Consequences of El Niño phenomenon highlighted in Economic and Financial Committee
Speakers Address Disaster Prevention Strategies, As Committee Takes Up Environment, Sustainable Development
The prevention of negative impacts from future El Niño events must be the highest priority in international disaster management, said the representative of Indonesia this morning, as the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met to consider the issue of environment and sustainable development.
Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, he added that rapid urbanization, environmental degradation and increased industrial activities aggravated the risks of disaster. Science and technology alone would not be sufficient to deal with disaster prevention on that large a scale. The United Nations could coordinate a strategy to cope with the El Niño phenomenon, which should be system-wide and capable of bringing together the scientific and operational capacities of the whole Organization.
The impacts of the recent El Niño had been harsh in many places, particularly in the greater Pacific Basin, said the representative of the United States. In her country, scientific monitoring and instantaneous sharing of life-saving information, much of which was gathered internationally, supplied the data needed to put in place, a number of preventive measures. As a result, the devastation experienced was not as severe as it had been in the past. The United States looked forward to sharing its experiences with others, so that the loss of life could be reduced internationally.
A number of speakers expressed concerns about increased pollution and damage to the environment. The representative of Austria, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, the loss of biodiversity and the overuse of natural resources continued. Implementing sustainable development was the main challenge the world faced at the end of the millennium. He added that there was a need for a more focused and streamlined agenda in the field of environment and human settlements in the United Nations system.
Others, however, focused on the need for developed countries to aid developing countries in their sustainable development efforts. The representative of China said the objectives of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) had not yet been achieved due to a lack of sufficient financing for developing countries. There was also a new trend in protectionism, posed in the guise of environmental protection. The international community, especially developed countries, should take active measures to implement UNCED and fulfil the commitments to provide financing and technology.
Also this morning, the representative of Sweden introduced a draft resolution on preparations for the special session of the General Assembly in the year 2001 to review the achievement of the goals of the World Summit for Children. The text would have the Assembly postpone consideration of the arrangements for the special session until its fifty-fourth session.
Statements were also made by the representatives of Brazil, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Cuba, Panama, Belarus, Canada, Cyprus, Norway, Israel and the Republic of Moldova.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its consideration of the topic environment and sustainable development.
The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met this morning to consider the topic of environment and sustainable development. Under that general heading, the Committee will discuss the implementation and follow-up to the outcome of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), including the outcome of the nineteenth special session of the General Assembly, which conducted an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the action programme of the Conference -- Agenda 21.
The Committee had before it a report of the Secretary-General on products harmful to health and the environment (document A/53/156). The report discusses the Consolidated List of Products Withdrawn, Severely Restricted or Not Approved by Governments, which was created by the General Assembly in 1982 to keep track of and review the development of products potentially hazardous to health and the environment. The first issue of the list covered less than 500 products regulated by 60 governments, including both pharmaceutical and chemical products. The fifth issue -- the last to cover both pharmaceutical and chemicals -- covered regulatory actions taken by 94 Governments on more than 700 products. The List is now published in two parts, in alternate years, one addressing pharmaceuticals, the other chemicals. The sixth issue, in 1997, dealing with pharmaceuticals only, contained information on 366 products regulated by 77 governments.
In 1984, the General Assembly decided that an updated List be issued annually and be made available to government and other users, the report states. Responsibility for the List is divided among the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/International Register of Potentially Toxic Chemicals (IRPTC). The Assembly also requested that the Secretary-General inform the General Assembly every third year, through the Economic and Social Council, about the implementation of the resolutions. Since the review in 1995, following UNCED, ECOSOC added to the List, chapters on hazardous waste, fresh water, human health and atmosphere. The Department of Economic and Social Affairs intends to conduct a full survey of the utilization of the List in 1999.
The report states that considerable progress had been achieved in the development of the Consolidated List, and the recent decision to focus exclusively on pharmaceuticals and chemicals in alternate issues should make the list more user friendly. The report also called for the development and adoption of a legally binding prior informed consent (PIC) procedure, so that users of potentially harmful products be made aware of their classification as such in a timely manner.
The Committee also had before it a report of the Secretary-General entitled, International Cooperation to Reduce the Impact of the El Niño Phenomenon (document A/53/487), which provides an overview of the scientific and technical aspects of the phenomenon, as well as international efforts to address its impact.
The report notes that the global climate of 1997 and 1998 was dominated by an unusually strong El Niño episode, which started to manifest itself through suddenly increasing sea surface temperatures throughout the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean in April and May 1997, but came to an end almost as abruptly in the first half of 1998. The report states that among the effects of El Niño were damage to agriculture, forests, fisheries and other economic activities, as well as many industries and human settlements. Quite often, the damage was extensive and severe, and the report outlines the extent of the damage in South America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and North America.
According to the report, certain actions have been taken by the international community toward enhancing international cooperation to reduce the impact of the phenomenon and make communities at risk more resilient to the impacts of future events. It emphasizes the need for multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary collaboration, especially between the scientific, technological and operational responsibilities of the United Nations system, within the framework of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. It also provides information about the organization and objectives for the progress of integrating El Niño-specific concerns in the disaster reduction strategy for the twenty-first century, developed within the Decade.
The report states that the United Nations, offers a platform for the comprehensive and systematic study of root causes, the evaluation of capabilities, the analysis of needs, and the formulation and implementation of preventive action. The report offers the following recommendations, as well: the work of the Inter-agency Task Force on El Niño should be continued; and broad based, substantive financial support should come from within the United Nations system and its Member States.
The Committee also had before it the report of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the work of its fifth special session (document A/53/25). The special session, held at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi in May 1998, adopted a number of measures.
In the report, Klaus Topfer, UNEP Executive Director, specified several areas of particular interest for UNEP, including: development of an emergency response capacity and strengthening of early warning and assessment functions; the coordination and development of environmental policy instruments to support environmental conventions; strengthened collaboration with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) on freshwater resources; and actions in the area of industry and technology transfer. He also outlined a proposal for streamlining the organizational structure of UNEP, aimed at cost efficiency.
Decisions adopted at the special session were on such topics as: evaluation of the management and administrative support of UNEP; revitalization, reform and strengthening of UNEP; contributions of UNEP to the seventh session of the Commission on Sustainable Development; freshwater; GEF; and land degradation.
Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on ways and means of undertaking the review of progress made in implementing conventions related to sustainable development (document A/53/477). The report states that, under the auspices of the United Nations, the progressive development of international environmental law related to sustainable development provides a new and innovative response by the international community in terms of building and enhancing a process to address the most pressing global environmental challenges.
Such a development has inspired new and innovative concepts, principles and ideas and resulted in mechanisms and procedures in such areas as implementation and compliance ,and dispute avoidance and settlement, among others, the report states. It is playing an increasingly important role in promoting the integration of environment and development and providing an effective legal and regulatory framework for underpinning the efforts of the international community to achieve sustainable development.
The report goes on to say that in accordance with General Assembly resolution 52/445, the Secretary-General established the United Nations Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements. The Task Force was mandated to review existing structures and arrangements through which environment and environment-related activities are carried out within the United Nations. The Task Force made a number of recommendations on a future review by the General Assembly of progress in the implementation of the conventions related to sustainable development. The Task Force also recommended that UNEP build its capacity and networks to ensure the scientific underpinning of such conventions.
The report also says that the Assembly should begin to play an important role in the overall development of international environmental law related to sustainable development from a more integrated perspective than had been the case so far. With regard to a review of progress made in sustainable development, the Assembly should: undertake periodic integrated assessments of progress in conventions that could be carried out on a thematic or issue basis; identify and make policy recommendations on interlinkages among various conventions; promote policy coherence among the provisions of various legal instruments and activities undertaken to implement them; identify overlap or inconsistencies among the various instruments; identify and promote areas of activity that have multiple benefits; and provide consolidated policy advice, rather than separate sectoral resolutions.
The Committee also had before it the 1998 report of the Economic and Social Council (document A/53/3), which contains decisions taken by the Council when it considered the question of sustainable development, including consideration of the report of the Commission on Sustainable Development at its sixth session.
Introduction of Draft Resolution
HANS DAHLGREN (Sweden) introduced a draft resolution on preparations for the special session of the General Assembly in the year 2001 to review the achievement of the goals of the World Summit for Children (A/C.2/53/L.9). By that text, the Committee would request the General Assembly to decide to postpone consideration of the arrangements for that special session to its fifty-fourth session.
BAGAS HAPSORO (Indonesia), on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said rapid urbanization, environmental degradation and increased industrial activities, aggravated the risks of disaster. The number of major natural disasters in the past decade had been four times as high as that in the 1960s. Science and technology alone would not be sufficient to deal with disaster prevention on that large a scale. The human factor must also be taken into account.
During the 1997 to 1998 El Niño episode, a large majority of the countries affected had been engaged in various forms of prevention, mitigation or preparedness activities, he said. Those efforts would provide a major source of information on addressing natural disasters, through case studies conducted at the country and community levels.
In 1997 and 1998, many developing countries had suffered exceptionally heavy rainfalls, storms and floods, he said. Others experienced prolonged droughts, while some suffered from both droughts and rains. The United Nations could coordinate a strategy to cope with the El Nino phenomenon. The United Nations should be committed to an effective and coordinated system-wide strategy, which was capable of bringing together the scientific and the operational capacities of the whole Organization. The prevention of negative impacts from future El Niño events must be the highest priority in international disaster management. The final year of the 1990s was crucial in ensuring that disaster reduction was a component of government policies in the twenty-first century.
HANS-PETER GLANZER (Austria), speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU) and the associated States of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Cyprus, said the world had made progress at the national and international levels, but at the same time many global environmental trends -- pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, the overuse of natural resources -- continued to deteriorate. Implementing sustainable development was the main challenge the world faced at the end of the millennium. In recognizing the central role of a healthy environment to the quality of life, the Union was committed to the integration of the environment into all policy areas.
The Union attached great importance to the development of a more focused and streamlined agenda in the field of environment and human settlements in the United Nations system, he said. The Union supported as a significant step, the recommendations of the Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements. The Kyoto Protocol, by which the Union committed itself to a reduction of 8 per cent in greenhouse gases by the period 2008-2012, also constituted a major step forward in the fight against climate change.
Moreover, he continued, small island developing States, with their limited resources base, were particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of global climate change and needed assistance in adapting to such changes. The Union affirmed the importance of the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, with regard to the conservation and sustainable use of forest biological diversity, given the crucial role that all types of forests played in conserving global biological diversity and the extent of the threats forests were facing, as dramatically demonstrated by the recent forest fires around the world. He also said the Union was committed to combating desertification and mitigation of the effects of drought, being the largest source of external finance on that threat.
HENRIQUE VALLE (Brazil) said the international community could not afford to become complacent in the implementation of the decisions of UNCED held in Rio de Janeiro. Since that conference, the international community had made progress in such areas as climate change, forests and freshwater, as well as the promotion of the rights of women. But, today the challenges were even greater. Unsustainable modalities of consumption continued to prevail and pollution of the atmosphere and water remained on the increase. There were also attempts to reinterpret the decisions taken at Rio.
He added that the central responsibility for instituting sustainable development measures remained with countries individually. Such measures depended on a country's approach to social justice and democracy, and its respect for the environment and for human beings. There was a need for advances in the eradication of poverty for the South and the eradication of waste in the North. Sustainable development efforts in the South depended heavily on a healthy economy. Environmental regulations should not become a pretext for limiting trade and international flows of capital.
DEBORAH LINDE (United States) said in the past year the world had weathered one of the strongest, if not the strongest, El Niños ever recorded. This year's "La Niña", the return of the colder current to the eastern tropical Pacific, would present challenges that must now be addressed. The impacts of the recent El Niño had been harsh in many places, particularly in the greater Pacific Basin. In the United States, scientific monitoring and instantaneous sharing of life-saving information, much of which was gathered internationally, supplied the data needed to put in place a number of preventive measures. As a result, the devastation experienced was not as severe as it had been in the past. The United States looked forward to sharing its experiences and lessons learned with others so that the loss of life could be reduced internationally as well.
She said that in 1999, the United Nations would hold a special session of the General Assembly devoted to the review of the 1994 United Nations Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island States. The United States looked forward to the five-year review as an opportunity to take stock of success and examine what future progress was needed. Moreover, she believed the framework established in Barbados continued to be extremely relevant in today's world. The world now needed implementation.
CHUNG RAE-KWON (Republic of Korea) said his country expected that the recommendations put forward by the United Nations Task Force on Environment and Human Settlement could effectively improve the coordination and integration of diverse and fragmented institutional infrastructure, as well as create synergy among those who have a stake in global environment management. However, he would like to see the unique and distinct role of the Commission on Sustainable Development maintained.
His Government would host an expert meeting on the consumption patterns of East Asia next January, he said. The reason for choosing East Asia was that its rapid economic growth made it an ideal candidate for examining the implications of rising income levels for the environmental impact of its consumption. At the same time, it would also be quite relevant, considering the traditional lifestyles in the region based on living in harmony with nature, to examine the links between reinforcing traditional lifestyles and promoting sustainable consumption patterns.
VASSILI NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that several important international agreements on environmental protection had been reached and the conventions signed at or established as a result of the Rio conference had borne fruit. Substantial and interested discussion on the issues of sustainable freshwater resources within the Commission on Sustainable Development had allowed the elaboration of agreed approaches to the issue. His country had taken an active and constructive part in those processes and intended to further contribute to the resolution of the global environment problems facing mankind.
As international environmental law developed and legal instruments in the field of sustainable development increased, there was a growing need for ensuring policy coherence and coordination of activities in that area, he continued. In that context, the role of the General Assembly was evolving. It could no longer be limited to separate reviews of each of the conventions signed at UNCED. Rather, it should promote an integrated approach towards examining the issues in a broader perspective. A review of progress made in implementing the conventions related to sustainable development was a key factor for carrying out that function.
WANG XINXIA (China) said the concept of sustainable development had been widely respected and was prominent in many aspects of economic and social life. The objectives of UNCED, however, had not yet been achieved, as a lack of sufficient financing for developing countries had kept them from attaining the goals of the Conference. There was also a new trend in protectionism, posed in the guise of environmental protection. The rapid onset of globalization and advances in the sciences posed serious challenges for developing countries. The international community, especially developed countries, should take active measures to implement UNCED and fulfil the commitments to provide financing and technology.
RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEPES (Cuba) said that the international community had taken important steps towards improving the environment since the last General Assembly, but deterioration of the environment continued. He added that his country attached great importance to the preparations for the special session of Assembly on the sustainable development of small island developing States. The international community recognized the unique needs and vulnerabilities of the small islands. Logically, national forces should be the first source of sustainable development, but international help was also needed.
JUDITH CARDOZE (Panama), on behalf of the Rio Group, said a fundamental concern of her delegation was the existence of human activities that were polluting the environment, whose included the growth of greenhouse gases. Cooperation and international dialogue must be developed to address that problem. Stable growth and sustainable development were not viable without equity and the promotion of human rights. In that regard, sustainable development programmes needed to address the neediest segments of society.
Activities aimed at helping countries make the transition to sustainable development should pay attention to the needs of youth, elderly and indigenous peoples, she said. Growth should not mean the destruction of environmental diversity. Developed countries could cooperate with developing countries by providing technologies for sustainable development measures.
ULADZIMIR GERUS (Belarus) said that it had been six years since the Rio Conference and, while significant work had been done at the regional and national levels, progress had been insufficient to reverse rampant poverty and illiteracy. The ocean and vast parts of all continents continued to suffer environmental degradation. The activities of the main United Nations funds and commissions were imperative because these bodies were intended to instigate progress.
His country was taking consistent measures in its national strategy towards transition to a market economy, using a sustainable development model. It had ratified treaties on biodiversity and the protection of the ozone layer. It was now considering ratifying international conventions on forest development and improvement of the timber trade, and striving to make contributions on environmental conservation and sustainable development.
DENIS CHOUINARD (Canada) said his country welcomed the report of the United Nations Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements and its recommendations, which deserved serious consideration, particularly in light of the increasing fragmentation and complexity of the international environmental agenda. His Government attached a particular importance to recommendations aimed at improving inter-agency coordination within the United Nations system with regard to the environment and at improving coordination and developing synergies between multilateral environmental conventions.
Among the current environmental challenges, climate change stood out as the most difficult, he said. The Kyoto Protocol adopted in April was only one step. Member States must now work together towards facilitating the implementation of those commitments and the reductions of global emissions of greenhouse gases. Also, the Framework Convention on Climate Change also risked not meeting its environmental objectives unless action was taken by a broader range of countries.
The issue of forests was also central to international discussions on environment issues, he said. Moreover, his Government continued to be very concerned by the serious risks that persistent organic pollutants posed to human health and the environment. In addition, since it bordered on three oceans, his country also placed a priority on ocean and ocean management. Canada was one of the first countries to have adopted an Oceans Act, which provided a legislative base for the conservation and sustainable use of marine areas and resources.
AGIS LOIZOU (Cyprus) said that the United Nations General Assembly's Declaration on the Right to Development had recognized the right to a high quality environment as a human right. Sustainable development had linked the right of permanent sovereignty to one's natural wealth and resources, with the right to a secure environment, free from external security threats. That had been declared in the communiqué of the heads of State of the Alliance of Small Island States. Those States faced increasing vulnerability, both to their environment and their security.
Environment and fundamental human rights were indivisible, he said. His country was, unfortunately, very much aware of how aggression and occupation could cause extreme suffering to people, destruction of economic resources and great damage to the environment. He also said his Government was considering holding a meeting in Cyprus, after the review conference of the Barbados Programme of Action, to find practical solutions to the challenges facing small island States. His country encouraged the activity of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the field of ecology, whose contributions his country considered significant.
OLE PETER KOLBY (Norway) said that progress towards a sustainable future was proceeding too slowly. Numerous threats to the environment remained, while responses were slow and unevenly distributed. The reasons for such a lack of progress were many and complex, but included the compartmentalization and lack of coordination within the United Nations. The United Nations Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements had recommended a number of actions to improve the current situation.
The effects of such natural phenomena as El Niño, which had caused natural disasters in vulnerable regions around the globe, might have set efforts to achieve sustainable development back by several years. The capacity at local and national levels to plan ahead for such events should be strengthened to minimize both impacts and costs. The United Nations needed an early warning system and emergency response capacity to deal with environmental disasters and emergencies.
He said the need for an integrated, cross-sectoral approach, where environmental, economic and social concerns were addressed in a consistent manner, keeping the holistic perspective on environment and development intact, was perhaps the most important challenge facing the achievement of a sustainable future.
MICHAEL ARBEL (Israel) said that in a country with limited land, water, energy and other natural resources, environmental research was by no means a luxury -- it was a matter of survival. Israel had to find ways to make the best use of the resources available, while at the same time ensuring that its intensive use of resources would not harm the environment. Paradoxically, those constraints had challenged Israeli scientists to develop a host of new technologies -- placing Israel at the forefront of world development in a number of environmental fields.
He added that, as a country facing the problem of water scarcity, Israel was forced to develop innovative ways to make every drop count. His country was a world leader in the development of drip irrigation, a technique by which relatively small amounts of water were delivered directly to the roots of growing plants. Israel had also developed the first solar absorption coating, which made it possible for solar panels to retain a higher proportion of the sun's energy. And, it had also developed various methods of controlling pests through biological control means, to replace chemicals. Israel was willing to share its experience with all countries that had a vested interest in promoting environmental research.
VITALIE ROBU (Republic of Moldova) said that mankind could not allow economic growth to determine the condition of natural resources, degradation and environmental pollution. The implementation and utilization of ecologically harmful and deficient technologies must be prevented. Further, it was time to speed up the implementation of the Rio Conference, especially those recommendations regarding the transfer of ecologically safe and highly effective technologies to countries in transition, including by means of UNEP and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). At the regional level, his country stressed cooperation in the Danube River Basin and within the Black Sea Cooperation Organization.