Press Releases

    ENV/DEV/888
    2 May 2006

    Environmental Issues Can No Longer Be Postponed until Late in Development Process, Says Under-Secretary-General

    Commission on Sustainable Development Opens Two-Week Session; Speakers Address Energy, Industrial Development, Air Pollution, Climate Change

    NEW YORK, 1 May (UN Headquarters) -- Recent history had turned on its head the idea that environmental issues could somehow be postponed until later in the development process, as everyone now saw that environmental issues could become major economic and social problems relatively early in the process, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Jose Antonio Ocampo, said as the Commission on Sustainable Development opened its fourteenth session at Headquarters today.

    Mr. Ocampo opened the two-week session, the first of a two-year review of energy for sustainable development, industrial development, pollution and climate change, due to culminate in the adoption of a set of policy options and practical measures next year (for details of the session, see Press Release ENV/DEV/887).  As a citizen of a developing country, he said he welcomed the 53-member body's attention to the issue of industrialization because it was in relation to that process that he saw most vividly the interlinkages among all the issues that would be addressed during the two-year cycle.

    Industrialization could not make an enduring contribution to development when it worsened climate change and air pollution, he said.  But, measures to guard against air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, such as those aimed at boosting energy efficiency, were actually good for industrialization.  Cleaner production methods were being adopted more widely, and they were bringing significant economic efficiency gains, as well as environmental improvements, he said.  Moreover, success in stimulating industrial development while mitigating its negative side effects offered valuable lessons for those coming late to the industrialization process.  That was not only good for the environment; it was also good for the competitiveness of those industries in developing countries. 

    Following a presentation of outcomes from related inter-sessional meetings across the globe over the past two years, a general discussion ensued in which there was widespread agreement among the nearly 40 speakers that the subjects to be deliberated at the current session were unparalleled for achieving the sustainable development objectives.  Energy use and industrial development were vital for economic growth, but care must be taken to minimize air pollution, climate change and other adverse environmental effects.  The major goal was to improve access to reliable and affordable energy sources.  It was felt that the social dimensions of access to modern energy sources could not be overstated.

    Canada's speaker said he was well aware of the major challenge posed by the need for new energy infrastructure, as well as access to affordable energy, so necessary for eradicating "energy-poverty" around the world.  Through its development assistance programme, Canada focused on supporting policies aimed at building legal and regulatory frameworks attractive to both domestic private sector investment and foreign direct investment.  The developing world had a unique opportunity to employ innovative and transformative technologies to build a cleaner and more environmentally sustainable energy infrastructure from the existing base.  Having the right mix of policies was integral to allowing the world to meet its environmental and social objectives, while harnessing the benefit of markets for economic development.

    As world oil prices soared, the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania worried, the oil alternative was becoming increasingly untenable.  Indeed, the vicious chain of challenges was illustrated by the current energy crisis in his country caused by drought and rising oil prices.  Like most eastern African countries, Tanzania had been hit by unusual drought, which was adversely affecting the generation of hydropower -- the major source of the country's energy supply.  Coal was plentiful, but remained unexploited for lack of investment, and when that became possible, clean coal technology would come at a price. Alternative renewable sources were potentially promising and just beginning to be integrated into national energy strategies, but that would require substantial capital investment and technology transfers.

    Summing up today's general discussion, Vice-Chairman Adrian Fernandez (Mexico) noted that statements today had touched on the advantages, opportunities and synergies that might be derived from the consideration of the four topics, and dealing with them as a set of interrelated issues.  There were also a number of countries that had insisted on the need to ensure that there was greatest possible balance among the four topics.  The Commission also heard about the importance of environmentally-friendly technologies.  Delegations also raised the issue of sustainable transportation, which would help reduce greenhouse gases and impact the health of populations in urban centres.  It was felt that more sustainable production and consumption patterns would continue to inform the 2006 debate.

    Presenting the outcomes this morning of several inter-sessional meetings between 2004 and 2006 were the representatives of China, Costa Rica, Canada, Qatar, Germany, Netherlands, Azerbaijan, India, and South Africa, as well as representatives of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Bank.

    This afternoon, the Commission held a two-part panel discussion on the theme: "Improving access to reliable, affordable, economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sound energy services".  In the first, on "improving access in urban and rural areas from the perspective of end-use applications", many speakers focused on the need to reinvigorate international focus on the fuel/energy targets of the Millennium Development Goals, saying that without access to electricity, mechanical power and clean fuels, many countries would be unable to achieve those goals.  The second focused on gender and access to energy services, with experts and delegations alike saying that women, primary energy uses and gatherers in many developing countries should be viewed as "energy managers" and calling on governments to boost women's participation in energy policy decision-making.

    In other business, the Commission adopted its agenda and organization of work for the session.  Azanaw Abreha (Ethiopia) served as Acting Chairman, reading out a statement from the Chairman of the Commission, Aleksi Aleksishvili (Georgia).  Vice-Chairman Fernandez (Mexico) made closing remarks.  Guyana's representative on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) delivered a statement about the programme of work, and Cuba's representative delivered an intervention about the documentation issued by the Secretariat.

    Statements in the general discussion were also made by the representatives of South Africa on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, Austria on behalf of the European Union, Saint Lucia on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Zambia on behalf of the African Group, Guyana on behalf of the Rio Group, Russian Federation, China, Indonesia, Iceland, Jamaica, Algeria, Costa Rica, Turkey, India, Australia, Japan, Kuwait, Israel, Switzerland, South Africa, Serbia and Montenegro, United States, Pakistan, Italy, Mexico, Palau, Solomon Islands, Brazil, and Tuvalu.

    The Commission on Sustainable Development will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to continue its work.

    Background

    The Commission on Sustainable Development met this morning to begin its fourteenth session, which will review progress on energy for sustainable development, industrial development, and pollution and climate change. 

    (For background on the two-week session, see Press Release ENV/DEV/887 issued on 28 April.)

    Statements

    AZANAW ABREHA (Ethiopia),Acting Chairman, reading out a statement from the Chairman of the Commission, Aleksi Aleksishvili (Georgia), said the Commission had completed one full cycle last year.  This year, the first in the second cycle, provided to build on the success of the previous two years.  The review process began with regional implementation meetings in Africa, Western Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and North America.  A number of Governments had worked together on the issues within the thematic cluster.  The Commission at its current session would review, assess and take stock of progress in implementing the goals set in Agenda 21, the programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

    The subjects to be deliberated on were unparalleled for achieving sustainable development goals, he continued.  Energy use and industrial development were vital for economic growth, but care must be taken to minimize air pollution, climate change and other environmental effects.  The major goal was improving access to reliable and affordable sources of energy.  Investment and transfer of technology could play a major role in improving development prospects.  An investment of about $550 billion per annum in the coming years would be required to satisfy energy needs.

    The social dimensions of access to modern energy sources could not be overstated, he said.  Discussions on industrial development would cover areas such as lessons learned, energy efficiency successes and corporate responsibility.  The review of air pollution, atmosphere and climate change must be thorough without duplicating efforts under way in other intergovernmental forums.  Socio-economic development was accompanied by greater energy use and the increased use of vehicles, among other things.  Reducing air pollution could be facilitated by the use of renewable energy sources.  The issues in the thematic cluster were closely related and interlinked.  Discussion of one could not take place in a meaningful way without consideration of at least one of the other issues.

    Regarding the Commission's programme of work for the session, DONNETTE CRITCHLOW (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), recalled that the eleventh session of the Commission on Sustainable Development adopted a resolution which decided that implementation of the multi-year programme of work would take into account all issues in Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan, and that the implementation process should cover all those issues equally.  The current programme could compromise that resolution, which was the basis for the Commission's work in future years.  All the themes and commitments contained in the Johannesburg Plan were important in the achievement of sustainable development.

    Owing to differences in interests and priorities, she said that countries and regions would have preferences regarding the treatment of the different themes.  It was important that the work programme reflected the diversity of Member States, by according a balanced treatment of the themes comprising the session.  An unbalanced approach jeopardized the mandate of the eleventh session of the Commission.  She appreciated the efforts to take account of the concerns of her two groups, but regretted that equal time could not be allotted for a balanced treatment of the themes for the current session.  That should not serve as a precedent for future sessions.  Priority should be given to discussing each of the themes comprehensively from the perspective of the three pillars of sustainable development

    YOBANY GOMEZ GONZALEZ (Cuba) expressed his concerns with regard to presentation of documentation for the bureau, as well as the proposed organization of work for the session.  On the first, he said the fact that the second cycle had only one consolidated report on the four items to be tackled instead of separate reports for each item, as done in the last cycle, was a lack of compliance by the Secretariat with the mandate given to it.  The explanations given on that matter were not satisfactory to him.

    The same applied to the proposed organization of work, he continued.  Despite that many delegations had drawn attention to the organization of work, and that an alternative solution was proposed with regard to the thematic clusters, some had insisted on the original proposal of the Chairman, which was unbalanced, as it stressed only one of the issues to be dealt with.  That had led to an unbalanced treatment of the four items to be discussed.  That represented an unjustified change to the manner in which the Commission had tackled issues in the previous cycle.  He hoped discussions would be carried out in a balanced fashion so each theme could be tackled thoroughly, and the current practice would not set a precedent for the future.  On that basis, he had joined the consensus on the proposed organization of work.

    The Commission then adopted the provisional agenda and organization of work, as contained in document E/CN.17/2006/1.

    Statement by Under-Secretary-General

    JOSE ANTONIO OCAMPO, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that, beyond meeting some of people's basic needs, energy was required by societies in their pursuit of industrial development and improved living standards.  Industry and energy use, however, also contributed to air and atmospheric pollution.  Indeed, the combustion of fossil fuels for energy and industry was the single largest global contributor to greenhouse gas emissions -- and, hence, to climate change.  Yet, if development was to prove sustainable, those negative impacts must be reduced.  Ways were being found to do so, from improved energy efficiency to pollution control technologies and cleaner production methods.

    He said there had been several achievements since the 2002 World Summit at Johannesburg, marked by global progress, however uneven, in increasing electrification rates and reduced biomass fuel dependence, as well as elimination of lead gasoline by sub-Saharan countries.  Cooperation to eliminate substances that depleted the ozone layer had also increased, the Kyoto Protocol had entered into force, the Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism had been implemented, and there had been an increased use of renewable energy.  In addition, there had been a resurgent interest in funding energy access projects, especially in the electricity sector.  Still, much work remained.

    As many as 2.4 billion people -- or about half of all households and 90 per cent of all rural households -- today lacked access to modern energy services for cooking and heating, he said.  They relied instead on traditional, non-commercial energy sources, thereby contributing to indoor air pollution and poor health.  For all those people, a transition must be facilitated from traditional, non-commercial energy sources to modern, commercially traded sources.  Moreover, despite progress in extending national electricity grids and installing decentralized systems, 1.6 billion people still lacked access to electricity.  That was a special concern for sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the world's lowest access rates.

    He said that renewable energy technologies could offer "win-win" solutions for making energy services available with minimal air pollution and climate change emissions.  But, the costs were still relatively high.  The per kilowatt-hour cost of wind, geothermal, biomass and mini-hydro energy, which averaged 4 to 12 cents, generally exceeded that of conventional electricity, which averaged only 2 to 5 cents.  Clearly, lowering those costs should be a priority.  At the same time, legitimate concerns about energy security, exacerbated by high energy prices, temporary or perceived disruptions in energy supply and uncertainties about the future must be addressed.  More efficient use of limited energy resources could be achieved partly through increased trade in energy, but that depended on well developed sophisticated energy infrastructure requiring significant new investments and strengthened cooperation and collaborative action.

    The 2005 World Summit had recognized meeting energy needs, promoting clean energy and tackling climate change as interconnected challenges that must be approached in the wider context of sustainable development, with its economic, social and environmental dimensions, he said.  Crucially, that set the stage for the integration of climate change issues into national development strategies, as well as for their mainstreaming into international development cooperation.  In facing the core issues of emissions limitation and adaptation to climate change, some countries had focused mainly on the potential of scientific advances and technological innovations, such as affordable low-emission energy options and techniques for capturing greenhouse gases.  But, given strong evidence of threats posed by climate change, and in light of the precautionary principle, the international community should consider a mix of the technological approach with other measures and options.

    He said that experience with the Kyoto Protocol, along with other initiatives in several countries, suggested the effectiveness of giving markets clear incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The Clean Development Mechanism offered an opportunity to contribute to the emissions reduction process and to increase resource flows that could make a difference to developing countries' energy and transport infrastructure, as well as their technology choices.  Facilitating "bankable" Clean Development Mechanism projects in many more developing countries, including sub-Saharan Africa, would thus represent a significant achievement.  Creating incentives to increase energy production efficiency, transmission and consumption could be another powerful tool.  As the impact of climate change on socio-economic systems were increasingly apparent, adaptation remained essential for both developed and developing countries.  That issue was particularly important for small island developing States and least developed countries.

    As a citizen of a developing country, he said he welcomed the Commission's attention to the issue of industrialization.  It was in relation to that process that he saw most vividly the interlinkages among all the issues that would be addressed by the Commission's two-year cycle.  Today, everyone understood much better the importance of developing modern services and how globalization had opened up new opportunities for service economies.  Nonetheless, the strong association between economic development and industrialization, underscored by classical development economics, had stood very well the test of time.

    Although many developing countries had enjoyed episodes of growth over the past several decades, only a relatively small number had sustained high growth rates over extended periods, he said.  In each success story, industrial development had been rapid, and poverty rates had tended to decline -- often steeply.  Yet those same countries, and even some where industrialization had not been so rapid, had often experienced significant pressures on the environment from air emissions, waste water discharges and hazardous industrial waste.

    He said that history turned on its head the idea that environmental issues could somehow be postponed until later in the development process.  As interdependent and mutually supportive pillars, economic growth, social development and environmental protection must be considered together in an integrated way.  Through that lens, everyone now saw that environmental issues could become major economic and social problems relatively early in the development process.  Industrialization could not make an enduring contribution to development when it accelerated climate change and air pollution.  And, measures to guard against air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, such as those aimed at boosting energy efficiency, were actually good for industrialization.

    Cleaner production methods were being adopted more widely, and they were bringing significant economic efficiency gains, as well as environmental improvements, he said.  Moreover, success in stimulating industrial development while mitigating its negative side effects offered valuable lessons for those coming late to the industrialization process.  That was not only good for the environment; it was also good for the competitiveness of those industries in developing countries.  Ways to encourage a more rapid global diffusion and transfer of more energy- and material-efficient technologies should be identified, thereby enabling industries in developing countries to converge rapidly towards international best practice in any given sector.  Cleaner energy options across a range of uses should also be explored.

    * *** *