Sustainable Development Commission Fails to Sustain Enthusiasm

NEW YORK, New York, April 26, 2005 (ENS) - Four days after the Commission on Sustainable Development closed its 13th meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, many participants are expressing a sense of frustration and concern that all the international discussions held since the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburgh might amount to very little progress.

"There is even a serious risk that the international community turns its back on the agreed goals of Johannesburg, where it is vital that we agree to move forward," said Olav Kjorven, head of the Energy and Environment Division of the United Nations Development Programme.

The IUCN-World Conservation Union said the Commission on Sustainable Development "failed to make significant progress on the targets and policy options for water and sanitation as agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg three years ago."

Held in New York from April 11 to 22, CSD-13 was the first policy setting session of the Commission since the 2002 World Summit. The goal of the meeting was to decide on policies and practical measures to accelerate progress towards achieving the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation targets and commitments on water, sanitation and human settlements.


Achim Steiner, director-general of the IUCN, the world's largest conservation organization, expressed concern that progress towards solving problems of water, santitation and house are too slow. (Photo courtesy ENB)
IUCN Director-General Achim Steiner said on the final day of the meeting, that in terms of water, "we are reaching our limits."

Steiner said while the IUCN was encouraged by positive developments under way to reach the Millennium Development Goals, it is "vital" for wealthy countries to increase overseas development aid. He emphasized that more investment in ecosystems is needed to maintain the goods and services they provide.

"Most of the people who negotiate these agreements in New York are not those who manage the environment or natural resources. They do not realize the economic cost of not taking decisions," said Costa Rica's Minister of Environment and Energy Carlos Rodriguez.

In a statement Monday, Ambassador John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, who chaired CSD-13, called for governments to spend more money to solve the water, sanitation and housing problems of the poor.


Ambassador John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda piloted discussions and won agreement to an outcome document that will be presented to the UN General Assembly in September. (Photo courtesy ENB)
"Governments have the primary role in promoting improved access to safe drinking water, basic sanitation, sustainable and secure tenure, and adequate shelter, particularly for the poor," said Ashe. "More and better targeted financing for the poorest countries is critical if they are to fulfill this responsibility."

A UN official statement could only say that the more than 100 government ministers who participated in the high-level segment of the meeting on the final two days, "indicates the significant level of interest and commitment to maintain the momentum of the Johannesburg Summit and deliver on the sustainable development goals."

Many participants said that civil society, rather than governments, must solve the problems of lack of access to clean water, sanitation and housing for at least one in every six people on Earth.

"Local communities take better care of their forests and wetlands, and economic interests are but one of their considerations. Our hope lies with them, civil society in general, and those in governments who are connected to the issues. They respond to a wider suite of considerations than standard economics," said Walt Reid, director of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a global inventory of the state of our ecosystems conducted by 1,400 experts from 95 countries, was published March 30. The assessment concluded that about 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth – fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water regulation, and the regulation of regional climate, natural hazards and pests – are being degraded or used unsustainably. The scientists who worked on the assessment warned that the harmful consequences of this degradation could grow worse in the next 50 years.


Mikhail Gorbachev of Russia addressed the delegates to CSD-13. (Photo courtesy ENB)
During discussions on the theme of “Turning Political Commitments into Action,” delegates heard a presentation from Mikhail Gorbachev, former head of the Soviet Union and founding president of the nongovernmental organization Green Cross International. He called for an international legally binding instrument that would guarantee the right to water and provide a mechanism for its implementation.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), a publication of the International Institute for Sustainable Development based in Canada, reported that "some participants’ hopes and expectations for the session" were not met by the outcome.

"Many were obviously disappointed, with the G-77/China going on record in the closing plenary with a statement that they were 'deeply disturbed' by the outcome, accusing developed countries of backtracking on previous agreements and pursuing a 'selfish' agenda,'" ENB reported.

The participation of Major Groups has been a unique feature of the CSD process. Nine Major Groups of civil society - women, children and youth, indigenous people, nongovernmental organizations, local authorities, workers and unions, business and industry, as well as the scientific and technological community - were supposed to have full participation in the CSD-13 meeting, but most were unhappy with the way they were treated during the talks.

They complained that their involvement had been cut short, a feeling that was increased when representatives of major groups were not allowed into the room during some of the plenary sessions, "allegedly due to excessive zeal on the part of UN security," ENB reported.


Representatives of major groups in the plenary hall (Photo courtesy ENB)
"Major groups would have provided a breath of fresh air for CSD-13, only someone shut the door in their face," one participant commented.

Officially, the delegates agreed on a text to present to the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Plenary Meeting to be held in September.

To accelerate progress in providing access to safe drinking water, the CSD recommends economic incentives to encourage the participation of small-scale water service providers; implementing affordable water tariffs to contribute to the financial sustainability of water services; and targeting subsidies for the poor, including connection costs.

The CSD also calls for better water management, including more efficient irrigation and wider use of rain water harvesting technologies, especially in the agricultural sector; implementing irrigation projects with a focus on the poor, particularly in Africa; and training farmers and water users associations in efficient water use.

On sanitation, the CSD calls for establishing an institutional home for sanitation, and giving it priority in national development plans and budgets, targeting investments to areas of greatest need and greatest impact, such as schools, work places and health centers and assessing the health impacts of the lack of sanitation at the community level.

The CSD also calls for financial and technical assistance to national and local authorities in deploying effective and environmentally-sound sewerage systems and for wastewater treatment and reuse.

For human settlements, the CSD recommends that governments, with assistance from the international community, design pro-poor policies with a focus on tenure security and access to affordable serviced land in order to improve access of the poor, in particular slum dwellers, to decent and affordable housing and basic services.


Sunita Narain of India heads the Center for Environment and Science and is winner of the Stockholm Water Prize for 2005. She emphasized that communities' ownership of water is the only way to achieve sanitation targets. (Photo courtesy ENB)
The CSD also recommends giving particular attention to the equal rights of women to own and inherit land and other property and to access credit markets; incorporating employment and enterprise development policies into national planning and slum prevention and upgrading programmes, and providing education and vocational training to women and youth to improve their access to decent jobs.

Governments were also encouraged to promote public-public and public-private partnerships for financing and developing infrastructure and affordable housing.

Other outcomes of the CSD-13 were the Learning Centre, which offered courses for CSD-13 participants on a wide range of topics, the Partnerships Fair and the more than 50 official side events held over the two weeks.

For more information on CSD-13 including all official documents visit: