Geneva, 16-18 September 2002
Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
Madam Chairperson, Excellencies, Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to participate in the opening of the 63rd session of the Committee on Human Settlements. At the same time it is my first opportunity in my new capacity as Executive Secretary of the UNECE to meet with you and discuss the achievements and future programme of work of the Committee with you. I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate the Committee on the work it has accomplished since the 62nd session in the implementation of the ECE Strategy for a Sustainable Quality of Life in Human Settlements in the 21st Century. In the light of the recent WSSD, Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development and WSSD Plan of Implementation, putting into effect the Strategy is becoming more important.
In Johannesburg Governments made a commitment to strengthen three pillars of sustainable development - economic development, social development and environmental protection at local, national, regional and global levels. In the WSSD Plan of Implementation Part X - Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development, it is stated that a key to success is an effective institutional framework for sustainable development at all levels. In paragraphs 141-144 the role of the regional level and the regional commissions is recognised: the regional commissions are particularly requested to promote the integration into their work of the three dimensions of sustainable development.
Therefore I more than welcome the fact that in Item 3, Implementation of the Ministerial Declaration and the ECE Strategy for Sustainable Quality of Life in Human Settlements in the 21st Century, the Committee will review its activities in line with the Millennium Declaration and the outcome of the WSSD.
May I say that I appreciate very much that you have chosen social housing for your in-depth discussion today as it is of growing importance in countries with economies in transition, in newly emerging market economies, and remains important in developed countries. We are all concerned by the negative consequences of unemployment, growing disparities, crime, environmental degradation, etc. and the negative impacts in terms of inadequate housing, no access to housing, etc. The Ministerial Conference on Ageing in Berlin discussed a dramatic demographic transformation in the 21st Century in this region - population ageing - and its implications and challenges for society including housing. In a draft of the Regional Implementation Strategy for Ageing - unfortunately not in the final version - access to housing was included in the social rights of older people. These problems, if not addressed properly and in a timely manner, endanger social cohesion and will have a further potential negative impact on economic productivity, political stability and the sustainability of our environment. The role of the Committee in addressing the above-mentioned issues is undoubted. Despite the fact that there is a high diversity in the ECE region as regards economic and social developments, the quality of the environment, the degree of decentralization of Government responsibilities, and other factors, similar objectives can be pursued. In defining ways to achieve them the Committee's role includes exchange of experiences, formulation of best practices, guidelines and policy recommendations for member States, etc. The formulation of guidelines has an important role to play. I would like to mention the guidelines on Condominium Ownership of Housing for Countries in Transition and particularly the need to modernize condominium housing in transition economies. I note that you will discuss as a potential new activity the preparation of ECE guidelines on social housing. I hope that countries will express their interest and indicate their commitment to working on the guidelines. I also note the on-going work with respect to the preparation of guidelines on private housing financing. May I express my view that private-public housing financing for countries in transition would be considered as perhaps more appropriate at this stage of development.
I would also like to make one more reference to the Berlin Ministerial Conference on Ageing and remind you of your Governments' commitments in the Regional Implementation Strategy that could be taken into consideration when deciding upon a topic for next year's in-depth discussion.
In Item 4 of the Programme of Work for 2002-2005 the Committee will discuss the draft programme of work and take decisions on programme elements. The secretariat has prepared its views on strategic directions of the UNECE for 2004-2005 and circulated it to the members of the Steering Committee of the UNECE. It includes the secretariat's view on which new challenges will have implications on the future work of the ECE, including on-going globalization, progress in transition, EU-enlargement, information society, etc. It also articulated the ECE's focus on implementation, monitoring and assessment, on promoting partnerships with business and civil society, etc. I believe that before taking decisions, this general framework of the Committee's work will be considered.
Madam Chairperson, I note that in Item 2 the Committee will be informed among other things about the secretariat's self-assessment of the work programme initiated by the Secretary-General. The report on UNECE-reform "Strengthening the Organization" was discussed at the Annual Session of the Commission without any decisions being taken. I assume that there is a need for further exchange of views and considerations. The Committee may wish to discuss its programme of work and the potential implications on its intergovernmental structure in the light of the UNECE reform. The member States in their comments to the document - inter alia - stressed their fear of overlapping activities between the UNECE and other organizations. But there is also overlapping and duplication of activities inside UNECE. In view of this I would like to encourage you to examine the Programme Items on Land Registration and Land Markets and the Working Party on Land Administration's activities, as well as the activities of the Trade Committee's Working Party on International Legal and Commercial Practice; its Real Estate Advisory Group also deals with land reform and land evaluation, real-estate market and social housing under the Programme item Industrial Restructuring and Enterprise Development. We should combine efforts if necessary and phase out parallel activities and structures. At the same time I would like to stress that land administration is widely recognized as one of the most critical issues in urban development, investments and the economy as such. It is also well recognized that market economic mechanisms can hardly flourish without a functioning land market. Therefore I greatly value the work of the Working Party on Land Administration.
Major efforts were dedicated to the country profiles. These country-specific strategic-housing sector analyses are intended to assist the Governments of countries with economies in transition in improving performance in this sector. Past experience has shown the usefulness of this programme, and I know that you review the programme on a regular basis. This year you intend to assess the programme and will discuss possible improvements to it. I would like to encourage you to take decisions on monitoring the implementation of the country profiles' policy recommendations.
A major outcome of your recent work is the adoption of the Ministerial Declaration "Toward Sustainable Improvement in Living Conditions in the ECE Region in the 21st Century" and "ECE Strategy for Sustainable Quality of Life in Human Settlements in the 21st Century". By identifying the main challenges for sustainable human development in the region and the policy directions in response to them, these documents constitute the most useful guide for the activities of the Committee during the forthcoming years. We in the ECE secretariat will spare no effort to support the implementation of these strategic tasks.
Finally I would like to underline that the further work of the Committee is widely dependent on funding. Therefore I would like to thank the Governments that have contributed to the ECE Trust Fund on Human Settlements, and encourage others to do so if possible.
I would like to conclude by wishing you success in your future work.