Secretary-General Urges Rapid Shift from Ideas to Focused Actions, as Sustainable Development Commission Concludes Session

14 May 2010

Secretary-General Urges Rapid Shift from Ideas to Focused Actions, as Sustainable Development Commission Concludes Session

14 May 2010
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on Sustainable Development

Eighteenth Session

20th & 21st Meetings (AM & PM)

Secretary-General Urges Rapid Shift from Ideas to Focused Actions,


as Sustainable Development Commission Concludes Session


Adopting Report, Delegates Approve

Provisional Work Programme, Elect Bureau Members for 2011

Calling for a shift from good ideas to focused actions without further delay, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Commission on Sustainable Development today that such actions were needed in order to meet the world’s responsibility towards future generations and to implement commitments already made.

“We know what we need to do.  We know what works,” the Secretary-General said this afternoon as the Commission concluded its eighteenth session.  “The time for delivery is now,” he added, noting that sustainable development was among his highest priorities for 2010.

Ahead of the Millennium Development Goals Summit in September, he said, it was necessary to accelerate the momentum towards meeting the Goals, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable countries and communities.  The Commission was the highest political forum within the United Nations for addressing the inter-linkages between those challenges.

Welcoming the Commission’s emphasis on learning from best practices, he said that approach would be a central plank of the September Summit, stressing that ultimately, “everything we do is tested by one criterion: has it improved people’s lives?”  He also emphasized the need to focus on practical decisions that could be translated into action and scaled up, noting that all important decisions should be concrete, with time-bound goals.  More should also be done to build links with other international bodies, as well as key forums and processes, while continually assessing performance and progress.

Noting that the Commission’s twentieth anniversary was fast approaching, he said few of the challenges identified at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit had been adequately tackled.  In fact, new challenges had gained added urgency, he pointed out as he designated Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, as Secretary-General of the 2012 Conference on Sustainable Development, also to be held in Rio.  He said Mr. Sha would be supported by two Executive Coordinators, whose names would be announced shortly.

During the meeting, Luis Ferraté Felice, Commission Chair and Minister for the Environment of Guatemala, presented part II of his Chairman’s Summary, which was divided into three broad categories: challenges and constraints; best practices and lessons learned; and the way forward.

He said the document focused on the Commission’s formal meetings from 10 to 14 May and included its high-level segment, as well as the annual Small Island Developing States Day.  It was a factual summary rather than a negotiating document, he added.  (For part I see Press Release ENV/DEV/1131 of 11 May 2010.)

Of the nearly two dozencountries and major civil society groups that took the floor, a number of delegations sought to clarify how their comments were represented in the document.  Others suggested that clarification was needed for a number of terms, including “green economy”.  Several speakers, in addressing the section on the 10-Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, emphasized that some Governments were better equipped to lead and guide processes.

A majority of speakers highlighted the document’s status as a summary, although a number of delegations called for more balance in the document. Yemen’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that, while the document succeeded in capturing key points, it could do better in differentiating between factual statements and judgment positions, particularly with respect to paragraph 81.

The representative of the United States noted that some paragraphs included qualifying language to indicate when a specific issue “was raised” while others did not, merely making declarations that something “was needed”.  That uneven approach could give a misimpression, he suggested, adding that ideas drawn directly from expert panellists or the Secretariat should be attributed to them.

A few speakers from small island developing States said the summary could go further in conveying a sense of urgency, as well as the need for action.  Grenada’s representative said the term “guidance” was unclear, emphasizing that financial support, technology transfer and capacity-building were specifically needed.

Responding to several comments about the use of the term “trade” in paragraph 8, the representative of Barbados noted that the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Mauritius Strategy of Implementation acknowledged the particular problems faced by small island developing States in integrating into global trade, and urged development partners to take another look at what they had already committed to.

Earlier in the day, the Commission held an interactive ministerial dialogue on “The Way Forward”, during which members called for the implementation of recommendations on sustainable development.  Speakers also called for a more frank, interactive dialogue and stressed the importance of education as vital in changing mindsets and behaviour.  Several delegations pointed to implementation gaps and many others stressed the need to further identify financial support and ensure that existing funding be made more effective.

In other business, the Commission took note of the Secretary-General’s note on the proposed strategic framework for the period 2012-2013: subprogramme 4, Sustainable development of programme 7, Economic and Social Affairs (document E/CN.17/2010/12), which was presented by Tariq Banuri, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Before wrapping up its work, the Commission also approved the provisional agenda for its nineteenth session.  According to that document, the thematic cluster for the implementation of cycle 2010-2011 policy would address the same themes as the just-concluded session: transport, chemicals, waste management, mining and the 10-Year Framework On Sustainable Consumption And Production Patterns.

Finally, the Commission adopted its “draft report: organizational and other matters” (document E/CN.17/2010/L.3), introduced by its Eduardo Martin Menez (Philippines), Vice-Chair and Rapporteur.

Speaking after the adoption of the report were the representatives of Yemen (on behalf of the Group of 77 and China), Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Mauritania, Brazil and Kazakhstan.

Also speaking were representatives of the following civil society major groups: children and youth; indigenous peoples; non-governmental organizations; local authorities; workers and trade unions; business and industry; scientific and technological communities; and farmers.

Others commenting on the Chairman’s Summary were the representatives of Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Australia, Cuba, Argentina, Chile, Canada, Nigeria, Indonesia, Mauritius, Russian Federation, India, Japan, Azerbaijan, Morocco and Switzerland.

Also speaking on the Summary were representatives of indigenous peoples, workers and trade unions, non-governmental organizations and women.

As per tradition, the Commission briefly opened its nineteenth session to elect the Chairperson and Bureau that would guide its work for 2011. Lászlo Borbély, Minister for Environment and Forests of Romania, was elected, by acclamation, to Chair the nineteenth session.  Javier Arias (Panama) and Andrew Goledzinowski (Australia) were elected Vice-Chairperson, leaving two others, from the Group of African States and the Group of Asian States, to be elected at a later date.


The Commission on Sustainable Development met this morning to conclude its high-level segment and its eighteenth session, which focused on transport, chemicals, waste management, mining and the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns.

Following its interactive ministerial dialogue on “The Way Forward”, during its morning meeting, the Commission was expected to discuss Part II of the Chairperson’s summary in the afternoon, before taking action on the report on its eighteenth session.  It was also expected to adopt the provisional agenda for its nineteenth session.

For background information on the Commission’s eighteenth session, please see Press Release ENV/DEV/1123.

Interactive Ministerial Dialogue

LUIS ALBERTO FERRATÉ FELICE, Commission Chairperson and Minister for the Environment of Guatemala, opened the dialogue by calling for a common vision, built on the themes under review, to provide a sense of purpose and direction, while identifying how the Commission could help States transition to a sustainable development path at all levels, from the bottom up and from top to bottom.  A common vision required mechanisms that could help realize that transition, he said, noting that, over the past 20 years, slow and heavy machinery had been built for the implementation of sustainable development without maximizing the potential contribution of the “house” to each country, community and family.

The Secretary for Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina called for the setting of priorities so that all countries could fashion their own methods for achieving sustainable consumption from the bottom upwards.  The role of regulatory agencies must be examined to ensure they upheld their mandates, he said, calling also for strengthening the role of national experts and for boosting capacity to reduce dependence.  Legislation went hand in hand with national policies, and the means must therefore be tailored to the different situations in individual countries.  The developed countries always ducked their responsibility after quoting huge sums of money, he noted, stressing that the truth of the situation must be identified.

The representative of Yemen, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, called for greater transparency and accountability on the part of mining-sector actors at all levels.  Business and industry must establish worldwide corporate policies on sustainable development; arrange to make environmentally sound technologies available to affiliates owned substantially by their parent companies in developing countries, without extra external charges; modify procedures to reflect local ecological conditions; and share experiences with local authorities, national Governments and international organizations.

Turning to chemicals, he said that, rather than generating new agreements and obligations for developing countries, it was important to continue working to implement current commitments.  On waste, he said the challenges faced by developing countries must be addressed through greater investment and capacity‑building, and by the transfer of know-how and technology in implementing the “3 Rs” — reduce, re-use and recycle.  Improvements in infrastructure were also urgently needed to combat the high cost of health services and thereby eradicate poverty and reduce rural-urban migration.  He called on electronics companies to increase their efforts for the responsible collection and disposal of electronic waste.

He said the building of the 10-Year Framework should be based on the work already done in the area, including national subregional and regional strategies and the Marrakech Process.  The Framework must be led by developed countries, recognize the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and address the gaps faced by developing countries.  The Group of 77 and China expected that, since the Mauritius +5 review of progress made in addressing the vulnerabilities of small island developing States had been undertaken through the Mauritius Strategy, there would be a renewed commitment by developed partners and the entire international community to fulfil existing commitments and even scale up support for small island States.

The representative of Spain, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said it was clear that many countries lacked the resources and competencies effectively to implement positive strategies and measures discussed during the session.  However, many of the measures and polices highlighted by the session’s presenters and panellists were of a low-tech nature, requiring few additional financial resources and representing “win-win” scenarios.

Reaffirming the European Union’s commitment to move forward on the sustainable production and consumption agenda for, he said that by doing more and better with less, and by making significant lifestyle changes, the quality of life could be improved throughout countries, regions and communities.  Sustainable consumption could also do more than merely protect the environment by providing economic benefits, he said.

He said the European Union shared the views expressed by the Group of 77 and China that a well-structured, transparent intersessional process with a clear and accepted mandate was needed to develop a proposal for the 10-Year Framework.  It was also open to discussing the proposal by the Group of 77 and others on how to advance that work in a concrete way following the conclusion of the present session.  The European Union would continue to support efforts to address the specific difficulties of small island developing States, he said.

The representative of Grenada, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States and associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, reiterated that, although they continually sought to strengthen their resilience in the pursuit of sustainable development, the vulnerability of some small island States seemed entrenched, particularly given the growing frequency and unpredictability of various climatic and other external shocks.

She said there must be a strong link between the Commission’s eighteenth and nineteenth sessions to provide stronger policy approaches.  It was also important to examine the macroeconomic framework that had created, and continued to generate, grave inequalities, otherwise meaningful development and stability could not occur or be sustained.  There was an urgent need for actions that would make a difference to small islands, she said.

The representative of Indonesia, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said sustainable development was a cross-cutting process comprising economic, social and environmental dimensions.  However, a “pro-poor, pro-job and pro-growth” mindset was needed to shape specific actions in the context of sustainable development, he said, adding that it must be geared towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Financial resources should go beyond budgetary allocations and official development assistance (ODA) to include resources from innovative financing mechanisms, including those created through public-private partnerships.

The representative of Spain, speaking in his national capacity, stressed that the current opportunity to set out a global framework should not be wasted, since it would be a benefit to all regions and countries by helping them move towards a greener economy.  Sustainable consumption and production were the unifying strands in the current session’s discussions, he said, noting that the word “waste” should be abolished and the end of a product’s life-cycle considered a resource.  All countries should develop a balanced energy mix, he said, calling also for more efficient transportation infrastructure and less dependence on road systems.  It was important to seek public and private investment to fulfil those goals, he added.

The Minister for Mineral Resources of South Africa, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, expressed concern about the level of participation in the high-level segment.  Rather than merely reading statements, delegates should make the session more interactive, she said, noting that the Commission was unable to assess whether countries were delivering on action programmes.  She went on to say that behavioural change was fundamental to sustainable development, as were the strengthening of partnerships and support for the Marrakech Process.

The representative of Iran, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said transport was truly considered to be the driving force behind the growing demand for energy, and transportation needs would undoubtedly increase.  They must be met in environmentally friendly ways, and Iran was doing its part in that regard.  Iran had made significant progress in municipal waste management, he said, calling for the establishment of a waste and chemicals management technology centre within the United Nations system.  Mining should also be seen in the framework of sustainable production and consumption, he added.

The representative of Sweden, associating herself with the European Union, said the themes under review were closely interrelated and should be addressed in a human and holistic manner.  It was crucial to adopt a life-cycle perspective and to focus on interrelated policies and a mix of instruments on a case-by-case basis.  It was also necessary to bridge the gap between policies adopted and concrete actions.

The representative of Switzerland said guidance should be provided to ensure the mining sector moved towards more sustainable practices.  On chemicals and waste, the Commission must not replace or duplicate the work being done within the United Nations.  He agreed that it was necessary to secure adequate financing for the management of chemicals and waste, but it should be developed within the existing cluster.

The Permanent Secretary for the Environment of India, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, stressed the importance of examining the Commission’s role and strengthening its capacity to implement decisions.  While it was a useful forum, since it allowed for an exchange of experiences, there was “a wider world”, he said, underlining the importance of human welfare and the question of whether sustainable development initiatives yielded co-benefits for climate change.

The representative of Barbados, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Alliance of Small Island States, said national and regional visions should be framed around economic development, adding that all countries should be able to see the connection between economic growth and green economies.  Well-resourced mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation the green economy must be established, he said, adding that a green economy should integrate sustainable production and consumption, as well as waste management systems, among other things.  It should support the mainstreaming of green investment and focus regional actions towards the Barbados Programme of Action, he said.

The Minister for the Environment of Pakistan, discussing the issue of transport, said it was necessary to look at options for the effective harnessing of technology, which remained the key to making transportation accessible, affordable and environmentally friendly.  Everything under consideration by the Commission would be irrelevant, remaining essentially academic in character, unless recommendations were practical and doable.  Failure by the Commission to achieve what had been agreed upon would not help make it a vibrant institution, capable of tackling challenges.

The representative of the United States stressed that, in addition to the wider empowerment and education of all stakeholders, the empowerment of women and girls was critical.  It was also important to identify how Governments could support and harness the ingenuity of all stakeholders, he said, highlighting in that regard such initiatives as the Methane to Market Partnership and artisanal mining activities.  Regarding calls for intersessional work on sustainable production and consumption, he questioned whether it would set a precedent, whether all Governments would participate and what implications it would have for next year’s Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting.

The representative of Norway emphasized that transport must be made accessible, available and affordable.  In that regard, it was necessary to focus on the use of financial instruments as a means to promote a more sustainable transport system.  On chemicals, she said it was important to strengthen synergies between existing chemical conventions and to avoid any parallel tracks.  Regarding waste management, there was a need to examine how to minimize it, including by applying the “3 Rs”, she said.

The representative of Guatemala said environmental endeavours must not have a negative impact on the economic growth of developing countries.  On mining, he stressed the importance of addressing the situation of indigenous peoples.  He also called for an exchange of information on chemicals, including a labelling process, adding that the transfer of technology must not create dependency.

The representative of Libya, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said all stakeholders must aspire to fulfil Agenda 21 in preparation for the 2012 Rio +20 Conference.  He said the Commission could not examine a single issue while ignoring others, noting that all issues were related directly to everyday lives with an impact on economic standards.  The session had provided an opportunity to analyse the progress made and try to find solutions to challenges.

The representative of Kenya, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said measures to deal in a sustainable manner with food, water and the effects of climate change should be developed collectively.  There was a need for political impetus to bridge implementation gaps in developing countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa.  It was also important to strengthen governance in the development pillar and avoid fragmentation and duplication of efforts.  The dissemination of knowledge and the transfer of technology were essential for developing countries to transition to a local, low-carbon model, he said.

The representative of Senegal, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, proposed that the nineteenth session examine in depth the question of sustainable consumption and production patterns, conducting a comprehensive evaluation for each region.  To that end, subregional organizations could serve as links between countries and the international community, he said, adding that another challenge was to examine how internal knowledge could ensure sustainable ways of life.

The representative of Mexico, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said her country was open to the establishment of a task force to ensure that the next session could adopt a 10-year framework.  The task force must incorporate the work of experts, but should not incur further budgetary outlays, she said.

An official of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said the feasibility of launching a global initiative for sustainable mining should be considered, with a view to facilitating policy dialogue between stakeholders, assisting the development of sustainable mining regimes, promoting the development of product standards and encouraging increased and more efficient re-use and recycling of metals and mineral products.  On waste, she said UNEP expected intersessional work to target the question of how the “3 Rs” could actually be incorporated into national or local waste-management policies and systems.

Turning to chemicals, she said there was a need to strengthen further and develop the work of Governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations.  As for sustainable consumption and production patterns, the solutions developed in the Marrakech Process and elsewhere must be scaled up and replicated.  There was also a need for focused consideration of how the most relevant and effective of all those initiatives could be integrated into a 10-Year framework.

As the Commission called upon the major civil society groups, a representative of women said environmental degradation must be stopped and the environment freed from toxic waste.  A discussion on the 10-Year Framework was needed before the next Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting.  Producers must be held accountable for the life-cycle of their products, she said, calling for the establishment a legal and financing mechanism for the environment.

A representative of science and technology said it was now clearer than ever that the challenges had outstripped the capacities of the scientific and technological community, and of society at large, to forge comprehensive responses.  Nothing less than a massive effort would be required, particularly in developing countries.  The still-widening North-South divide on scientific and technological capacity must be bridged, he said.

A representative of local authorities noted that many municipalities were integrating transport issues with land planning, and called for further cooperation between local and national authorities and private groups.  Local governments needed enhanced authority and capacity to deal with waste management, he said, noting that they were already focused on sustainable green procurement systems.

A representative of business and industry pledged that the major group would continue to deliver on the commitments it had made, but called for better metrics and greater effectiveness in measuring implementation.

A representative of farmers said the way forward lay in disseminating practical knowledge and taking concrete steps.  Farmers must be the focus of national and local policies in both developed and developing countries, he added.

A representative of workers and trade unions said the 10-Year Framework must study the reasons for overconsumption.  He added that innovative sources of financing for sustainable development must be considered, noting in that regard, proposals for a tax on international transactions.

The representative of Nigeria stressed the need for greater accountability in mining.  On sustainable consumption and production, he said it was the cornerstone of sustainable development, and Nigeria therefore supported the Marrakech Process.  A new improved approach was needed to determine how sustainability would support humanity, he added.

A representative of children and youth said the next session should define clear targets for empowering civil society and non-governmental stakeholders.  Participation at all levels was critical and all Governments should include youth representatives in their delegations.  Young people should also be incorporated into all strategies, particularly through expanded education.

An official of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) called for the application of known best practices on a larger scale, saying it was also necessary to strengthen partnerships that would spur better, faster progress and on a larger scale.  UNIDO stood ready to support an inclusive and transparent process that would include carrying the recommendations of the current session into the next one.

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