• English

UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD12)

New York, 20 April 2004
Remarks of the UNECE Executive Secretary
at the
UNECE regional segment

Thank you, Madam Vice-Chair.

It gives me great pleasure to have this opportunity to share with you some of the work that UNECE is carrying out in sustainable development in general and, more specifically, in the areas currently under discussion.

Our Commission took up the challenge given by the CSD at its session in May 2003 and decided to organize a Regional Implementation Forum. This Forum took place on 15-16 January of this year, in Geneva. It assessed progress, obstacles and challenges in the areas of water, sanitation, and human settlements, reviewed lessons learned and shared information on good practices. It also examined some of the important linkages among these three thematic sectors that can assist progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and the targets established in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

I will not go into detail on the conclusions of this Forum. We are very fortunate to have with us today its Chair, Her Excellency, Mrs. Margaret Beckett, and she will present her Summary of the meeting.

I would like to take a few minutes, however, to highlight some of the areas where UNECE is working with States to strengthen implementation.

The UNECE region is economically, socially and environmentally very heterogeneous. Because it contains many of the world’s richest countries, there is a perception that the region as a whole is well-off. This is, unfortunately, not the case. Many of the countries remain in transition, and some are among the poorest countries in the world.

As a result, many people are adversely affected by poor wastewater treatment, contaminated drinking water, water-related disease, depleted groundwater resources and water leakage, to name but a few. One can find urban poverty, social exclusion, homelessness, physical decay, unsustainable production and consumption patterns, inadequate institutional capacity and lack of transparency in policy implementation.

These problems are with us and are likely to remain with us for some time. Nevertheless, considerable progress is being made. Some of the mechanisms for this progress may be found in the work of intergovernmental committees and multilateral environment agreements supported by UNECE.

UNECE’s Committee on Human Settlements has evolved from a Panel on Housing Problems first established in 1947. Over these 57 years, the focus has shifted and broadened so that it now encompasses not only housing and basic infrastructure but also urban development, land administration, decision-making and partnerships. In 2000, Ministers in the region adopted a UNECE Strategy for a Sustainable Quality of Life in Human Settlements in the 21st Century, which promotes partnership among the public, NGOs and the business sector of countries at national, regional and local levels.

Under the auspices of this Committee, UNECE carries out two series of country profiles or assessments: one on the housing sector and the other on land administration. Both of them assist governments to analyse their policies, strategies and institutions in the context of human settlements and sustainable development and to compare national progress with international standards.

We are also fortunate in having a legal framework, negotiated under the auspices of UNECE, that addresses a ranges of issues related to water and to sanitation.

The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, which entered into force eight years ago, is concerned in the first instance with transboundary issues. In order to do this, it works also to strengthen national measures for the protection and sound management of both surface waters and groundwaters and to control and reduce water pollution from point sources.

The Convention has two Protocols. One is the 1999 Protocol on Water and Health, done in cooperation with WHO, which addresses the interlinkages among water, sanitation and health.

The other, the Protocol on Civil Liability, which was adopted only in May of last year, gives individuals affected by the transboundary impact of industrial accidents on international watercourses a legal claim for compensation. This groundbreaking Protocol came about through a unique negotiation process that involved Governments and the private sector, including industry and insurance, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

Covering virtually all sustainable development issues are UNECE’s Environmental Performance Reviews of countries in transition. These reviews assess a country’s efforts to reduce its overall pollution burden and manage its natural resources; to integrate environmental and socio-economic policies; and to strengthen cooperation with the international community. One of the most important features of this voluntary programme is the Peer Review, which is carried out by our Committee on Environmental Policy.

UNECE is actively promoting sustainable development in many other areas as well, including through its energy, transport, trade, timber and economic analysis programmes. Increasingly, we are working with Governments and others to initiate cross-sectoral programmes, such as that on transport, environment and health, or poverty, housing and economic development. Many of these cross-sectoral activities are initiated through the Ministerial Environment for Europe process, for which UNECE is Secretariat.

The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the CSD 11 resolution highlight the specific role of the regional commissions in monitoring and implementing WSSD. I very much hope that the results of the UNECE Regional Implementation Forum and the discussion that takes place today provide a useful input to the deliberations and decisions of the Commission on Sustainable Development. I strongly believe that input from the regional commissions constitutes a key contribution to the global process, as it provides for an exchange of experiences that helps to anchor the global process in regional realities.

I am looking forward to a long-term partnership with the CSD. Thank you.

It is now my honor to introduce to you the Chair of the UNECE Regional Implementation Forum, Her Excellency, Ms. Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, United Kingdom.