As world environment and resource management ministers gathered in New York today to open a key United Nations forum on sustainable development, top UN officials stressed that concrete steps must be taken towards achieving "responsible prosperity" for all.
In an address to the opening high-level segment of the eleventh session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said the way to ensure responsible prosperity for all - and especially for the poorest of the poor - was for governments to make real efforts to eradicate poverty and bridge the sizeable gap in world consumption patterns.
The Commission's current session, set to run through 9 May, marks its first formal meeting since the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa. As the chief UN body considering ways to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development - economic growth, social development and environmental protection - the Commission will focus on its own future work in translating into reality the commitments made at that landmark conference.
Mr. Töpfer said the WSSD had provided the international community a new chance to push forward environmental agreements. The Summit's Implementation Plan, which contained over 30 concrete tables and targets, had also produced a 10-year programme for sustainable development and consumption, a clean fuel initiative and other clear, concrete partnership activities, he added.
While the outcome of the WSSD had been encouraging, the breadth of the Plan clearly underscored that a huge disparity still existed between commitments made and action taken to implement them, Mr. Töpfer said. "This critical issue should be considered during the Commission's current session, as well as in the future," he said, adding that, "the international community must decide on a reliable framework to bring all available resources together in new efforts at implementation."
The UN Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, Nitin Desai, said the challenge was to ensure the Summit implementation was adequately monitored and effectively integrated into sustainable development processes already underway, such as poverty reduction strategies implemented at the national level. "The United Nations must focus its energies on providing strong, visible, coordinated and coherent follow-up within the Organization's system," he said.
Introducing Secretary-General Kofi Annan's report on Summit follow-up and the Commission's future role in implementation, Mr. Desai also stressed that the pursuit of sustainable development must in many ways be a political process, reflecting the interests and concerns of future consumers and the equitable and fair distribution of goods.
Efforts to achieve sustainable development involved policy-making, academic research and practical action carried out by governments, academia, civil society and the business sector, he said, adding that "the Commission must draw on its strengths to bring these diverse actors together to ensure effective and timely implementation."