Press Releases

    ENV/DEV/887
    1 May 2006

    Background Release

    Energy, Industrial Development, Pollution, Climate Change Focus, as Sustainable Development Commission Meets at Headquarters, 1 - 12 May

    NEW YORK, 28 April (UN Headquarters) -- The Commission on Sustainable Development opens its fourteenth session at Headquarters on Monday to review progress on energy for sustainable development, industrial development, and pollution and climate change amid heightened concerns over energy security, the growing demand for energy resources, and the pervasive and persistent poverty that impeded access to modern and cleaner energy services, including electricity, especially in developing countries.

    The Commission was established by the General Assembly in 1992 to ensure full support for the goals of "Agenda 21".  The agenda is a comprehensive blueprint for action drawn up by Governments at the 1992 Earth Summit to move the world away from its unsustainable model of economic growth towards activities that would meet development needs without compromising the environment.

    The 53-member functional commission of the Economic and Social Council monitors implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcome of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development.  It also seeks to build partnerships to address key issues relating to sustainable development and to help coordinate environment and development activities within the United Nations.

    Commission members at the ministerial level worked through the night in April 2005 to conclude its first two-year cycle, which culminated in agreement on a set of policy options and practical measures to speed implementation of water, sanitation and human settlements goals, thereby ending their high-level segment and session and opening the current session and the second two-year cycle which is dominated by energy-related issues.

    Nearly 80 ministers will participate in the two-week session, along with 1,250 representatives from major groups, including women, children and youth, indigenous people, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, the scientific and technological community, and farmers.  Under review will be long-term energy solutions that can fuel global development and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing climate change.

    Several reports of the Secretary-General will be before the session, including a review of progress in meeting the goals and targets of Agenda 21 and the outcome of the 2002 World Summit in the area of energy, industrial development, air pollution/atmosphere and climate change.

    In his review (document E/CN.17/2006/3), the Secretary-General said that addressing, in an integrated manner, the sustainable development challenges relating to all four issues in the current implementation cycle could serve to enhance synergies, seize win-win opportunities and minimize trade-offs where they exist.  Though some progress had been achieved since 2002 in alleviating poverty through access to energy, especially in improving access to electricity, 2.4 billion people worldwide still had no access to modern energy services, and one quarter of the world's population still lived without electricity.

    Pervasive and persistent poverty remained an important obstacle to greater access to modern and cleaner energy services, including electricity, in developing countries, the Secretary-General also said in the report.  A key challenge was to integrate energy into poverty reduction and national sustainable development strategies.  Reducing dependence on traditional biomass remained a high priority and a major challenge, which, if met, would have multiple benefits -- for women's and children's health, girls' educational attainment and forest conservation.

    He said that developing nations also faced several industrial development challenges.  Those included policy and institutional impediments that stifled entrepreneurial risk-taking and increased the cost of doing business, inadequate infrastructure, including reliable power supplies to support large-scale industry, a poorly educated and trained labour force, and inadequate technological capabilities of local enterprises.

    And, while significant research had facilitated better understanding of air pollution and the atmosphere, he said in the report that several challenges remained.  In many countries, air pollution control policy and regulatory frameworks were weak, and emission reduction technologies and cleaner fuels were too expensive or not available.  Another major remaining challenge was the task of mitigating and adapting to climate change.  Increased financial assistance and technology transfer, including adaptation technologies, to developing countries to change and adapt to its adverse impacts remained a formidable challenge.

    A new report prepared this year by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development, entitled "Trends in Sustainable Development", looked at the four interrelated areas under consideration.  It recognized the close link between energy and economic development, poverty reduction and the provision of vital services.  Given broad understanding that energy production, distribution and consumption could have adverse effects on the local, regional and global environment, efforts were under way across the globe to improve access to modern energy services, increase energy efficiency, reduce air pollution and shift to cleaner energy sources, it said.

    On air pollution, the report found that vehicle fleets in many cities around the world were converting to compressed natural gas, which was substantially reducing air pollution in Asian cities as three-wheelers were converted.  Among its other highlights, a new paradigm in urban mass transit was being developed in several cities, particularly in Latin America and Asia, which showed promise for revolutionizing bus systems around the world.  Also, developed countries' efforts to address air pollution beginning in the 1970s had resulted in the substantial reduction of serious pollutants.  Due to knowledge of the impacts of air pollution and the availability of pollution-control technologies, developing countries were "turning the corner" on air pollution.  Still, the air quality in many of their cities remained far below World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

    The report also noted that sustained industrial development had been a major contributor to economic growth and poverty reduction over the past half century, notably in Asia.  Industrialized countries had benefited from liberalization of markets for industrialized goods, improvements in telecommunications, and reduced transportation costs.  Not all countries had shared in those benefits, however, owing to limited supplies of human capital, poor infrastructure, weak government institutions and unfavourable investment climates, among other factors.

    Concerning climate change, the report noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected that, due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, global mean temperatures could increase by between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100.  The IPCC had said that there was compelling evidence that most warming observed in the last 50 years could be attributed to human activity.  The report also recalled the Secretary-General's warning in his "In Larger Freedom" report of 2005 that "One of the greatest environmental and development challenges in the twenty-first century will be that of controlling and coping with climate change."

    Other key documentation before the session includes:  proposed organization of work (document E/CN.17/2006/1); report of the Secretary-General on the overview of progress towards sustainable development:  report of the Secretary-General on a review of the implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (document E/CN.17/2006/2); a note on outcomes of the regional implementation meetings (document E/CN.17/2006/4); and discussion papers submitted by major groups (document E/CN.17/2005/5/Add.1-9).

    Also:  the report of the Secretary-General on partnerships for sustainable development (document E/CN.17/2006/6); report of the Secretary-General on integrated review of the thematic cluster of energy for sustainable development, industrial development, air pollution/atmosphere and climate change in small island developing States (document E/CN.17/2006/7); and outcome of the International Symposium on Integrated Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (document E/CN.17/2006/8).

    On 22 April 2005, the Commission elected, by acclamation, Aleksi Aleksishvili (Georgia) as Chairman; and Javad Amin-Mansour (Iran), Adrian Fernandez Bramauntz (Mexico) and Yvo de Boer (Netherlands) as Vice-Chairpersons of the fourteenth session.  The election of the remaining Bureau members will take place during the upcoming session.

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