Climate change, industrialization, air pollution and the need to boost clean energy supplies for developing countries are urgent global challenges that must be addressed in concert, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today as he opened a gathering of dozens of environmental ministers at United Nations Headquarters in New York.
“Energy, climate change, industrial development and air pollution are critical items on the international agenda. Addressing them in unison creates many win-win opportunities and is crucial for sustainable development,” Mr. Ban told the high-level meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).
In the area of energy, which provides the particular focus for the current session that runs from 30 April to 11 May, the Secretary-General noted that about 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity, and 2.4 billion people do not have modern energy services for cooking and heating.
“We must do more to use and develop renewable energy sources,” he said, calling for unified efforts that could create benefits on all fronts.
“Greater energy efficiency is also vital,” he stressed. “So are cleaner energy technologies – including advanced fossil fuel and renewable energy technologies – which can create jobs, boost industrial development, reduce air pollution and help to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.”
With climate, energy and sustainability issues priorities for his term as Secretary-General, Mr. Ban pledged to tighten coordination on the issues.
“The United Nations system has taken steps to respond to these challenges in an integrated and coherent way,” he said. “We need to mainstream energy and climate issues more deeply into our programmes and activities, and to strengthen inter-agency cooperation on specific activities,” he added.
This year’s CSD marks the 20th anniversary of the Brundtland Commission report, Our Common Future, which was seen as a landmark document on sustainable development.
Addressing today’s meeting after the Secretary-General, Gro Harlem Brundtland – a former Norwegian prime minister and director-general of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) – said that while some progress had been made on poverty in years since the report, billions still fight for survival at the same time that climate change looms.
“We must move forward on a broad front,” Ms. Brundtland said, advocating the development of a truly global carbon market and serious measures to enable developing countries to “leap-frog” to clean development.
With increased political will, “we stand on the threshold of a new, green economy,” she added. “This is our calling and it can be done,” she said, concluding that “failure is not an option.”
Following Ms. Brundtland’s presentation, some 30 of the assembled ministers made statements, agreeing that halting the degradation of the earth’s environment and providing energy and development to the poor were equally crucial, and urging coordinated action from the international community.
“It is no secret that implementation has been the Achilles heel of the global development agenda,” Malik Amin Aslam, Pakistan’s Minister of State for the Environment, said on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries. “Ironically, the implementation of what has already been agreed to globally also remains the biggest challenge to sustainable development.”
Like other ministers from developing countries, Mr. Aslam noted that the poorest were the hardest hit by environmental degradation and climate change, and that developing countries could not tackle the challenges alone. “Working together, in partnerships, premised on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities in protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development, is, therefore, important and indispensable,” he said.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines of today’s ministerial meeting, Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, briefed reporters on climate change from the perspective of cities and towns.
Ms. Tibaijuka noted that 60 per cent of greenhouse gases come from cities, and many cities are vulnerable to rising sea levels and other threats from climate change. Nearly one third of the urban poor are victims of climate change whose rural lifestyles are no longer viable.
“Without sustainable urbanization, sustainable development will prove to be illusive,” she stressed.
The website is the Internet home of Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP), whose Secretariat is hosted by FAO in Rome and which encourages the sustainable use of “green” fuels, with particular focus on developing countries.