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GENERAL ASSEMBLY HIGHLIGHTS

The Second Committee of the 50th United Nations General Assembly began its consideration of Agenda Item 96, "Environment and Sustainable Development," on 30 October 1995. The Committee had before it a report of the Secretary-General on the format, scope and organizational aspects of the 1997 special session of the General Assembly on the overall review and appraisal of Agenda 21 (A/50/453). Other reports before the Committee included: strengthening UNEP, in particular its function as the liaison in Nairobi for the CSD (A/50/171); the report of UNEP's Governing Council on its 18th session, held in Nairobi from 15-26 May 1995 (A/50/25); and the report of the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (A/50/218). A number of delegates commented on progress in implementing Agenda 21 in their own countries. However, many developing countries stressed that the lack of financial resources and technology transfer have had a negative impact on their programmes. While not every delegate commented on the special session, those who did stressed the importance of the preparatory process and the need to include major groups in both the preparations and the session itself.

Joke Waller-Hunter, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development, introduced the report of the Secretary-General containing the proposals on the scope, format and organizational aspects of the 1997 special session of the General Assembly on a comprehensive review of Agenda 21 (A/50/453). The report highlights the necessity to determine the critical areas of sustainability for the years to come. This will have to be based on a comprehensive review of the progress achieved at all levels in the implementation of the Rio commitments. The review will not only take stock of progress achieved, but will also identify major concerns, constraints and gaps. The General Assembly may also wish to reflect upon future institutional arrangements for the follow-up to the Rio process. As far as the organizational aspects of the session are concerned, the report states that the session should last five working days, either in the second half of June 1997 or back-to-back to the CSD in 1997, with participation at a high political level. Since the General Assembly does not allow the active participation of major groups in its deliberations, the report proposes a few options that would allow an active dialogue with representatives of major groups.

Dr. Calestous Juma, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, reported that as of 20 October 1995, 131 Parties have ratified the Convention. A number of meetings have been held in preparation for the Second Conference of Parties. The Ad Hoc Group of Experts on Biosafety met from 24-28 July 1995 in Madrid, and the first meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) met on 4-8 September 1995 in Paris. At the Madrid meeting, participants agreed on the immediate need for action to develop an international framework on biotechnology safety, consisting of legally-binding instruments, voluntary agreements, bilateral and multilateral agreements and actions. He stressed the importance of the Second COP in jumpstarting the actual implementation of the Convention at the national level.

UNEP: Reuben Olembo, Deputy Executive Director of UNEP, reported on the outcome of the 18th session of the UNEP Governing Council (Nairobi, 15-26 May 1995). It was emphasized that environmental monitoring and promotion of international cooperation must be given priority, as should the provision of technical assistance and advice to developing countries. A more integrated approach that addresses the outcomes of major UN Conferences in the social and economic realms was endorsed. Coordination between the various actors working in the field of sustainable development and clarification of their roles is necessary to ensure that the environmental component of this work is strong and efficient. UNEP's role in this is the provision of scientific, technical and policy information and advice. Also endorsed were the strengthening of UNEP's regional offices, and increasing the transparency and efficiency of management and administrative support structures.

THE PHILIPPINES: On behalf of the G-77 and China, Heherson Alvarez expressed concern that the effective implementation of Agenda 21 in developing countries is severely jeopardized by the insufficient transfer of financial and technological resources from developed to developing countries. Although the developing countries are eager to follow through on sustainable development commitments made at UNCED, in the absence of such transfers, they will be unable to do so without sacrificing their priorities of economic and social development and poverty eradication. The G-77 supports the arrangements for improved coordination between UNEP and the CSD, but worries that increased responsibilities imposed upon UNEP as a result of Agenda 21 are not being matched by increased financial contributions to the Programme.

SPAIN: On behalf of the European Union, Miguel Aguirre de Cárcer stated that the focus of the 1997 special session of the General Assembly should be a negotiated political declaration that lays out priorities and future actions to promote sustainable development. He expressed hope that the special session would maintain the high political profile that has characterized the CSD. To ensure its successful outcome and public support, active participation by NGOs and other major groups is of the utmost importance.

SRI LANKA: Mahinda Sarmarasinghe stressed his country's commitment to implementing sustainable development. Sri Lanka has established institutional mechanisms to facilitate the implementation of the Rio commitments. Despite these commitments, the problems of developing countries have not diminished. There is a need to develop a global multifaceted strategy to address the problems hampering the implementation of Agenda 21. The importance of the 1997 special session cannot be overemphasized.

MARSHALL ISLANDS: Espen Rønneberg emphasized the importance of coordinating efforts and implementing programmes on the regional level to realize the objectives set out in Agenda 21. In reference to the 1997 special session, he noted that the Barbados Programme of Action and sustainable consumption patterns should be priorities. He reiterated that the amount and format of documentation required by the CSD from developing countries should not be excessively onerous.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Vladimir Zimianin said high-level involvement in the special session is necessary and the scientific and academic community, as well as the private sector, should be involved. He supported separate organizational meetings to prepare for the session, and welcomed the proposal to hold the session in June 1997.

MEXICO: Gerardo Lozano said that three years after Rio, many of the principles relating to economic and social development have still not been realized. In its national development plans, Mexico seeks to achieve an equilibrium between economic, social and environmental protection objectives in order to avoid environmental degradation.

He took the floor a second time to comment on the special session of the General Assembly. One of the objectives of the session should be to improve the coordination of environment and sustainable development activities within the UN system. The final product should be a substantive political declaration. The objective is simple: to identify the reasons why the implementation of Agenda 21 has not progressed and to formulate solutions to overcome these obstacles.

FIJI: Graham E. Leung commended the decision of the UNEP Governing Council to use an integrated approach to address issues concerning small island developing States. Other UN agencies and bodies have a role to play in the implementation of the Programme of Action adopted at the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States held in Barbados in 1994. DPCSD and UNEP should coordinate their activities in achieving the objectives of the Programme of Action.

CHINA: Cui Tiankai said that although the international community has developed an understanding of the link between sustainable development and related issues, such as population growth, this understanding has yet to be translated into fulfillment of ODA commitments. Regarding the 1997 special session of the General Assembly, he said that, if appropriately held, the session will help maintain the momentum for sustainable development. The session should identify gaps in the implementation of Agenda 21 and address the crucial questions of financial resources, transfer of technology, and trade and environment.

ISRAEL: Amb. Israel Eliashiv stressed the importance of adequate funding mechanisms and technology transfer in realizing the objectives of Agenda 21. Israel hosted a symposium on sustainable water management in arid and semi-arid regions in May 1995 and is planning to host an expert workshop on commitments appearing in the conventions on biodiversity, climate change, desertification, and the Forest Principles.

TURKEY: Levent Murat Burhan said that Turkey intends to establish an environmentally sound technology centre in Turkey to serve the Mediterranean and Black Sea countries. Turkey has formulated a regional Agenda 21 for Central Asia and the Balkan countries. Regarding the special session of the General Assembly, he encouraged member States to provide more input prior to the session in which the critical areas of sustainability for future years would be determined and priorities would be set for future action.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Karel Zebrakovsky said his country has already started to harmonize its environmental laws and standards with those of the EU. The Czech Government has decided to adopt a comprehensive environmental policy similar to those in other developed countries. He announced that the Czech Republic, in cooperation with UNESCO and the DPCSD, will host a workshop on education and public awareness for sustainable development.

BENIN: Rogatien Biaou said that with the help of the Netherlands, Benin has set up a centre for sustainable development. An environmental agency has also been established under the auspices of the ministries of the environment and of housing. Work on a national Agenda 21 continues and its adoption is scheduled for 1996. He expressed hope that the preparatory process for the special session of the General Assembly in 1997 would lead to bold and productive decisions. He supported convening the session in June 1997.

REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Ha-Yong Moon expressed satisfaction with the progress made by the CSD in monitoring the implementation of decisions and commitments made in Rio. Intersessional activity, which is crucial in maintaining the momentum achieved at UNCED, has been productive. For its part, the Republic of Korea has hosted two workshops, one on policy measures for changing consumption patterns (September 1995) and another on access to and dissemination of environmentally sound technologies (November 1994). Although progress has been made, much work lies ahead, particularly in the provision of new and additional financial resources and the transfer of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries.

INDIA: Sharad Pawar recalled that the global partnership for sustainable development forged in Rio was based on the understanding that economic growth and poverty eradication were overriding priorities in developing countries, and therefore the generation of resources for sustainable development would have to be the responsibility primarily of the developed countries. To tackle environmental problems, it was agreed that developed countries would have to take immediate action to alter their unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. He noted that very little progress has been made toward these ends. One problem is that procedures for project approval at the GEF are extremely time-consuming — in many cases taking up to 24 months. He called for the implementation of an effective operational strategy for the GEF, to better enable it to translate the conventions into action.

WORLD BANK: Andrew Steer noted that more and more countries are including environmental concerns into their policies. This is a sign of a "new environmentalism," characterized by the use of market instruments, cost-effectiveness, increased cooperation with the private sector and involvement of the public. In response to the advent of this new environmentalism, the World Bank is providing financial support totaling US$10 billion to environment-specific programmes in 65 countries, focusing on rural environmental challenges, urban and industrial pollution, and the strengthening of environmental institutions. He called for increased cooperation and effective partnerships among international agencies working towards sustainable development, and cited as an example the collaboration of the Bank with UNDP on the formation of a "Global Water alliance." He also expressed concern for the jeopardized status of the International Development Association (IDA).

INDONESIA: Amb. Isslamet Poernomo noted with disappointment that implementation of commitments made in Rio toward sustainable development has been frustrated by inadequate financial contributions and technology transfer. The review of Agenda 21 implementation that will occur at the special session of the General Assembly is an important forum for identifying the constraints and generating commitments to overcome them. Due to the limited membership of the CSD, he proposed that a separate preparatory meeting of the entire General Assembly be convened prior to the special session, to ensure the full and equal participation of all parties, including major groups, in the preparatory process.

UNESCO: Jorge Werthein noted that UNESCO is actively promoting the sustainable development agenda of the CSD through numerous education and scientific programmes. In the field of education, efforts include programmes to enhance environmental and sustainable development programmes, as well as to reinforce basic education. Its work also consists of educational capacity-building in developing countries, and promotion of North-South and South-South cooperation on this front. In the scientific arena, UNESCO is working to advance the development of interdisciplinary sciences for sustainable development, as well as enhancing communication between scientists and policy-makers.

GUYANA: On behalf of the Caribbean Community, George Talbot expressed concern about the slow progress toward achieving the goals and commitments established in Rio. The greatest obstacle has been the deficiency of transfer of environmentally sound technologies and financial resources to developing countries. A special session of the General Assembly is necessary to formulate effective means of furthering these goals. He reinforced the importance of changing consumption and production patterns for advancing sustainable development.

AUSTRALIA: Senator Domenic Foreman noted that to ensure the effectiveness of the 1997 review of Agenda 21, Member States should undertake comprehensive preparation efforts. The current session of the General Assembly should charge the CSD with the preparatory work for the special session. The establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests was one of the most important results of the CSD's third session. Australia will be hosting a conference pertinent to its work programme, on Certification and Labelling of Sustainably Produced Forest Products, in May 1996.

IRAN: Mohammad Jabbary expressed disappointment that although the CSD has made substantial efforts to follow up on the agreements and commitments made in Rio, there has been little action. The developed nations in particular must take the initiative to alter unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and to provide new and additional financial resources. Less than one percent of the financial commitments made by developed countries in Rio has been fulfilled. He affirmed the need for a special session of the General Assembly to review the progress of UNCED implementation.

BULGARIA: Zvetolyub Basmajiev noted that Bulgaria is transforming its economic and social policies, through institutional strengthening and capacity-building, to incorporate environmental concerns, and has developed numerous strategies to this end. Although they have made significant strides, their ability to implement such programmes is hindered by a lack of financial resources. Attendance by ministers of relevant sectors other than the environment at the High-Level Segment of the CSD will ensure that a comprehensive approach is used to enhance the implementation of sustainable development policies.

DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Hong Je Ryong called for a revival of the spirit and political will that Member States brought to Rio, in order to strengthen global cooperation on the critical realization of environmentally sound and sustainable development. Of central importance is the urgent need for developed countries to follow through on their commitment to increase ODA.

TUNISIA: Abderrazak Azaiez said that sustainable development requires a balance between human needs and the natural environment. He described one of Tunisia's programmes that encompasses matters relating to energy consumption and the use of alternative energy sources. Action for sustainable development at the national level requires the financial backing of developed countries as well as the transfer of environmentally sound technology to developing countries.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Amb. Utula Samana, on behalf of the South Pacific Forum (Australia, Micronesia, Fiji, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea), said that South Pacific Forum members have increased their participation in international and regional forums aimed at sound environmental management practices and sustainable development. He expressed regret that the last meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests wasted valuable time and energy on revisiting the agreed mandate and the terms of reference for the Panel. What is needed are concrete sets of activities that will pave the way forward. Noting that the protection of the world's oceans is a major concern for small island developing States, he said that the Forum countries had recently endorsed the "Waigani Convention," which bans the import and transport of radioactive wastes. He also expressed outrage about the French decision to resume nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

SUDAN: Hamid Ali Mohamed Eltinay stressed the connection between poverty and damage to the environment. He reviewed measures taken by Sudan to protect the environment, including a national strategy for the environment. In cooperation with the FAO, and with support from the Netherlands, the Sudan has implemented a programme in agricultural areas. He added that it was regrettable that some view the concept of partnership for development with a limited perspective.

NEPAL: C. P. Mainali reported that Nepal has incorporated environmental protection policies into its constitution and has formed a high-level Environmental Protection Council to coordinate cross-sectoral and inter-ministerial activities relating to the environment. The implementation of Agenda 21 has been hindered by a lack of coordinated efforts to increase ODA, improve market access for exports, transfer environmentally sound technologies, and ensure more equitable terms of trade. Greater coordination of activities between the Bretton Woods institutions and the relevant UN agencies is necessary to achieve the Rio goals.

ETHIOPIA: Berhanu Kebede said that the decentralization and democratization process in Ethiopia has created a favorable environment for the participation of local people in the preparation and implementation of development and environmental protection programmes. National efforts bore fruit when the international community extended support for the establishment of an appropriate institutional structure and promotion of national capacity building.

UKRAINE: Volodymyr Reshetnyak noted that the destruction of the environment continues unabated since Rio. Developing countries need additional resources to implement their environmental programmes. Responsibility for economic and social development, including environmental aspects, remains that of the international community. With regard to the special session of the General Assembly, NGOs, scientific and political bodies and the mass media should be involved in the preparatory process.

JAPAN: Takao Shibata stressed the importance of the special session in critically appraising the progress of Agenda 21, and stated that the outcome should be a negotiated political document formulating a long-term strategy with clear guidelines and priorities for future action. The preparatory process should be characterized by active participation of major groups. To incorporate important developments such as the third COP of the Climate Change Convention, it would be optimal to hold the special session toward the end of the year.

BURKINA FASO: Paul Robert Tiendrebeogo said that progress in implementing the Rio commitments has been made, but developed countries have not done their part. The 1997 special session of the General Assembly will be a decisive turning point in addressing the Rio commitments.

UGANDA: Odyek Agona said the world community is witnessing a weakening of the resolve to implement the agreements reached at Rio and there is a blatant tendency for selective implementation of the Rio undertakings. Concrete actions should support the efforts of developing countries in the areas of resource flows, trade, debt service and technology.

PERU: Italo Acha said he believed that progress has been made on the strengthening of the central role of UNEP as the principal body to stimulate action within the UN system. Countries need to maintain their commitments to its financing.

CANADA: Amb. John A. Fraser stated that Canada will be providing C$130,000 to support the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests and to facilitate developing country participation in Panel meetings. Many meetings have been hosted by Canada to further the sustainable development agenda, such as the meeting of the G-7 Environment Ministers in May 1995. Canada and the Philippines co-sponsored the June 1995 International Experts Meeting on Persistent Organic Pollutants in Vancouver. In cooperation with UNEP and Chile, Canada is co-sponsoring a regional training workshop for Latin America and the Caribbean on the economics of biodiversity.

MALTA: Walter Balzan expressed concern about the reduction in UNEP's budget, which seriously compromises its ability to successfully implement Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration. In order to maximize the efficiency of efforts, he called for improved coordination among the many agencies involved in sustainable development work. Malta has expanded its efforts to eliminate the use of ozone-depleting substances by the year 2000.

MYANMAR: U Zaw Wynn reported on the strides made in his country toward implementing the goals of Agenda 21. The National Commission on Environmental Affairs (NCEA), established in 1990, develops environmental policies and sets standards, including the National Environmental Policy, which was adopted last year. The NCEA has commenced the process of ratification of the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions, and has developed a framework to implement commitments made in Rio.

ALGERIA: Mourad Ahmia said that multilateral cooperation on the environment requires an intensification of efforts towards sustainable development. With the commitment of developing countries towards reform, the international community should make available substantial additional resources and take steps towards the transfer of environmentally sound technologies.

EGYPT: Abdel-Ghafar Eldeeb said that UNCED was successful in crystallizing a consensus on the need to protect the environment, but financial resources and transfer of environmentally sound technologies are needed. He called on donor countries to implement their ODA commitments. Consumption patterns in developed countries and poverty in developing countries must be tackled. With regard to the special session of the General Assembly, proposals must take into account the outcomes of other development-related conferences. It should concentrate on the issues of financial resources and transfer of technology.

PAKISTAN: Ghulam Qadir Chandio highlighted the paucity of financial contributions and environmentally sound technology transfers, stating that under these circumstances, it is not feasible to expect developing countries to achieve sustainable development. Another obstacle is the lack of concrete measures to address unsustainable production and consumption patterns. The proliferation of intersessional activities is exceeding the developing countries' capacity to participate in meetings or keep up with developments in the follow-up process, and this could result in decisions and outcomes that may not be representative of the interests of all parties.

NORWAY: Amb. Svein Aass said that the special session should be a self-standing event, and should be attended by high-level government representatives. He emphasized the importance of major group involvement in the special session, and suggested the rules for participation be amended to accommodate such participation. He supported the Secretary-General's report on using sustainable consumption and production patterns as an "umbrella" concept to facilitate the integration of environmental and economic factors. It is important to go beyond a simple assessment of what has happened since UNCED.

COSTA RICA: Amb. José Manuel Gutiérrez, on behalf of the Central American States, described the Central American alliance on environmental matters. The two main objectives of the alliance are equitable economic growth without degrading natural resources and protection of the natural environment for future generations. The special session to review Agenda 21 will be an opportunity to review the work of the CSD.

UNITED STATES: Bisa Williams-Manigault said the outcome of the special session may be more useful if it is prepared as a factual report or assessment in the form of a Chair's summary as opposed to a negotiated political document. The CSD should maintain its focus on its three essential functions: promoting the concept of sustainable development; addressing special or new and emerging issues; and promoting UN agency coordination and cooperation on sustainable development. To promote sustainable development, the CSD can continue to: bring national sustainable development agencies together to share their strategies and experiences; promote voluntary national reporting; encourage countries to develop national sustainable development plans; and agree on key indicators that provide a good measure of the progress made toward sustainable development.

LEBANON: Hicham Hamdan noted that Lebanon has established a Ministry of Environment and has incorporated environmental considerations into the national agenda for rehabilitation and reconstruction. Lebanon faces difficult challenges associated with protecting the long-term potential of its natural resources.

MALAYSIA: Amb. V. Yoogalingam stated that the greatest obstacle to implementing Agenda 21 is the lack of financial resources. He mentioned numerous proposals for innovative financial mechanisms, such as modest levies on global air travel and a tax on arms trade. These proposals should receive priority attention due to their capacity to augment financial resources. He cautioned that the transition to sustainable development should not be used as an opportunity for outside parties to dictate development policies in developing countries, nor should protectionist policies be employed against developing countries under the guise of environmental protection measures.

BRAZIL: The representative said that it is too early to define a format for the special session of the General Assembly. Nevertheless, there are some themes that are in the forefront of concern, including financial cooperation, transfer of technology and patterns of production and consumption. The special session has to give priority consideration to the implementation of major UN conventions and examine the role of the CSD. The participation of major groups, especially NGOs, must be assured. The Regional Commissions should also be actively involved.

Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, took the floor on 7 November 1995 to respond to questions raised in the debate about preparation for the 1997 special session. He noted that the challenge of the special session is to chart a new path, since UNCED is the first of the major conferences subject to a five-year review. He noted that the 5th session of the CSD will be a preparatory meeting for the special session, but many would prefer that the preparatory process start at the end of the 4th session and the Secretariat welcomes this idea. The Inter-Agency Committee on Sustainable Development has already started work on how all entities in the system will work together during the preparatory process to ensure an effective review. The review will also have to take into account activities outside of the CSD, including the global conferences that have taken place since 1992, the conventions, and how Agenda 21 has been internalized in other organs of the UN system. There is a need to ensure NGO participation in the preparatory process and the special session so that their contribution to Rio, the follow-up and the CSD are reflected. Another question is how non-governmental activities, such as the 3000 local authorities that have produced their own Agenda 21s, can be reflected in the process. It is not the Secretariat's desire or intention to repeat the Rio Conference. The review is not a UN global conference, but it should be considered almost as important.

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