27 June 2008


27 June 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Sustainable development was the main theme of this year’s substantive session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Léo Mérorès, ECOSOC President and Ambassador of Haiti, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, ahead of the month-long session’s opening on Monday morning.

Mr. Mérorès, who was joined by Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Nikhil Seth, Director of the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said that more than 500 delegates from around the world, including Development Ministers and heads of civil society groups, international financial institutions and the private sector, were expected to gather over the coming weeks to look at development assistance from a global perspective.

The session, which alternated between the United Nations New York and Geneva headquarters, would open with a high-level segment from 30 June to 3 July, he said.  Keynote addresses would be delivered by Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Nobel-prizing winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Lord Stern of Brentford, author of the Stern Review; United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi; World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy; World Bank Chief Economist Justin Lin; Murilo Portugal, Deputy Director of the International Monetary Fund; and Mr. Sha.

During this high-level segment, two new activities would take place, he said.  The Annual Ministerial Review, the first edition of which had been held in Geneva last year, would feature presentations from four developing countries and four developed countries on what had and had not worked in development assistance, and the degree of commitments made by both sets of countries.  The first biennial Development Cooperation Forum, which would begin Monday afternoon, 30 June, would also examine the development relationship between developed and developing countries and was expected to impact the Council’s input to the forthcoming high-level development meetings to be held in Accra, Ghana, in September, and in Doha, Qatar, in late November and early December.

Mr. Sha explained that last year’s launch of the Annual Ministerial Review of the internationally agreed development goals had brought increased energy and focus to ECOSOC, and he expected this year’s session to do an equally good, if not better, job.  “As we have seen, it is becoming the place to share experiences and challenges, the place for Member States to find solutions to common concerns by bringing together national experiences,” he said.  The Development Cooperation Forum would enhance the coherence and effectiveness of development activities.

“We are now focusing on the major challenges the world faces today -- climate change, food and energy prices, the precarious state of the world economy and development aid,” he said.  “These issues are essential for development and are important to all countries, developing and developed.”

Mr. Seth noted that the session’s participants were an interesting mix of ministries of external affairs, planning and finance, and the director generals of international development cooperation.  For the first time, parliamentarians and local governments would also participate in the discussion, and the diverse communities would hopefully identify and discuss problems at the country level.

Responding to a question on the status of the Doha negotiations and the likelihood that the pledged official development assistance (ODA) would be forthcoming, Mr. Sha noted that the draft outcome was currently being negotiated, and added that there was absolute agreement on enhancing aid effectiveness.  At the midpoint of the Millennium Development Goals, there was also a sense of urgency.

To a question about arrangements to offset the carbon emissions from travel to the session -- which had not been discussed -- Mr. Sha emphasized the Secretary-General’s commitment to addressing climate change and his expectations that the Secretariat would lead by example.

He said further that he had begun efforts towards restructuring the Department of Economic and Social Affairs by establishing task forces on the “enhancement of the coherence” with other agencieson climate change, and on staff-management relations.  Those reform efforts would be ramped up after the Council’s session concluded.

To a question about the upcoming debate on biofuels and food security, Mr. Seth said that the Ministerial Declaration from next week’s high-level segment, which was currently being negotiated, contained a “hotly debated” paragraph on that issue.  There was a sense that a nuanced view of biofuels required a different way of looking at sugar-cane based ethanol, corn-based ethanol and so-called second-generation biofuels, and those that displaced “cultivatable” land and those that did not.

“The Member States realize that the only way to move forward on this is to ask for further studies,” he said.  There was a reference in the draft text -- not yet agreed -- which sought such further studies from the United Nations.  That would allow for an informed decision to be made about, among other things, plant genetics, without a political discussion.

In answer to a question on the future of South-South cooperation, Mr. Mérorès said that such cooperation was becoming increasingly important in terms of volume and quality, and the Council would work to ensure that all countries were able to participate in that in the context of trade and development.

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