International Community Challenged to Construct Contemporary Model to Build Resilient Future, in Meeting with High-level Global Sustainability Panel

16 March 2011

International Community Challenged to Construct Contemporary Model to Build Resilient Future, in Meeting with High-level Global Sustainability Panel

16 March 2011
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Informal Interactive Dialogue

AM Meeting

International Community Challenged to Construct Contemporary Model to Build


Resilient Future, in Meeting with High-level Global Sustainability Panel


‘We are Reaching Limits of Planet’s Carrying Capacity’, Warns General Assembly

President; Panellist Says Time Running Out on New Vision for Poverty Eradication

Warning that the past century’s heedless resource consumption had left the world at an uncertain crossroads, senior United Nations officials and Government leaders today challenged the international community to define and urgently implement a practical, twenty-first century development model that could “connect the dots between the key issues of our time” — climate change, population growth, poverty and environmental stress — and build a resilient, sustainable future.

“We are reaching the limits of our planet’s carrying capacity [and] urgently need a new development paradigm,” declared General Assembly President Joseph Deiss, as he opened the world body’s first interactive dialogue with members of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability.  That 22-member Panel had been created last year to craft a blueprint for a sustainable future and to identify mechanisms by which that could be achieved, including by exploring approaches to effectively tackle hunger, inequality and the deterioration of the natural environment.

Mr. Deiss noted that today’s discussion was taking place in the shadow of the unfolding tragedy in Japan, where a massive earthquake and tsunami last week had unleashed an inexorable wall of water that wiped away entire towns, left thousands dead and sparked the possibility of a nuclear crisis in the country.  All participants expressed their solidarity with the Japanese Government and people, and many noted that the catastrophe was yet another tragic reminder of how quickly development gains could be erased and how even the most developed nations were vulnerable to the vagaries of nature.

Even as he pressed for urgent action for a sustainable future at the global level, Mr. Deiss questioned whether the world was ready to support a new development model that reversed consumption and production patterns, which, over time, had gutted the planet’s natural resources.  “Will humanity be able to behave differently and stop being self-destructive?” he asked, stressing that firm political commitment and resolute action would be needed, especially to ensure adequate financing, technology transfer and broad partnerships.  In that regard, he welcomed the Global Sustainability Panel’s commitment “at the highest level” to change the current unsustainable and environmentally costly growth patterns.

Posing some tough questions of her own, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro recalled the looming “50-50-50” challenge that was at the heart of the Secretary-General’s philosophy for creating the Panel.  “How can we reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent, while feeding and nurturing a human population that in 2050 could be 50 per cent larger than today,” she asked.

“Will the 9 billion people who are expected to inhabit this planet in 2050 have the opportunity to thrive?  Or will vast numbers merely struggle to survive, or worse, see their world descend into chaos,” she asked, stressing that that was the fundamental question of sustainable development.  The Panel had been urged to “think big” in its work to craft solutions to that challenge, particularly as its recommendations would feed into the preparations for the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, as well as discussions on the way forward, following the 2015 deadline for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

She said that the present economic recession, instability and natural disasters in large parts of the world today were no reason for delaying action.  On the contrary, such events should inject renewed urgency.  “Changing direction can bring new risks, but our greatest risk is to do nothing, leaving challenges unattended, opportunities unrealized and unsustainable trends accelerating to the detriment of all, she said, adding:  “This is a message that all Governments, all decision-makers, need to heed.”

The interactive dialogue also featured presentations from the Panel’s Co-Chairs, Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, and Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, as well as:  Hajiya Amina Az-Zubair, Senior Special Assistant/Advisor to the President of Nigeria on the Millennium Development Goals; Christina Narbona Ruiz, Ambassador of Spain to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); and James Laurence Balsillie, Co-CEO, Research in Motion, and Chair of the Board, Centre for International Governance Innovation, Canada.

Providing an overview of the Panel’s work, President Halonen said the goal was to tackle such issues as climate, poverty reduction and social justice in a holistic way.  Building bridges between agreed commitments in those areas would be the key its success.  Other vital concerns were women’s empowerment and enhancing social inclusion and vertical coherence — or “working more with the people”.  While the Millennium Development Goals and other agreements had made great strides in addressing issues related to both development and sustainability, it was necessary to further align those agendas with existing commitments.

The kind of contributions to be made was ultimately up to the Member States, she continued, noting also that a more efficient United Nations would be needed to carry them out.  There was broad agreement on fundamental matters, such as the definition of sustainable development; it was implementation that was lacking.  Importantly, there was also a general consensus that the Panel should produce “as practical an outcome as possible”.  Currently, work would focus on markets and finance, governance and technology sectors, among others.  The Panel’s outreach would continue throughout the year, and Governments, intergovernmental groups, civil society and other stakeholders were invited to contribute to its work.

Joining the dialogue via video link from South Africa, President Zuma said that the Panel had a significant challenge before it and only limited time in which to formulate a “new vision” for poverty eradication and sustainability.  At a meeting held in Cape Town last month, Panel members had agreed that combating poverty and inequality should be at the core of its recommended interventions.  Poverty was no longer a phenomenon that was confined the global South — all countries, developed and developing, shared that “common enemy”.

The Panel, he continued, had developed an illustrative framework which he hoped could be further developed and refined, in order to give a more meaningful basis to the start of work on the envisioned new development paradigm.  The Panel should continue its work in coming months, giving “form and shape” to that new paradigm and making its recommendations as inclusive as possible.

In her remarks, Ms. Az-Zubair, said that as the Panel worked to create a new vision for sustainable development, its members hoped that such a blueprint would be underpinned by a more inclusive and rights-based approach, which incorporated all previous commitments in that area.  The Millennium Development Goals had been an attempt to distil all sustainable development issues, but over the past 10 years, gaps had been exposed by the inexorable impacts of climate change, as well as economic shocks and the recurring cycle of volatility in food and commodity prices.

Africa, she said, which struggled to ensure sustainable growth and development on so many fronts, would be the litmus test for whether the world had lived up to the commitments outlined in the Millennium Declaration.  Climate change had changed the backdrop of the developing world’s struggles somewhat, and the Panel’s work “provided an opportunity to get [sustainable development] right.”  Everyone knew what to do, but putting a workable and inclusive plan into action would be the challenge.  Much of that effort would no doubt be driven by Government commitment and political will, but also by civil society actors, and especially the world’s youth who were demanding change in the approach to global sustainability.

Next, Ms. Ruiz said it was essential for Governments, businesses and citizens to recognize the current uncertain crossroads that had resulted from the combined failures of the past century’s economic paradigm and the lack of implementation of international sustainable development commitments.  Indeed, all stakeholders must finally acknowledge “the undeniable links between ecology, economy and social welfare”.  All citizens of today and those that would inhabit the planet tomorrow had the same rights:  to breath clean air, to drink safe water and to have access to renewable clean and safe energy.

To secure those rights, it was essential to strengthen local, national and international governance, she said.  Sustainability must be integrated at every level in order to archive the Millennium Development Goals and to make progress beyond the 2015 deadline for achieving them.  The transition towards a more fair and sustainable economy — one that was able to provide basic necessities and create more decent jobs — required more funding and more equitable distribution of incomes and opportunities.  She also called for harnessing the immense potential for technological change that could safely transform current models.

Mr. Balsillie, the Panel’s private-sector participant, reiterated the urgent need for major changes in development models that could bolster the links among economic, social and environmental imperatives.  He and the other Panel members were under no illusion that that would be easy.  Indeed, crafting and implementing such holistic plans and polices was bound to be painful, due in no small part to the cost of such changes and the timeframe in which they would have to occur.  Likewise, it was clear that the current global push for “green growth” might provide opportunities for major strides.  As such, the private sector — an arena for dynamism and employment generation — was an excellent proving ground.

In the ensuing discussion, Member States and civil society representatives wholeheartedly backed the High-Level Panel’s work and looked forward to its first report, which would prove vital to the endeavours of mechanisms and forums within and outside the United Nations system.  While some expressed concern about the Panel’s broad mandate, they nevertheless applauded its efforts to provide recommendations to Governments and the private sector on building a green economy.

Others noted that the “blueprint” for sustainability already existed in the important outcomes agreed at United Nations conferences of the past century, including “Agenda 21” and the Millennium Declaration; the focus now must be on implementing them.  Several delegations posed their own challenges to the Panel, urging it to work hard to come up with a “new vision for sustainable development that did not ultimately turn out to be a mirage”.

Among the many participants from small island developing States, the representative of Papua New Guinea, speaking on behalf of those countries in the Pacific, pointed out that the commitments made at the 1992 Earth Summit had not yet been met and that there was a need for developed countries to continue work on technology transfer and capacity building, among other actions.  He emphasized the need to bolster the green growth movement by integrating a “blue economy” agenda — the conservation and sustainable management of oceans and ocean resources — which accounted for the very livelihoods of the Pacific Small Island Developing States.  He urged the Panel to ensure that the international community was not “complicit” in allowing the extinction of the economy of those States.

Egypt’s representative was among those who agreed that the main challenge facing the sustainability agenda was the lack of implementation.  It was necessary to ensure policy coherence at the global and local levels, and to integrate the three pillars of sustainable development into those policies, he said.  In that respect, the Panel should explore what had obstructed that implementation in the past.  Many developing States were worried that the sustainability agenda might be used as a reason to add further protectionist policies against them.

A representative of the World Wildlife Fund said the High-Level Panel must issue a “clarion call to action” for turning commitments in the area of sustainable development into “living, breathing reality”.  He noted a growing acknowledgment that all people, even those in cities, relied on oceans, lakes and other rural resources.

He made several suggestions for the Panel’s upcoming deliberations.  First, he hoped it would establish concrete goals for moving towards global sustainability, such as guiding all countries towards 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050, which research had shown was possible.  Secondly, the Wildlife Fund hoped the Panel would make specific recommendations regarding the actions required of Governments and other international players.  Third, the Panel should recognize the promise of new collaborations between businesses, Governments and non-governmental organizations.

The representative of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization said that climate change had been recognized as a gender issue, and it was clear that nations from every region were ready to tackle that and other social dimensions of the climate challenge.  The human rights-based approach must be “front and centre” in the sustainability agenda, raising the profile of the most marginalized.

Today’s final speaker, the representative of Japan, expressed his delegation’s sincere appreciation for the many words of sympathy and solidarity.  With the unwavering support offered by the international community, he was convinced that his country could overcome the current crisis.  Search-and-rescue operations were ongoing.  Concerning the status of the nuclear reactors, the Japanese Government would remain transparent and open.

He stressed that what the people of Japan were experiencing was an acute crisis of human security closely linked to the sustainable development agenda.  He hoped that that the concept of human security would feature prominently in the work of the High-Level Panel as it moved forward to integrate the three pillars of sustainable development — economic, social and environmental — into a new, more inclusive and effective development paradigm.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Fiji (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)), Barbados (on behalf of Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), France, Australia, United States, Kenya, Jordan, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Philippines, China, Brazil, Nepal, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, India, Germany, Morocco, Comoros, and Colombia.

A representative of the Observer Delegation of the European Union also addressed the informal dialogue.

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