments to the international development agenda and called for a high-level conference on the current financial crisis.

PAUL BADJI (Senegal), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that, according to the latest ECA report on sustainable development in Africa, the continent was the world’s least developed and was not on track to meet the Millennium Goals by 2015.  Exacerbating the situation further was the unfolding global financial and food crises, which threatened to reverse the modest socio-economic gains made by some African countries over the past few decades.

It was imperative that the continent be fully involved in finding durable solutions and ensuring adequate representation in all subsequent multilateral platforms, he said, noting that it faced poverty, hunger, climate change, land degradation and desertification, rapid urbanization, lack of adequate water supplies and energy, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other endemic diseases.  The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) had, in spite of its limited resources, contributed to efforts to improve infrastructure and institutional capacity in several areas, including agriculture, rural development and the environment.

Africa’s strong economic performance in recent years was evidence of the creation of an environment conducive for sustainable development, he said.  Unlike other developing regions, growth in Africa had not yet yielded a significant reduction in the number of people living below the poverty line.  Average gross domestic product was below the 7 per cent minimum annual target rate, and the modest growth was mostly associated with sectors that had little impact on employment and income.  At least two thirds of the increasing number of poor Africans lived in rural areas, where agriculture-related activities had great potential to lift people out of poverty.

Agricultural diversification was necessary to transform Africa’s rural economy, he said.  That would require a shift from subsistence-oriented production systems to medium-scale and large-scale production through the financing of improved agricultural infrastructure.  Land and natural resources assured a significant share of gross domestic product, national food needs, employment and export revenues.  Agriculture, the use of natural resources, and land-based activities were crucial to income generation and employment for most Africans.  Women, the most vulnerable members of African society, bore the brunt of harnessing the land without ownership of or control over land and natural resources.  It was important to ensure that the necessary land-policy reforms were accompanied by the appropriate mechanisms to guarantee women’s full rights to land.

RACHEL McCORMICK (Canada), stressing that stakeholders had a crucial role to play in implementing Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, said she appreciated the importance of multi-stakeholder dialogues in promoting progress in sustainable development.  Canada had recently convened consultations with a broad range of stakeholders, which helped inform national priorities with regard to the themes under discussion for the Commission’s present cycle.  That process would enable the Canadian delegation to focus its interventions on practical approaches and specific priorities with the goal of encouraging a concise, concrete and forward-looking document at the seventeenth session.

She said an underlying current among her country’s priorities was the link between sustainable development and science and technology.  Science played a prominent role in defining policy goals and objectives across all the thematic clusters, and Canada would promote its appropriate use to achieve the desired outcomes in each area.  Where the most advanced technologies could not suffice in tackling the most basic problems, Canada would emphasize traditional methods and knowledge to increase greater capacity-building, enhance governance, enable gender equality and strengthen resilience.  Because the implementation of Commission outcomes often occurred at the local level, the Canadian Government appreciated its shared responsibility to promote balanced policies based on sound science and good governance, as well as equitable and socially responsible practices.

JOHN MATUSZAK ( United States) said there were profound opportunities to advance sustainable development using three interconnected strategies.  The Commission should encourage expanded support for education, research and science around the world, a field in which the United States had many examples of success, including international research collaboration on sustainable agriculture and natural resource management; new land assessment protocols on the ecological capabilities of different lands; micro-irrigation techniques that conserved water; and improved agricultural management practices such as conservation tillage and crop residue management in the United States and tide tillage in West Africa.  Innovation in information and communications technology had enormous untapped potential to empower the poor and advance sustainable development.  The Commission should increase two-way communication on scientific information, user needs, and markets and economic condition.

Creativity and entrepreneurship at the local level were necessary building blocks for sustainable development, he said.  The Commission should encourage capacity-building, technical assistance and the exchange of knowledge in support of community empowerment and social inclusion.  Other promising initiatives included member-owned cooperatives; the 4-H programme that encouraged youth development; one-stop assistance programmes on sustainability for farmers and ranchers to provide free, up-to-date and easy-to-understand tailored technical assistance; the Conservation Reserve Programme that used incentives and technical assistance for conservation on privately owned land; the Famine Early Warning Systems Network to increase food security; and PROFIT, which built agricultural value chains in Africa.  It was necessary to take full advantage of current information and available communications technology.  The Commission should also build land-planning and management capacity based on ecological conditions, expand capacity-building on property rights, and support local innovation and entrepreneurship, with special attention to women, youth and local institutions.

OLEG SHAMANOV( Russian Federation) said it was important to ensure that the current discussion was objective and non-biased, with a focus on data analysis so as to ensure it became a good basis for policy recommendations for the seventeenth session.  The Secretary-General’s reports would serve as a good basis in that effort.

The current global economic realities must be taken into account, he stressed, adding that, given the financial crisis, it was important to focus on the specific situations of different countries and regions, paying due attention to food security.  For its own part, the Russian Federation had made progress in ramping up its provision of food aid in 2008, and planned to triple the amount of aid it had provided last year.

He emphasized that the outcome report from the current preparatory session must cover the entire range of issues in all their dimensions.  Its suggestions certainly must be pragmatic, but they must also address the goals laid out in the final document of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.  Furthermore, it was important to avoid duplicating the work of other organizations.  There should be an impetus to improve the work across the range of topics on today’s agenda.

DEAN MERRILLES ( Australia) said he placed a high priority on improving on-ground operation of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, which could best be achieved through the pursuit of practical outcomes consistent with international obligations, and which allowed countries the flexibility to pursue policies according to national settings.  Good governance, national action and effective partnerships were critical to improving the practical implementation of sustainable development.

Addressing the question of food security in the context of sustainable development was another priority, he said, adding that his country would continue to help those most in need.  In 2008, Australia had provided the World Bank Trust Fund with $50 million to stimulate agricultural production and $30 million to help the World Food Programme’s (WFP) extraordinary emergency appeal to cope with higher food prices.  Improved market efficiency would contribute to better global security and sustainable development.  The international community should take strong steps to achieve that by liberalizing international agricultural trade and reforming markets.  Trade liberalization would free up the movement of food across the world and help feed vulnerable populations.

One of the most effective ways to improve food security was through gains in agricultural productivity, he said, stressing his country’s support for agricultural research and development, as well as innovation and technology transfer systems.  As the world strove to improve food security, a related priority was maintaining long-term environmental sustainability.  Changes in climate would make that even more of a challenge.  The recent severe bush fires and floods in parts of Australia were examples of those challenges.

He said his country was implementing its “Caring for Our Country” initiative, which sought to achieve an Australian environment that was healthy, better protected, well managed and resilient, and which provided essential ecosystem services in a changing climate.  Australia was also integrating adaptation responses into agricultural and natural-resource management policies and programmes.  The Australian Government was developing a multi-year food security initiative that would increase investment in agricultural research development.

Dialogue with Major Groups

Ms. VERBURG ( Netherlands), Commission Chairperson, introduced the afternoon dialogue noting that the session was being held in compliance with the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, which called for strengthened involvement and enhanced participation by major groups in the Commission’s activities.  The Major Groups Priorities for Action (document E/CN.17/2009/10), which outlined the Groups’ policy opinions and proposed solutions for the consideration of policymakers, would serve as a starting point for the current discussion.

A representative of the women major group said women needed recognition as the guiding force of rural development.  Their full participation in decision-making was critical in addressing poverty, and in most of the developing world, the face of the farmer and natural-resource manager was female.  Knowledge and technology programmes should, therefore, be developed in ways that placed women at the centre of sustainable development institutions and structures.  Indeed, agricultural institutions, structures and programmes urgently required transformation.

She said partnerships linking women agricultural leaders and women farmers were a necessary condition to building the kind of networked collaboration that would facilitate the implementation of programmes that would help women farmers.  Women should be guaranteed the right to inherit and own land.  Secure access to and control over land and water were also critical.  Furthermore, Governments should adopt at least 50 per cent of women’s participation at all decision-making levels, from national representation to local development projects.

A representative of youth said that ensuring household food security required that the international community build global governance around food systems starting from the grass roots.  Small-scale livestock and crop farmers, including pastoralists, must be supported with access to the resources and tools that enabled sustainable production and ensured livelihood security.  That included access to land, water and biodiversity, as well as markets for local and regional trade.  It was also important to develop more empowerment programmes and educational opportunities for people of all ages as part of the Decade for Education on Sustainable Development.

She said the creation of and increased access to formal and community-based education programmes were essential to reducing urban-rural migration, empowering families with economic security, encouraging children to retain sustainable agricultural and pastoral traditions, and discouraging agricultural child labour.  Everyone had a joint responsibility to build global, national and local cultures of responsibility, including production and consumption patterns that could sustain the planet and provide equitable access to its resources.  The inclusion of diverse and experienced voices, including those of young indigenous children and women, was crucial to ensuring effective policy and practice.  Young people were prepared to join the Commission in drafting policies and taking action to ensure global sustainability.  The Commission should remember that providing tools and opportunities for young people and building upon their suggestions and concerns were effective strategies for adapting to a rapidly changing world.

A representative of indigenous people, presenting a policy paper, said that a human-rights approach, when combined with an ecosystem one, provided the underpinnings of development.  The recommendations of indigenous peoples in the areas of agriculture, land, rural development, drought and desertification, and water and sanitation related to the need to uphold their rights to land and resources, and to recognize and promote the contributions of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices.  The revitalization of ecological agricultural approaches would allow indigenous peoples, local communities and small farmers to sustain and increase local food production using low-cost, readily available technology and without causing environmental destruction.  It was also important to recognize the substantial contributions of indigenous peoples through their customary practices in climate-change mitigation and adaptation.

Trade policies should promote indigenous production and livelihoods, he continued, adding that it was also important to recognize the fundamental role of women in agriculture, sustainable natural-resource use and management.  Rural programmes should ensure the rights of small farmers and indigenous peoples to lands and food sovereignty over the right to extract natural resource extraction for commerce and profit.  Among other priorities, there was a need to implement equitable water resources management, address conflicting demands emerging from irrigated agriculture and promote community-based extension in support of traditional knowledge.  Other recommendations included planned crop rotation; support for simple local technologies such as shallow wells, subsurface dams and water harvesting techniques; recognition of the role of indigenous peoples in sustaining forests and watersheds; and sanctions against those responsible for destroying natural habitats and ecosystems.

A representative of non-governmental organizations said the convergence of the climate, energy, food and economic crises called for a reorientation of the food and agricultural systems towards sustainability, equity and resilience.  In agriculture, there was a need to promote agro-ecological approaches to food production, coupled with an expansion of local or regional infrastructures, markets and networks that would benefit smallholders.  It was also important to understand that productivity should be measured not only by increased production per unit area, but also in terms of diversification of systems, increase in local productivity and reduced vulnerability.  Productivity should be measured on a holistic basis, taking into account such factors as soil fertility, agro-biodiversity, the integration of livestock and cropping systems, the integration of traditional knowledge, and access to resources.

Emphasizing the importance of inclusive and integrated processes, he cited home-grown school feeding as an example of the many forms of infrastructure investment and new-market creation.  It was also important to recognize and link environmental services provided by sustainable agriculture.  Value-chain integrity and coherence would require greater accountability and transparency across the chain, and appropriate mechanisms to distribute equitable returns for actors up and down the line.  Another important aspect of rural development related to support for meaningful participation by civil society, including women and indigenous peoples.  National-level and intergovernmental support was essential to civil society efforts in project implementation, education, information, policy advocacy and establishment of accountability mechanisms.  To address the multiple crises the world was facing today, it was necessary to establish a secure basis for global food system governance ‑- building from the bottom up.

A representative of local authorities pointed out that more than half the world’s population were already living in cities and towns and that percentage was expected to rise as the challenges of food, energy and water security intensified.  At the local level, mayors and their administrations felt the strain as they provided, maintained and built infrastructure and other basic services.  As a result, many municipal leaders were embracing their pivotal role in sustainable development.  Indeed, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) had seen its membership double in 2008.  The often untapped potential of local authorities as excellent incubators of innovation and hands-on implementation strategies deserved more recognition.  Not only did cities and towns require capacity-building, skills development, resources and political support, they were also the communities where the results of such investment could be greatest.

A representative of workers and trade unions said green growth and rural employment should be a central element in promoting sustainable rural development.  Social and economic inequality had been further deepened by recent instability in food prices, and vigorous action was needed to protect workers in all sectors.  Safety nets would help promote further development of agricultural and industrial sectors.  The creation of decent and high-quality jobs was also critical.  In that regard, a shift was needed from informal to formal work in order to increase the earning potential of women and agricultural workers.  Because agricultural work remained one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, there was a need for safety standards such as those developed by the International Labour Organization (ILO).  Unions and workers wished to be part of ambitious strategies and looked forward to the Commission’s work.

A representative of businesses and industry noted that the ratio of arable land to population was expected to decline by 40 to 55 per cent by 2030, and that 1.8 billion people would be living with absolute water scarcity by 2025.  The basic livelihoods of tens of millions more would be threatened by extreme and variable climate.  As there was no one single tool or policy to ensure sustainability in those circumstances, the Commission should enable a wide range of policy, market and voluntary measures and approaches.

Emphasizing that flexible approaches would be more important than ever, he said sustainability in food and renewable commodities also required shared responsibility and engagement among all those involved.  The private sector brought expertise and capacity to the table, but it needed partnerships across sectors, with such other stakeholders as Government agencies, academics and development organizations.  To that end, business and industry had assembled a call to action in conjunction with two other major groups.  Farming First was about building a broad-based, knowledge- and farmer-centred approach to sustainable development through agriculture.

He called for action in the key areas of safeguarding natural resources; sharing knowledge; building local access; protecting harvest; enabling access to markets; and prioritizing research imperatives.  In modern agriculture, farmers had doubled the production of world food calories since 1960 and maintained a stable area of agricultural land since 1950.  Still, a great deal more remained to be done and science was part of the solution.  Future increases in food prices would be exacerbated without the more sustainable application of technology in all regions.  It was also necessary to continue developing new technologies to further food production and rural development in an environmentally responsible, socially sensitive manner.

A representative of the scientific and technological major group said advances in agricultural knowledge and in science and technology must be at the centre of efforts to meet increased food production goals.  Knowledge and technology must be better targeted to the needs of small-scale farmers in developing countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa.  Data collection schemes and extension services were also needed in that effort.  Current critical gaps in knowledge and the lack of early-warning and response systems meant that climate change continued to pose a threat to sustainable development.  Integrated land and water management guidelines and engineering technology could enhance the fight against desertification and drought.  To address information gaps, countries should ensure the proper functioning of long-term environmental and land-use programmes at the national level, feeding into local initiatives.

A representative of farmers said that, in the present difficult context, agriculture faced multifaceted challenges, including the need to double world food production by 2050 while using the same land area but less water, emitting fewer greenhouse gases, contributing to renewable energy production and conserving biodiversity.  That could be done if public policymakers worldwide re-engaged with farmers and other stakeholders to build a new, people-based and knowledge-centred agricultural model.  Such re-engagement required a recognition of agriculture as an engine for economic growth; the creation of appropriate policy frameworks and the allocation of budgetary resources to attract agricultural investment across the entire farming sector; an integrated approach to balance a diversity of assets, including natural, social, physical, human and financial capital; secure land-tenure arrangements, especially for women farmers; and the incorporation into national development strategies of efforts to combat desertification.  One good place to begin would be the inclusion of agricultural and rural development in the fiscal stimulus packages that Governments were using to fight the global recession.

BEDRICH MOLDAN, Senator and Director of the Environment Centre, Charles University of Prague in the Czech Republic, spoke on behalf of the European Union, saying the bloc recognized and fully supported the need to involve the major groups in the Commission’s work, in implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and to fully improve implementation of the Millennium Goals.  The common efforts of Governments, international organizations and major groups should lead to the creation of long-term partnerships, strengthening local governance, ensuring equal human and civic rights, and sharing information and lessons learned.

The Commission’s policy decisions should reflect, as appropriate, the roles of all major groups in implementing the necessary measures in several areas, he said.  That would include fostering access for women and girls from developing countries to education, training and information, particularly in the agriculture sectors, and women’s participation in decision-making at all levels.  It would also include supporting professional and specialized education to train experts in organic farming, spatial planning, environmental technologies, science and research, and other professions relevant to decision-making and management, as well as respecting and protecting indigenous lands and traditional livelihoods.  It was also important to support improved land-tenure systems and secure land rights; support local community food programmes; and enhance food security and promote sustainable consumption and production patterns, with particular emphasis on water management, energy use and natural resource use.

Panel Discussion on Small Island Developing States

Chairperson VERBURG ( Netherlands) said discussion of policy options to address the barriers and constraints facing small island developing States in the thematic areas under consideration would also provide an opportunity to review implementation of the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.  In 2008, the Commission had considered in depth the interdependent relationship of the thematic cluster on small island developing States, given their size, limited land area and narrow resource bases, and the fragility of their terrestrial and coastal ecosystems.

Before inviting the panellists’ to give their presentations, she opened the floor to general comments.

Mr. MOHAMAD (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, expressed continuing concern about barriers to the formulation of strategies and the implementation of action plans by small island States, which resulted from international inaction.  Lack of the financial and economic resources required to meet the enormous challenges they faced ‑- adaptation to climate change, sea-level rise, and waste management, among others ‑- was shared by all small island developing States.  Official development assistance was actually declining in the face of those burgeoning challenges.

Furthermore, small island States were not benefiting from global trade due to their lack of industry and natural resource constraints, he pointed out, calling on the world community to ensure that their needs were addressed.  In small island developing States, pressures on land use had been exacerbated by competing claims of economic development, climate change and subsistence.  Small island developing States faced unique agricultural challenges in gaining access to markets so as to boost their food security.  In light of their situation, the Group of 77 and China welcomed General Assembly resolution 63/213 of 19 December 2008, under which a two-day high-level review of the Mauritius Strategy would be convened.

Ms. WILLIAMS (Grenada), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said small islands had contributed the least to the multidimensional crises facing the world, but had been disproportionately affected by them.  They were struggling to address climate change, which was wreaking havoc through sea-level rise and unseasonably strong hurricanes and other natural disasters, while struggling also with volatile food and fuel prices, which were crippling sound economic planning, and a looming global economic recession, which could, according to some reports, mushroom into a depression comparable to that of the 1930s.

Four years after the international meeting in Mauritius, the challenges facing small island developing States had become more complex and daunting, she said, adding that the situation underscored the need for urgent implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy.  Despite progress in developing strategies for sustainable development, small islands faced myriad implementation challenges and constraints.  National and regional efforts must be complemented by an international response so as to close the gaping implementation gap.

The international community should implement all commitments relating to small island developing States, particularly as they concerned capacity-building, technology transfer and financial resource provision, she said.  Further delay risked endangering the very existence of AOSIS member States.  The time for action was now.  Four years ago, the Commission had reaffirmed that small island developing States continued to be a special case in need of sustainable development.  An even stronger case could be made now for urgently needed actions in that regard, given the challenges that had emerged since.

Mr. MALOLO ( Tonga), speaking on behalf of the Pacific island developing States and aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the Commission’s thematic clusters focused on areas where Government policy was particularly crucial.  For policies to be effective, however, the impact of cross-cutting issues like climate change, soil degradation and erosion must be fully accounted for.  In the Pacific, many efforts were focused on land conservation.  Given the challenges that would be posed by current predictions of global sea-level rise, the Pacific island developing States had drafted a resolution on the threats posed by climate change.

Among those most alarming future dangers was the threat to traditional food sources, he said, noting that it would exacerbate food scarcity in the region.  Food production, including fishing practices, must be adapted to mitigate those threats and health policies must prepare for current and emerging public health issues, which were already seen in the rising incidence of dengue fever.  The aggregate effects of climate change, particularly in the aftermath of natural disasters, required efficient solutions.  In addition to local grass-roots efforts, there was a need for international assistance in capacity-building, knowledge transfer and climate change adaptation if Pacific island developing States were to survive.

As the panellists took the floor, DJAHEEZAH SUBRATTY, Ministry of Environment and National Development of Mauritius, said only 10 small island developing States had submitted policy action on climate change.  Mauritius was addressing its impact through policies aimed at extending irrigation in agricultural areas, diversifying crops, extending credit to agricultural and fishing communities, and optimizing ongoing trade negotiations.  It was also important to raise the competitiveness of the workforce and to diversify opportunities for employment.  There was a need for simplified procedures that would enable small island developing States to gain access to funding from the Global Environmental Facility.  Climate change should be mainstreamed into national policies, and due consideration should be given to the development dimension of climate change when discussing issues of concern to small island developing States.

DONOVAN STANBERRY, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture of Jamaica, said that any consideration of policy options for small island developing States had to take into account the unique agricultural characteristics of their rural sectors, including the predominance of small-scale farmers and their vulnerability to natural disasters.  In many rural areas, agriculture offered the only option for possible employment and, therefore, agricultural policy was fundamentally linked to economic and social development.

Emerging challenges included the loss of preferential trading agreements for such products as sugar and bananas, in addition to the threat of climate change, which threatened to wipe whole sub-sectors.  Yet against that backdrop there were opportunities.  Prevailing high food prices could provide a stimulus for production, and agriculture also provided the best option for recovery from the current recession due to its quick response to stimuli.

Among possible policy options to address the current situation, strong extension services should be a major focus, he said, adding that crop insurance was also needed to ensure sustainable agriculture.  Research and extension must focus on pragmatic interventions such as small, farm-level irrigation.  In such cases, technology transfer should not be understood as a green revolution with its accompanying widespread crop change, but as an introduction to and training in the use of certain tools that could ratchet up productivity.  Government policies in the Caribbean should be tailored to promote diversification, with a focus on niche products being critical.

ALI’IOAIGA FETURI ELISAIA ( Samoa) expressed concern that the financial crisis would affect the official development assistance strategies of development partners and cause drops in private financial flows, foreign direct investment, remittances and exports.  The scorecard on the joint commitment to implement the Bardados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy varied.  A concerted effort was required to rectify shortcomings and create a stronger sense of ownership and commitment on the part of small island developing States and their development partners.

The role of national sustainable development strategies and national ownership could not be overstated, he said.  Regional approaches were needed to share information and coordinate in a coherent way.  Mechanisms must be created to facilitate direct national action within a shared regional commitment to establish sustainable development goals, and to bring in outside project management when needed.  Care should be taken to ensure that development assistance was channelled at the appropriate level to ensure faster project implementation and optimal benefit for the intended recipients.

Bottom-up sustainable development strategies should be strengthened to create shared local ownership of the development process, he said.  Small island developing States could better integrate and mainstream climate change across all development sectors if they could efficiently access climate-change funding.  Current international financial commitments remained inadequate, and tens of billions of dollars in new funding were needed.  Unless funding commitments changed, small island developing States would ultimately bear the costs of climate change.

Kicking off the interactive discussion on behalf of the European Union, the representative of the Czech Republic said small island developing States faced critical challenges:  adapting to climate change; shifting to more sustainable agriculture; protecting fragile ecosystems; increasing access to cleaner energy among the poor; promoting renewable energy; improving market access; and overcoming isolation and vulnerability, including expensive transport costs in the context of soaring oil prices.  The European Union was committed to reaching an ambitious, global and comprehensive post-2012 agreement in Copenhagen and had launched a “Global Climate Change Alliance” focused on least developed countries and the most vulnerable small island developing States.

Beyond that, he said, there was a clear need during the Commission’s current cycle for an integrated approach to land management, agriculture production, rural development, early-warning systems for natural disasters, drought-impact reduction, combating desertification and protecting marine biodiversity.  Doing that would require strengthening human resources and institutional capacity.  Environmentally sound management techniques would also have to be promoted, while attention was paid to sustainable tourism approaches.  The European Union would continue to address those challenges by aiding the efforts of small island developing States to reduce their vulnerability and improve their adaptation capacities.

A representative of the Office of International Affairs, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce of the United States, said invasive species were among the leading threats to biodiversity, local livelihoods, food security, environment and human health.  Islands had long served as the proving ground for innovative ways to manage those.  Through prudent use of scarce resources, information exchange, coordination of efforts and shared capacity, islands were quickly becoming leaders in the fight against invasive species.  Land-use planning could be used both to prepare for future changes and to respond to catastrophic events such as hurricanes, which required rapid decisions to allocate resources for recovery.

A representative of Japan stressed his country’s focus on balancing mitigation with adaptation to climate change.  However, given their special vulnerabilities, small island developing States deserved special focus and Japan fully shared the Secretary-General’s view of the great need for long-term strengthening of human resources and training.  Short-term measures could also be extremely useful.  Japan had extended aid in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami for the construction of sea barrier walls and for coral reef conservation programmes in the Federated States of Micronesia.  Later in 2009, Japan would participate in a conference aimed at helping Pacific small island developing States.

A representative from the International Section of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts of Australia said his country had a long-standing interest in partnerships to help small island developing States make faster progress towards achieving the Millennium Goals, and in helping them gain better health, education and social outcomes.  Australia was also committed to working to increase cooperation with other donor countries, and recognized that aid was most effective when partner countries led development efforts.  As a signatory to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, Australia was firmly committed to integrating aid approaches with its neighbours.  It was working with donors and regional organizations to address the impact of rising food and fuel prices on small island developing States, and had a $150 million three-year commitment to climate change adaptation in the Pacific.  The country was also investing in a Pacific land programme to help countries improve and tenure systems.

A representative of China, associating himself with the Group of 77, said small island developing States were an integral part of global sustainable development.  Because of their small size, their limited resource base and the fragility of their low-lying coastal regions, they required special and targeted support to maintain their agricultural base and withstand external shocks.  The international community should take action to help them overcome their particular challenges, particularly by increasing their ability to invest in the rural and agricultural sectors.  The central role of trade in their economic stability and growth should also be recognized and the international community should increase inputs in technology transfer and training.

A representative of Switzerland said small island developing States were an integral part of the world’s human, environmental and cultural heritage and deserved the full attention of the international community, which supported their efforts to implement sustainable development models.  The promotion of rural development in small island States must remain crucial objectives.  Tourism was also important in rural areas, and the potential of ecotourism should be better exploited.  Switzerland supported the efforts of small island States to achieve sustainable development by providing substantial contributions to United Nations programmes and international financial institutions involved in activities related to small island developing States.

A representative of Nigeria noted that whenever anyone spoke, people clapped their hands, yet he had not seen much that was new in the presentations and interventions made so far.  Nigeria wished to hear that developed countries would fulfil their promises despite the financial crisis.  The Commission was not an operational body, though it could help formulate policy.  But given the continuing need to take actions that could truly help small island developing States, it was insufficient to list the aid that a country had extended in the past.

A representative of Jamaica stressed the importance of promoting partnerships, developing capacity-building and strengthening agricultural systems.  Sustainable agricultural insurance was paramount in mitigating natural disasters.  The livelihoods of many small-island farmers had been wiped out due to natural events.  Support should also be given to sustainable agriculture.

As the panellists took questions from the floor, the representative of the Federated States of Micronesia asked about strategies to combat groundwater salination and what crops could be grown in such conditions.  If high food prices could stimulate food production, were the dynamics of stimulus packages related to growing food for export or increasing food production for the domestic market?  What information was available about the introduction of small inexpensive tools to increase productivity?

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda noted that the urgency of threats posed by climate change was balanced against the unfolding financial crisis, yet the panellists had provided some small innovations that were particularly useful in light of that situation, including suggestions concerning crop insurance and multi-window financing mechanisms.  It was to be hoped that such measures would be included in the outcome document.

The representative of Argentina called for political will in addressing climate change, and for simplified procedures to access financing for adaptation and mitigation.

A representative of Fiji said the lack of appropriate technology hindered development, and stressed the need to build alternative forms of energy.  National development goals and policy options had been studied and well researched, but direct partnerships for implementation and investment had been lacking.

A representative of Guatemala expressed concern that environmental issues were not being dealt with on a systemic basis.  The development model must become more environmentally and socially responsible.  It was necessary to act with greater synergy, and the Conventions on biodiversity and climate change must be harmonized.

A representative of India, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said that in the spirit of solidarity governing South-South cooperation, her country had been active in its support for small island developing States, having extended hundreds of millions of dollars to their efforts to adapt to climate change and respond to natural disasters.  But India could only supplement what was required from the developed world.  The international community should play its part, particularly by fulfilling promises already made.

A representative of Norway said that, in its support for small island developing States, his country attached great importance to natural-resource management, but also favoured a cross-cutting linkage between climate change mitigation and natural disaster risk reduction.  Norway recognized the need to mainstream national development plans and link them to strategies for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  It would make sense to include climate-change adaptation and disaster risk-reduction policies in those aimed at other sectors, as well as international development plans.

A representative of Chile, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, called for urgent action to aid small island developing States, especially through United Nations agencies.  Because all the themes addressed by the Commission were exacerbated by climate change, mitigation and adaptation mechanisms should be incorporated throughout the Commission’s work.

Speaking in response to the delegates, Mr. ELISAIA said he hoped donor countries in attendance were hearing the remarks made during the session “loud and clear”.  As for the multi-window funding mechanism, it was a work in progress.  He agreed with the representative of Samoa that climate change should be mainstreamed across all development sectors.  At the same time, it was clear that different strategies must be developed for different regions.

Ms. SUBRATTY said various strategies for small island developing States had already been developed in the Mauritius Strategy and the Barbados Programme of Action, but they were generic policies, and individual strategies must still be fashioned.  As that was done, it would be necessary to include various cross-cutting issues, such as climate-change adaptation and mitigation, and donor partners would play a central role in that process.  A dialogue with the major stakeholders in each small island developing State should also be held.

Mr. STANBERRY, responding to the representative of the Federated States of Micronesia, said that in light of the “disgrace” that Jamaica’s agricultural production was largely limited to a few crops, the Government had decided it was time to produce cassava as a replacement product for imported wheat.  However, the fluctuation in prices posed a challenge to that strategy.

In terms of how small changes could have huge implications, he said that teaching farmers how to irrigate on a small scale could allow their yields to rise, as could teaching them to plant crops that would grow in the soil that was available.

On disaster risk reduction, he said insurance would be of key importance if countries wished to be serious about agricultural development, but it was a collaborative endeavour and farmers must be encouraged before they would consider insurance to be as legitimate as fertilizer.

Ms. VERBURG ( Netherlands), Commission Chairperson, summarized the panel discussion by noting the various points and concerns raised by delegates.  They had also stressed the need for national and regional efforts to complement international support; the continuing need for climate-change adaptation and mitigation policies and mechanisms, emphasizing the need to enhance the protection of land and marine biodiversity, and extend greater protection to ecological resources; and the need to link the tourism industry with agricultural development.  There had also been calls for increased access to education and technology, as well as effective extension services.  The need to extend special aid to non-least developed country small island developing States had also been highlighted.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.