DPI Press Release
United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women
New York, 19 April, 1996
Role of Women Stressed by Speakers in Commission on Sustainable Development
New York, 19 April 1996 - The critical role of women in the eradication of poverty and the achievement of sustainable development was stressed by speakers this morning in the Commission on Sustainable Development, which monitors implementation of "Agenda 21" -- the blueprint for sustainable development adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, Rio de Janeiro, 1992).
The representative of Australia said that women had an important contribution to make in both alleviating poverty and achieving sustainable population levels. The advancement of women was essential to economic and social development, she said, emphasizing that the full participation of women remained one of the great challenges for achieving sustainable development.
The representative of Italy, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the empowerment of women was a cornerstone of population and development policies and that education was one of the most important means of empowering women.
The representatives of Mexico and of Colombia stressed that poverty eradication was an essential part of Agenda 21. Mexico termed the transfer of technology a "basic pillar" of sustainable development. Colombia urged the secretariat to undertake a quantifiable analysis of adherence to Agenda 21 commitments regarding financial resources.
The representative of Switzerland endorsed the consideration of environmental concerns within the multilateral trade system. It was hoped that the World Trade Organization (WTP) Committee on Trade and Environment would present conclusions on the crucial link between trade and environment at the first WTO ministerial meeting, to be held in Singapore later this year.
The representative of the United Kingdom said that the Commission should reduce the scope of its decisions and resolutions, focusing on key issues. Next year's General Assembly special session should set out a small number of high-profile political issues on which the Commission could pursue international consensus.
Statements were also made by the representatives of the Czech Republic, India, Sweden, United States and Japan. A representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council also spoke.
When it meets again at 3 p.m. today, the Commission will continue its discussion of cross-sectoral issues with particular reference to critical elements of sustainability and the review of cross-sectoral clusters in Agenda 21.
Commission Work Programme
The Commission on Sustainable Development met this morning to continue its discussion of cross-sectoral issues with particular reference to critical elements of sustainability and the review of cross-sectoral clusters in "Agenda 21 -- the blueprint for sustainable development adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro 1992.
The discussion would include a review of the question of education, science and transfer of environmentally sound technology, with particular reference to chapters 34, 36 and 37 of Agenda 21; decision-making structures, with particular reference to chapters 8 and 38 to 40; and the role of major groups with particular reference to chapters 23 to 32. (For background on reports before the Commission, see Press Release ENV/DEV/346 of 18 April.)
BEDRICH MOLDAN (Czech Republic) said that his country had organized a workshop on education and public awareness for sustainable development in an effort to support the transition from environmental education to sustainable development education. That workshop found that awareness of sustainable development was still limited. Education for sustainable development should foster respect for diverse values and the points of view of others who were seeking their own environmental sustainability. It should also incorporate the special needs of minority groups, small island developing States as well as social issues, ethical/moral issues and issues of gender.
"The values behind the education for sustainable development should be determined locally, as much as possible, while respecting the global minimum of universally accepted values", he said. In addition, such education should be linked to the eradication of poverty as well as to human and environmental security.
He said that primary, secondary and tertiary programmes should offer education on sustainable development within their curriculum. A greater collaboration between industrialized and developing countries should be encouraged in their effort to promote sustainable development in recognition of the need for a shared approach to global issues.
GUISEPPE JACOANGELI (Italy), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the Union was convinced that levels of population, together with consumption and production patterns, widespread poverty and inequality were among the major factors undermining sustainable development. The world population would reach 10 billion by 2030-2040. Sustainable development policies must take that fact into account.
The empowerment of women was a cornerstone of population and development policies and education was one of the most important means of empowering women. The non-governmental sector had a special role to play in the implementation of population and development policies. Access to reproductive health services, including family planning, was essential.
While governments had the major responsibility for their own population and development policies and programmes, there was a need for international cooperation in that area. Those efforts should focus on developing human resources, improving infrastructure and increasing the use of family planning.
NIRMAL ANDREWS (India) said that the provisions of Agenda 21 needed to be implemented with vigour. The eradication of poverty was a key issue. Resources must be used more efficiently and to internalize environmental costs in the development process. India held the view that there was a very special place for the global nature of partnership for sustainable development based on responsibilities that were common but differentiated. There was need for new and additional funds for capacity-building. The capacities of international institutions for promoting sustainable development should also be strengthened.
He warned that pockets of prosperity could not be sustained in a global environment dominated by poverty. Efforts to deal with global issues, therefore, needed collective thinking and global investment.
India was in the process of changing directions towards sustainability, he said. Capacity-building efforts were now directed at issues such as pollution control. There was also a decentralization of decision-making.
JOANNE DISANO (Australia) welcomed the Secretary-General's report on progress made in poverty eradication and sustainable development. Australia recognized the intrinsic linkages between poverty eradication and development. It also recognized that women had a very important contribution in both the relief of poverty and achieving sustainable population levels. The advancement of women was essential to economic and social development. The full participation of women remained one of the great challenges for achieving sustainable development.
On the transfer of technology, she welcomed the emphasis by the Secretary-General on the importance of the private sector, including the involvement of business in efforts to improve the transfer of environmentally sound technologies. The key role of the private sector in the transfer of environmentally sound technology made it crucial to develop strong intellectual rights legislation.
"Achieving sustainable development requires well-informed integrated decision-making at all levels", she continued. That called for the identification of indicators of sustainable development.
URS HERREN (Switzerland) said that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) should continue developing an information network on environmentally sound technology so as to facilitate technology transfer. National technology needs assessments were a powerful tool to promote technology transfer and capacity-building, and the formation of public/private partnerships. Commercial policies and actions to protect the environment could reinforce each other. Efficient environmental policies, together with an open trading system, could lead to more efficient and rational use of natural resources.
Switzerland endorsed the consideration of environmental concerns within the multilateral trade system, he said. It was hoped that the World Trade Organization Committee (WTO) on Trade and Environment would present conclusions on the crucial link between trade and environment at the first WTO Ministerial Meeting, to be held in Singapore later this year.
In certain cases, trade measures could be an efficient instrument to achieve environmental objectives, he continued. But trade measures should be considered with great care. It was within the mandate of the WTO to make sure that trade measures with environmental objectives were in no way protectionist. Voluntary labeling programs could have a positive impact for the protection of the environment. Those programmes should have environmental objectives, but should also further consumer and health protection. Appropriate technical and financial assistance must be considered for the necessary capacity-building, especially in least developed countries.
BRIAN OLIVER (United Kingdom) said that the Commission should give a political lead on key sustainable development issues. Its decision last year to create an Intergovernmental Panel on Forests was a good example. The Commission should concentrate similar efforts on oceans, providing clear political leadership. There was a risk of the Commission's influence being watered down by trying to take on too much. It should be careful not to duplicate work being undertaken in the context of existing multilateral environmental agreements.
The Commission secretariat had made important gains in reducing the length of documents and concentrating them on conclusions and recommendations, he said. The Commission might also consider reducing the scope of its decisions and resolutions, focusing on key issues on which it could make substantive conclusions.
The task of the General Assembly's special session next year would be to set out a small number of high-profile political issues on which the Commission could seek international consensus, he went on. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) had rightly been given an important role in that effort; it was also crucial that that agency address internal governance issues. The national reporting process was crucial to the work of the Commission; consideration should be given to further simplifying that programme.
GERARDO LOZANO (Mexico) said that reports before the Commission should contain in-depth analysis. They should be more than a factual accounting of activities carried out in implementation of Agenda 21. They should realistically evaluate accomplishments, indicating those areas in which efforts should be increased.
Mexico agreed with the Secretary-General that the struggle against poverty should occupy a central place in strategies for sustainable development, he stated. Poverty and environmental deterioration were locked in a vicious circle. Alleviating poverty was a critical part of reversing environmental decline. The approach now adopted in that regard was questionable; the environmental and social costs of the open market should be internalized.
Regarding demography, he said there was a relationship between population, consumption patterns and environmental decline, but references in the report of the Secretary-General were somewhat biased. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities was crucial. Regarding financial questions, there was a general tendency to avoid past commitments. The principle of complementarity was essential; implementing the Rio Conference agreements required a genuine global commitment.
The transfer of technology was a basic pillar of sustainable development, he continued. The reports of the Secretary-General seemed to be inconsistent with the conclusions of the inter-sessional working group on finance and consumption patterns. The Secretary-General had drawn attention to the importance of national resources as regards environmentally rational programmes for small- and medium-sized industries, but the Rio Conference had stressed the importance of international financing for those programmes.
FERNANDO CASAS CASTANEGA (Colombia) said that the commitments of Agenda 21 should not be re-written. The international community should concentrate on their implementation. Poverty alleviation and the changing of consumption patterns were the heart of Agenda 21. It was urgent that methods identified in Agenda 21 facilitate progress in achieving commitments derived from common but differentiated responsibilities. There had been setbacks in technology transfer and in the provision of financial resources. The secretariat should undertake a quantifiable analysis of adherence to Agenda 21 commitments regarding financial resources. The setting of environmental standards would rely on the support of the major developed countries, particularly major exporting States. National educational systems were the primary tool to be employed in alleviating poverty.
BO KJELLEN (Sweden) said that all municipalities in his country were now working on their own local agenda 21. They were at different levels because they had not started at the same time. A number of the municipalities had given themselves particular responsibilities under the label of "ecomunicipalities". The success that had been achieved by the municipalities had been in part due to the efforts of the private sector and non-governmental organizations which had worked hand-in-hand with the municipal and central governments.
He said that the municipalities had stressed the need for better coordination in government policies, help in information efforts and clear cooperation and consultation with regard to the relationship between national and regional governments. Sweden believed that the work at the local level had revitalized democratic dialogue and interest in problems that were common to the people in the municipalities as well as interest in global issues.
TAKAO SHIBATA (Japan) said that information played an important role in the implementation of Agenda 21. Japan welcomed the progress made in the development of indicators for sustainable development. It had organized a workshop in Glen Cove, New York, on that issue. The workshop emphasized the importance of feedback in measuring the overall impact of indicators. It also identified gaps which needed to be addressed. Japan would make available the report of that workshop.
MARK G. HAMBLEY (United States) said that his country's national environmental technology strategy called "Bridge to a Sustainable Future", which was submitted to the Commission on Sustainable Development last spring, highlighted the efforts that the United States intended to pursue to promote the development, use and dissemination of environmental technologies at home and abroad.
He said that the United States could not support some of the recommendations in the Secretariat's paper, especially with respect to the work coming out of the ISO 4000 exercise, the UNEP efforts with respect to environmentally sound technology information systems and national technology needs assessment work. The Commission should continue in a strengthened and broadened role as the forum for reviewing United Nations support for national efforts in pursuit of sustainable development. It should also play the role of a main commission for the Economic and Social Council in pulling together all related aspects of United Nations conference follow-up and the United Nations involvement in promoting sustainable development. To facilitate its interaction with specialized agencies, the Commission should be based in Geneva after 1997.
The contribution of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) pressed that organization's views rather than reflected the outcome of discussions that had taken place within the ad hoc working group and in the World Trade Organization's Committee on Trade and Environment, he went on. Organizations interested in undertaking work on specific areas of the trade and environment agenda should avoid duplication. They should coordinate with the lead organization responsible for such work to ensure that resources were not expended on initiatives for which no mandate existed.
The United States also had difficulty with the proposal to have the Commission provide advice to UNCTAD IX on how UNCTAD should organize itself to meet its responsibilities under Agenda 21, he said.
Mr. JACOANGELI (Italy), speaking on behalf of the European Union on the topic of capacity-building, said that the ability to implement Agenda 21 was directly proportionate to the capacity of people and institutions. The European Union attached great importance to the enhancement of human, scientific, technological, organizational, institutional and resource capabilities of countries. Since the UNCED, new trends were emerging in development cooperation which assigned a central role to capacity-building.
The Union believed that the UNDP should continue efforts to strengthen the capacity of developing countries in planning and policy-making, he said. The UNEP should concentrate on its catalytic role in disseminating information and assisting in the establishment of networks of scientific institutions on environmentally sound technologies. Environmental legislation was a favourable condition for successful penetration of environmentally sound technologies on the market. The Commission should initiate the gathering of more information on the relations between utilization of such technologies, environmental legislation and enforcement.
He also stressed the importance of environmental technology centres for improved utilization of environmentally sound technologies. Such centres could play a role as centres of expertise for the execution and further development of national needs assessments and as brokers of information.
JACQUELINE HAMILTON of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earth Summit Watch, presented a report on population growth, improving the lives of women and preserving the environment for future generations. Country- bycountry monitoring would serve to demonstrate positive examples. For the past year, her organization had monitored the efforts of States to follow- up to the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994).
Many new organizations were focusing on health and reproduction, and women's empowerment. National leaders such as those of Haiti and Peru had focused policy on population; several countries, such as Ireland, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe had engaged in widespread national dialogue on population issues. Countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Namibia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa and Thailand all planned to increase spending on reproductive health and girls' education. The United States and Canada were decreasing spending on population-related development assistance and on national reproductive health care. The United States reductions were particularly dramatic.
She urged the Commission to coordinate its work with that of the Commissions on Population and Development, on the Status of Women, as well as the UNCTAD. States should make greater effort to include officials from different disciplines in environmental discussions, especially those concerned with health, women's affairs and population.
DPI Press Release
Commission on Sustainable Development