Press Conference by Sustainable Development Commission

6 May 2010

Press Conference by Sustainable Development Commission

6 May 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Sustainable Development Commission


Enormous inequalities of consumption and a wasteful materials cycle were among the greatest challenges in achieving sustainable development, the Chairman of the Commission on Sustainable Development said this morning.

“Quite simply, the world is consuming too much ‘stuff’,” said Luis Alberto Ferrate Felice, Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources of Guatemala, who briefed correspondents at Headquarters about the eighteenth session of the Commission, which opened Monday, 3 May, and runs through next Friday.  Mr. Felice was accompanied by Tariq Banuri, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

This session started a new two-year cycle focusing on waste management, transport, chemicals, mining and the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, Mr. Felice said.  Progress and obstacles in those areas would be reviewed at this session, with agreements on the way forward to be decided upon next year.

The five themes together formed what is being called the “materials cycle” that goes from the extraction of natural resources to their transformation into goods and services to their final processing and recycling as waste, Mr. Felice said.

The current cycle was certainly unsustainable, he said, with non-renewable resources being used at a frenetic pace by a growing population, an estimated 2 billion tons of municipal solid waste being discarded each year, and babies born with over 200 toxic chemicals in their blood.

Despite such high use of resources, however, over a billion people suffered from under-consumption of basic necessities such as food, water and shelter, with the 20 per cent of people in the highest-income countries accounting for 77 per cent of total private consumption and those in the bottom 20 per cent accounting for only 1.3 per cent.

In that context, the central question of the Commission, Mr. Felice said, was “how to achieve green and equitable growth and development for a growing population through better management of materials through their life cycle”.

The Commission, he said, was unique because it was able to identify what had been done and where action was still needed in the focus areas through the broad-based, multisectoral approach -- integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the materials cycle.

Despite the great challenges, he said, there had been accomplishments, with the universal ratification of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, burgeoning consumer awareness of environmental and social issues and several countries pledging carbon neutrality.

The Commission, he said, would help mobilize political will to build on such successes, particularly in next week’s high-level segment that was expected to include ministers covering such diverse areas as the environment, development, finance, agriculture, mining and transport.  Those ministers were expected to have prepared national evaluations on the five topics of focus.

He added, in response to questions, that in political terms there were some areas that would be easier to deal with, such as transport and solid-waste management.  Others topics -- such as mining, chemicals and sustainable production and consumption -- could pose greater difficulties, because of the dependence of the developing world on large-scale extraction of minerals by transnational corporations.

Mr. Banuri of DESA added that, in setting the ground for a strong decision-making process next year on such difficult topics, it was important this year to understand where the disagreements lay and find ways to address them.  Sustainable consumption and production built on policy reinforcement of the willingness of consumers to do the right thing, he said.

Asked about how certain specific issues were being addressed through the five topics of focus, Mr. Banuri said that climate change was certainly being dealt with, given that some 40 per cent of greenhouse gasses were emitted by the transportation sector.  Assistance for affordable, low-carbon transportation systems would be one important consideration in that area. 

Management of electronic waste in developing countries, Mr. Banuri said, was based in part on the Basel Convention, but also on many other agreements.  In order for such agreements to be implemented, it was important to build technical capacity for developing countries to look after their interests in that area.  He hoped that this process could be accelerated by decisions taken next year, after obstacles were identified this year.

The issue of managing hazardous drug waste also depended on institutional and technical capacity, Mr. Banuri said, and, like many other areas, required a strong approach through the “Three Rs” -- reduce, reuse, recycle.  It was important to see what could be done along the entire chain, through looking at best practices and engaging the private sector.

In general, he said, the Commission would be looking at how well Governments were abiding by their commitments, but it was important to note that after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the focus turned away from bans to more flexible and holistic approaches.  The framework remained sound, but it was critical to determine how implementation could be accelerated.

* *** *

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