Expert Panels Consider Transport, Chemicals as Commission on Sustainable Development Holds Parallel Thematic Discussions

4 May 2010

Expert Panels Consider Transport, Chemicals as Commission on Sustainable Development Holds Parallel Thematic Discussions

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

Commission on Sustainable Development

Eighteenth Session

5th Meeting* (PM)

Expert Panels Consider Transport, Chemicals as Commission on Sustainable

Development Holds Parallel Thematic Discussions


Delegates to the eighteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development today heard two panels of experts address the topics of transport and chemicals in parallel afternoon meetings.

The session begins a two-year cycle to review waste management, transport, chemicals, mining and the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production.  (See Press Release ENV/DEV/1123 of 30 April 2010 for background information.)

During the meeting on transport, presentations were made by panellists André Lago, Head of the Division of Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns Development and Environmental Policy in the Ministry of External Relations of Brazil; and Allison Davis, Senior Transportation Planner at Arup Consultants of New York.  Moderating the panel and the ensuing interactive discussions were Eduardo Martin Meñez ( Philippines), Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur of the Commission.

The panel of experts on chemicals comprised Ivan Erzen, State Secretary in the Ministry of Health of Slovenia; Jamidu Katima of the University of Dar es Salaam in the United Republic of Tanzania; and Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC, a community service organization.  Moderating the panel was Commission Vice-Chairperson Tanya Raguz ( Croatia), who also presided over the related interactive dialogue.

Kathleen Abdalla, Chief of the Emerging Issues Branch in the Division for Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented the Secretary-General’s report on transport.  Aslam Chaudhry, Chief of the Global Policy Branch in the Sustainable Development Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented the Secretary-General’s report relating to chemicals.

The Commission on Sustainable Development will continue its interactive discussions in parallel sessions starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 5 May.  In the afternoon, it will hold thematic discussions on waste management and mining.

Panel Discussion on Transport

At the outset of the meeting, the Commission saw the screening of a video entitled Making Things Happen with Bus Rapid Transit, which demonstrated an innovative approach to transportation in cities.

KATHLEEN ABDALLA, Chief, Emerging Issues Branch, Division of Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented the Secretary-General’s report (document E/CN.17/2010/4), noting that, while transport and mobility were essential for economic growth, social development and global trade, they were often associated with negative impacts such as pollution.  She said new challenges had emerged since 2002, including highly volatile global energy markets and falling demand for goods and services as a result of the recent global financial crisis, and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Since 1971, the use of energy for transport had risen, with road transport accounting for most of the energy used and seeing the highest rate of growth, she said, adding that transport was responsible for some 23 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

She went on to say that inadequate transport infrastructure perpetuated poverty and was an obstacle to attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in rural areas.  Isolation contributed further to poverty and the marginalization of communities, which affected small-scale farmers in particular.  Small investments could make a difference, but larger rural transport programmes were needed to overcome the widening development gap, she said.  By 2050, two thirds of the world population would live in towns and cities, she continued, noting that appropriate measures were needed to establish environmentally sound and economically viable transport systems.

Emphasizing that bus rapid transit systems, walking and cycling should also be highlighted, she said planning was a key factor in achieving affordable transport.  A three-pronged approach was recommended:  avoid unnecessary transport through better spatial planning and telecommuting; promote modes with high transport and fuel efficiency; and improve the efficiency of all modes of transport in order to reduce emissions while saving energy.  With 1.2 million people dying in road accidents around the world every year, safety concerns must be fully integrated into infrastructure planning, she stressed.

There was an urgent need for significant improvements in existing transport technologies, as well as groundbreaking innovations to address the challenge of sustainable consumption and production patterns, she said.  Increases in public and private funding would be required for low-carbon transport technologies and fuel storage systems, she said.  Developing countries faced two main challenges:  the need to expand adequate transport infrastructure; and the need for affordable transport services.  An effective, comprehensive and rapid transition to low-carbon rapid transport systems was also a challenge, but given effective regulatory frameworks, a more affordable transport future was achievable, she said.

EDUARDO MARTIN MEÑEZ (Philippines), Vice-Chairperson and Rapporteur of the Commission, who acted as Moderator for the panel discussion, said that sustainable development required a comprehensive and integrated approach to policymaking and the taking of decisions aimed at developing adequate, efficient, economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sound transport systems.

He said efforts to transition to more sustainable systems faced such challenges as dependence on oil selling at highly volatile prices, the impact of the global financial crisis, and projected increases in transport energy needs and emissions.  He posed several questions to participants in the discussion, touching on such topics as the challenges faced by developing countries, improving transport services in rural areas, and enhancing the benefits of spatial planning and public transport in urban areas.  He also requested feedback on issues of enhancing exchanges of information and accelerating the transition towards sustainable low-carbon transport systems.

ANDRÉ LAGO, Head of the Division of Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns Development and Environmental Policy, Ministry of External Relations of Brazil, highlighted the development of bus rapid transit, saying that its success in the cities where it was used was undeniable.  Emissions were reduced through the use of, among other things, biodiesel and ethanol engines.  As for planning, he said Brazilian experts had developed an interesting approach to urban expansion, putting infrastructure first while taking local realities and the natural environment into account, instead of adjusting the infrastructure to existing neighbourhoods.

He said the main focus of his presentation concerned the challenges and opportunities presented by biofuels, a subject to which the Secretary-General’s report paid insufficient attention.  Liquid biofuels had proved to be an immediately available and sustainable solution to transportation, he said, emphasizing the key importance of sustainability.  Most discussions tended to underrate the economic issue of biofuels, he said, pointing out that such debates did not divide developed and developing countries and adding that biofuels could make even hybrid cars more efficient.

Although Brazil was the world’s fifth largest car producer, its emissions were still low because it produced flex-fuel cars, he continued, adding that they gave consumers a choice as to which gasoline to use.  Although developed countries, including European Union members, claimed that flex-fuel cars were only good for Brazil, they were now being produced for Sweden.  The developed world was often ignorant about events in the poorer world, he said, noting that countries such as India, China and Brazil had implemented brilliant ideas that were not being acknowledged.

That lack of interest in the developed world was a sign of neocolonialism, as was its refusal to recognize the benefits of biofuels for developing countries, he said.  Realistic sustainable development should take into consideration the needs of developing countries, rather than what the developed world thought they needed.  In order for biofuels to be adopted worldwide, many producers were needed, he said, noting that, given the competitive advantage that tropical countries enjoyed in that area, most developing countries could engage in sustainable biofuel schemes and “leapfrog” into an area in which they could compete successfully.

ALLISON DAVIS, Senior Transportation Planner at Arup Consultants, New York, said public transportation was a fundamental aspect of how cities operated, as it was important to economic and social sustainability.  It could help curb greenhouse gas emissions and ensure access to jobs, health care and education, she said, adding that cities could find better ways to finance infrastructure.

Motorization trends were an important part of the transportation market, she continued, noting that the United States was leading in that field while developing countries were at the low end.  However, they were increasing their motorization rapidly but in an unsustainable way, she said, pointing out that motorization not only caused congestion, but also carbon dioxide emissions.  But increasing fuel efficiency took a long time, she cautioned, adding that, while the use of biofuels, natural gas and hybrid cars was to be recommended, it required more technology, as well as Government support.

She said one of the factors that could be addressed was the miles travelled by vehicle (VMT), which had risen because public transportation had not kept pace with what people needed.  Public transportation was often unsafe and of poor quality.  In addition, many cities had been planned in a car-friendly manner, with commercial and residential areas built far from each other, and retail areas in yet another area.  The challenges of reducing VMT included:  poor pedestrian environments; fragmented transit systems with many operators competing for the same passengers; a disconnection between land use and transport planning; auto-supportive policies on parking; weak institutions, especially at the local level; and lack of data.

Bus rapid transit was a very viable mode for improving public transit, she said, noting that it could ensure clean and safe stations, predictability through passenger information and coordination with other transport services.  Moreover, buses were never stuck in traffic, guaranteeing that passengers arrived on time.  For example, Indonesia’s TransJakarta region had implemented a 12-kilometre-long bus rapid transit line in 10 months at a cost of $2 million per kilometre, which showed its feasibility.  In the first year of bus rapid transit, it had been found that 40 per cent of its passengers had previously used cars.

She went on to note London’s implementation of a congestion charge which had reduced the city’s traffic congestion, as well as carbon dioxide emissions by 16 per cent.  The new measure had also increased travel speed by 10 per cent.  As for parking, she said New York parking space was “almost free”, noting, however, that the street space used for parking could also be used for bike lanes or dedicated bus lanes, among other things.  A shift in transit modes could be made possible through the provision of good-quality public transportation, but that required good regional planning, she said.

Interactive Discussion

Speakers stressed that transport was central to sustainable development as adequate and affordable transportation networks empowered people to move freely, communicate and exchange goods and services.  However, transport infrastructure and services in developing countries needed expansion and improvement if the internationally agreed development goals were to be met and poverty eradicated, especially in the rural areas.

Delegates called urgently for more resources, technology transfer and capacity-building in order to make transport in developing countries more sustainable.  They emphasized in particular the importance of expanding all-weather roads, since about a billion people today lived more than two kilometres away from them.  Many speakers also highlighted the particular challenges and high transport costs faced by least developed, landlocked and mountainous developing countries, as well as many small island developing States.

Regarding the problems of Pacific small island developing States, one speaker noted that one of the most serious challenges to transport in the region was the adverse impacts of climate change because much of the transport infrastructure, including ports, airports and coastal roads, were vulnerable to rising sea levels.  Investment in transport infrastructure was, therefore, a poor choice, he added.

As for urban transport problems, some delegates said that public transport systems, including bus rapid transit, offered several benefits, including lower carbon dioxide emissions and less traffic congestion and commuting time.  Coherent policies to support urban public transport could play an important role in shifting from private to public transport and greater use of non-motorized transport, he said.  However, that would require a holistic approach, including the integration of transport considerations into long-term urban development planning and policies.  It would also require a change in culture and attitude at the individual level, he said, stressing that public participation in decision-making processes was essential in that regard.

Many speakers stressed that fuel efficiency and technology development, including that of biofuels for land and even air transport, could play an important role in addressing climate change because it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Water transport, including river-borne modes, cost little and emitted less carbon.  Modern information technologies in transport also offered important opportunities for reducing costs, fuel and emissions.

Speakers acknowledged that many successful policies and programmes had been implemented with the aim of providing safe, affordable and more efficient transportation that increased energy efficiency and reduced pollution, congestion and adverse health effects.  They stressed that such policies and programmes must be implemented over the long term in order to eliminate the adverse effects of changes in Government.

Mr. LAGO, responding to comments and questions, said speakers had presented many options for improving transportation, but implementation was more of a political issue than a technical one.  Since some speakers had stressed the necessity of promoting public awareness of the social, economic and environmental concerns around transportation, he said public awareness, coupled with information, could stimulate changes in culture and behaviour.

Ms. DAVIS added that each region and each city needed a long-term transportation plan that understood the land-use impacts, as well as community needs.  Long-term planning was needed to avoid election-by-election changes and allow bureaucratic agencies to focus on social benefits and environmental impacts.  Key to reducing VMT and greenhouse gas emissions was providing the public with choices in modes of transportation, including safe walking and biking, while also improving bus and light rail systems.

Panel Discussion on Chemicals

In the parallel session on chemicals, panellists stressed the need for more synergy among existing mechanisms for managing chemical use while promoting a coordinated response to emerging problems such as nano-chemicals, biotechnology and obsolete electronic goods, or “e-waste”.

TANYA RAGUZ (Croatia), Vice-Chairperson of the Commission, acted as Moderator, while the panellists were Ivan Erzen, State Secretary in the Ministry of Health of Slovenia; Jamidu Katima of the University of Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania; and Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC, a community service organization dealing with aid and development issues focused on food, agriculture and commodity trading.

ASLAM CHAUDHRY, Chief, Global Policy Branch, Division of Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented the Secretary-General’s report (document E/CN.17/2010/5), saying chemicals played an important role in fostering economic growth and improving living standards.  Unless properly managed, however, they could also pose risks to society and the environment.

He said that by 2020, the share of producers and consumers of chemicals would tilt towards developing countries and those with economies in transition.  However, regulations in developing countries were outdated and out of line with modern chemical-management practices.  The work of re-mediating contaminated sites was constrained by lack of funding, he said, noting that, while multilateral agreements on sound chemical management had resulted in reasonable progress towards that goal, the advances were insufficient.

Ms. RAGUZ, setting the stage for the discussion, said the chemical industry had been worth more than $3 trillion in 2008, providing employment for 7 million people while supporting 20 million additional jobs.  The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation adopted by the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development had set the year 2020 as the deadline to ensure chemicals were produced and used in ways that minimized their adverse effects on human health and the environment.

That had been followed by the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, adopted in 2006 by the International Conference on Chemicals Management, which now existed alongside other multilateral mechanisms and legal instruments — the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions; the Montreal Protocol on the Ozone Layer; and the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.  What remained was to ensure that sound chemicals management was integrated into national development plans, and to examine barriers to bringing developing countries into compliance with existing conventions, she said.  Also of key importance was the need to promote effective partnerships between business and other stakeholders, and to implement lessons learned on enhancing chemical safety, particularly the “life-cycle approach” to chemical safety.

Mr. ERZEN said that, as the holder of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management presidency, the Government of Slovenia felt bound to confront the world in a “radical” way, and was working to reduce inequalities between developed and developing countries on chemical safety.  Obsolete pesticides and chemicals still threatened the health of millions of people in the developing world.  Usually poorly stored, they were “time bombs” for the environment, he said, noting that a landfill of such waste had just been discovered in Armenia, a problem that several non-governmental organizations were striving to solve.

He said his country had encouraged the preparation of a World Health Organization (WHO) resolution on improving health through the sound management of obsolete pesticides and other chemicals, to be taken up this month in Geneva.  The only way to contribute significantly to reducing inequalities was to increase the “right of knowing” for all users of chemicals.  Countries in which chemical classification, packaging and labelling were already enforced should provide assistance for similar enforcement on a global scale.

Mr. KATIMA, Co-chair of the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network, a coalition of non-governmental organizations involved in negotiating the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treatyin Stockholm, stressed the need to promote chemical safety through the various stages of the chemical life cycle — extraction, production, transport, manufacturing, use and disposal.  He explained that the storage of obsolete chemicals in warehouses was common in many developing countries, which, lacking the proper means to judge the quantities needed for importation, often purchased chemicals in excess.  They were also prone to accepting gifts that were near the end of their life, including electronic goods close to becoming obsolete, he added.

He went on to state that evaluations in Eastern Africa had found a lack of regulations to monitor waste disposal, poor monitoring of products and economic activities involving the use of chemicals, inadequate financial resources, and insufficient user information, among other things.  The “polluters pay” principle — whereby companies paid for clean-up efforts and environmental restoration in the aftermath of a chemical mishap — was support but rarely implemented.  While the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management was broad in scope — covering environmental, economic, social, health and labour aspects of chemical safety — funding was absent, he said, noting that in May 2009, the International Conference on Chemicals Management had recommended a workshop to address e-waste, but no donors had come forward with funding.

Mr. MOONEY, an expert on the politics of biotechnology and biodiversity, noted that it normally took 30 years, or a generation, for society to move from the time an alarm was sounded to the time when Governments drew up regulations.  Nanotechnology, used to make foods, cosmetics, clothing and thousands of other products, was currently allowed with virtually no regulation, yet chemical characteristics changed profoundly the smaller the scale.  Gold in a wedding ring could turn from passive to a catalyst for other chemical reactions, he said, adding that the United States Air Force used the nano version of aluminium oxide, employed by dentists to repair teeth, to ignite bombs.

Theimpact of nano-biotechnology, or synthetic biology, on land use was also relatively unexamined, even as the world slowly transitioned from fossil fuels to fuels derived from living carbons, or even plastics, he noted.  That issue was due for discussion in Nairobi under the framework of the Convention on Biodiversity.  Also of profound concern were efforts at geo-engineering, such as the blasting of sulphates into the stratosphere to deflect sunlight away from the Earth in an effort to lower global temperatures, and the use of synthetic biology — “ocean fertilization” — to sequester carbon dioxide.

Interactive Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, delegates stressed the importance of facilitating the transfer of know-how and technology from developed to developing countries so as to ensure better chemical management.  Of great concern was the dumping of chemical and radioactive waste by irresponsible businesses in developing countries and indigenous territories.  Speakers called for an integrated strategy to manage hazardous chemicals and wastes, including the risks they posed, and for enhanced partnerships among a wide range of stakeholders to implement such strategies.

Delegates pointed out that in some countries, pesticides and biocides were registered and accompanied by toxicology files that displayed information on their impact on humans and the environment, including flora and fauna.  Chemical databases such as those should be made accessible to all States, and developed countries should provide the framework and machinery, as well as the financing, to enhance implementation by developing countries.  Affected communities needed institutional mechanisms to air grievances and seek redress.

The session began with a film, Safer Chemicals within Reach, which portrayed the new European Union chemicals system, REACH.  The representative of the European Union admitted that implementing the system required considerable resources, but it could be split into a number of self-standing modules.  And, while finding sustainable financing was critically important, the ultimate goal was a solution whereby countries not only depended on external funds but also internalized costs through economic instruments.

Mr. KATIMA, asked by one developing-country representative about the status of cost internalization, replied that the international community was “nowhere” on that score, adding that the Commission on Sustainable Development should examine the issue with urgency.

Participating in the discussion were the representatives of United Republic of Tanzania (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Lebanon (on behalf of the Arab Group), Slovenia, Canada, Indonesia, Israel, Poland (on behalf the Central and Eastern European region), Uruguay, Libya, Cuba, Australia, Argentina, Pakistan, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Brazil, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Senegal and the United States.

Also speaking were representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO), as well as of the business and industry and indigenous peoples major groups.

* *** *


*     The 3rd and 4th Meetings were not covered.

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