10 May 2006
Sustainable Development Commission Concludes Series of Thematic Debates on Energy, Industrial Development, Air Pollution, Climate Change
Three-Day High-Level Segment Begins Tomorrow
NEW YORK, 9 May (UN Headquarters) -- The Commission on Sustainable Development this evening wrapped up a series of more than a dozen thematic discussions focused on energy for sustainable development, industrial development, air and atmospheric pollution, and climate change, just ahead of its three-day high-level segment, set to begin tomorrow morning.
Before the Commission this evening was a draft of the Chairman's summary of the meetings and events held so far since the session began last Monday, 1 May. Commission Chairman, Aleksi Aleksishvili (Georgia), said he had tried to capture the key points, focusing on lessons learned, obstacles and constraints, the challenges ahead, means of implementation, and continuing challenges. After hearing the comments of Member States and groups of States -- centred mainly on a request that the summaries of the discussions be characterized as the views of delegations, rather than statements of fact -- the Chairman said that the final version of the text would be posted on the Commission's website tomorrow.
In the course of the interactive debates, it was widely acknowledged that energy, industrial development, air pollution and climate change had a critical bearing on sustainable economic growth and development. Addressing sustainable development challenges in an integrated manner was a "win-win" proposition, which could enhance synergies and minimize trade-offs. It was also strongly felt that addressing environmental degradation, together with eliminating poverty, was a "contemporary imperative", requiring environmental policies and regulatory frameworks. The environmental agenda was no longer perceived as a "stand-alone" issue, but one that was integral to the national mainstream development agendas.
The unprecedented surge in energy prices had provoked "energy insecurity" and raised questions about the sustainability of the progress made thus far by developing countries. Delegations presented best practices and concrete results in such areas as saving money through energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions and lead levels by phasing out leaded gasoline, and increasing the number of people with access to electricity in their homes, schools, and clinics. Blueprints and prototypes for innovative and transformative technologies to build cleaner and more environmentally sustainable energy infrastructure were displayed, and general agreement emerged that the time was ripe to advance a more aggressive global push for energy efficiency as a strategy for achieving sustainable development.
In the thematic discussion yesterday on the impacts of climate change, the Chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Julian R. Hunte (Saint Lucia), had said that the adverse effects of climate change were real, immediate and devastating. Tuvalu's representative had said that the effects were already happening, and was not some future event, as the Secretary-General's report had indicated. His island nation was increasingly visited, not only by cyclones, but by rising sea levels, king tides and swells, severely affecting freshwater and vegetation. The speaker from the Caribbean Conservation Association had warned that, with 15 of the Caribbean islands' airports only one to two meters above sea level, tourism was at risk, as well, with the sea level rise. Taken all together, many speakers had said that the challenges facing small island developing States was unprecedented.
At today's thematic discussion, with a focus on enhancing private sector contributions to address air pollution, combat climate change and promote industrial development, the point was underscored that Governments alone could not meet all development needs. Rather, success in development was more certain when Governments and the private sector came together as partners, with Governments providing the needed regulatory framework and the private sector serving as innovators. A state government in Nigeria boasted to have been the first in the country to have completed a fully operational, independent power generation project. It had been able to do so by investing massively as a government, which had served as a stimulus to attract investment from the private sector.
Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer for the Dupont Corporation, Linda Fisher, said that large multinational companies should set ambitious environmental goals for themselves. Dupont had gone beyond compliance and was committed to reducing emissions and improving energy efficiency globally. In the past 15 years, it had reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50 per cent, compared to 1990 levels. Among its other goals was to source at least 10 per cent of its energy supply from renewable energy by 2010. The second role for corporations was to develop and bring to the market new and innovative solutions. For example, Dupont had done a lot of research on biofuels, and, later this year, it would be making chemicals with a corn base, instead of a petroleum base. The third role was to work with Governments, non-governmental organizations and local communities to ensure success at the local level, especially in other countries.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 10 May, to open its high-level segment and ministerial dialogue.
Thematic Discussion on Private Sector Contributions
The Commission this morning focused on enhancing the contributions of the private sector and other stakeholders in addressing air pollution and atmospheric problems, combating climate change and promoting industrial development. Among the issues taken up were the particular constraints and barriers faced by the private sector in that regard, what the private sector could do to better replicate success stories, and the role of corporate social and environmental responsibility initiatives. It was generally agreed that the private sector and other stakeholders had a vital role to play in advancing sustainable development.
The panellists were Peter Odili, the first Executive Governor of Rivers State, Nigeria; Linda Fisher, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer for the Dupont Corporation; Bernard Saincy, representing the Confédération Générale du Travail, France; Karsani Aulia, President/Director and Chief Executive Officer of Pertamina Bumi Siak Pusako Energy of Indonesia; Stephen John Lennon, Managing Director for Resources and Strategy of Eskom (South African electricity company); and Brian Flannery, Science, Strategy and Programs Manager in the Safety, Health and Environment Department of the Exxon Mobil Corporation.
It must be acknowledged that Governments alone could not meet all development needs, stated Mr. Odili. Rather, success in development was more certain when Governments and the private sector came together as partners, with Governments providing the needed regulatory framework and the private sector serving as innovators. His state government was the first in the country to complete an independent power generation project that was fully operational. It had been able to do so by investing massively as a government, which served as a stimulus to attract investment from the private sector.
Sharing some of the lessons learned from his state's experience, he said that, to attract investment in general, and in the energy sector in particular, it was important to provide a sound, stable and investor-friendly environment. Also, global financial and economic policies should promote, rather than inhibit, investment in developing countries. Furthermore, as trade was the engine of economic development, the World Trade Organization negotiations must result in a true development agenda.
An important role for large multinational companies, said Ms. Fisher, was to set ambitious environmental goals for themselves, including how they behaved themselves at their sites and ran their facilities. They should do so in an environmentally safe way. Dupont had gone beyond compliance and was committed to reducing emissions and working towards improving energy efficiency globally. In the past 15 years, it had reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 50 per cent, compared to 1990 levels. Also, among its goals was to source at least 10 per cent of its energy supply from renewable energy by 2010.
The second role for corporations was to develop and bring to the market new and innovative solutions to problems, she continued. Dupont had done a lot of research on biofuels, and one of its goals was to use bio-based materials to produce fuels and chemicals. Later this year, it would be opening a plant making chemicals with a corn base, as opposed to a petroleum base. The goal was to develop new materials, so that the products people desperately wanted were more energy efficient. Dupont held itself to high health, environmental and safety standards. Its interaction with its supply chain was one way to expand its standards beyond its own plants.
The third role for companies, she added, was working with Governments, non-governmental organizations and local communities. Such partnerships were important, since they could help introduce the company and help it become successful at the local level, especially in other countries. A barrier to businesses entering successfully in other countries was the fact that businesses could not assume the role of Government. They needed an efficient governance framework; a legal framework, including property rights; and a sound regulatory infrastructure, in order to level the playing field. They also needed to understand what was expected of them at the local level.
Sustainable development held business opportunities, noted one speaker, who added that the integration of environmental work in business strategies could lead to great competitive advantages for both small and large companies. Her country attached particular importance to social responsibility. Responsible business practices would, among other things, help reverse the trend of increased scepticism towards globalization. Such practices were not about applying the same standards in other countries, but establishing a role for human decency in business.
Another speaker noted that, while her Government encouraged and rewarded good business practices, companies often lacked ideas or projects that would contribute to the well-being of the countries in which they operated. Companies were interested in such projects not just to "save the world", but to improve their own images. She suggested providing ideas about such projects in developing countries. Responding to that, Ms. Fisher said that partnerships with non-governmental organizations could be valuable in that regard, since they could help identify what the local needs were.
Offering a model for private sector engagement in sustainable development issues, a representative from the United States-based health company Pfizer described its Global Health Fellows programme, a skills-transfer partnership, involving the company's employees teaming up with non-governmental organizations, Governments, community stakeholders and local leaders in the field. At the heart of Pfizer's corporate responsibility programme was stakeholder dialogue, which informed the company's decision-making.
An example of how a small company could contribute to sustainable development was provided by Mr. Aulia, whose company had discovered oil in a province of Sumatra, Indonesia, in 1975. However, the oil was under a beautiful lake in a forest area. The question, then, was how to explore the oil, while still protecting the environment? The company proposed to the Government making the area a protected conservation area and giving the company a limited right to explore the oil under the lake. The Government had agreed and the company was given 3 million acres of the forest area, including the lake. The company, in turn, had applied an environmental management system and worked with the local communities in carrying out their oil exploration.
Mr. Flannery described two initiatives that highlighted the important role of the private sector in the development and transfer of technology relevant to air pollution and climate change. The first related to the successful transfer of technology to reduce air pollution from vehicles. Modern vehicles in countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) produced 90 per cent less pollution, due to, among other things, better fuels. A partnership between his company and several others had achieved success, using that technology, in decreasing the use of leaded gasoline in sub-Saharan Africa.
He noted that dealing with the long-term risks of climate change meant deploying technologies that were not economically viable today. In 2001, Exxon Mobil and others had worked with Stanford University to develop the Global Climate and Energy Project, which was researching, among other things, biomass, wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies; carbon capture and storage; and advanced transportation. The Project sought to mobilize advanced research to accelerate the generation of breakthroughs for advanced energy technologies. Already, the Project had led to promising advances in carbon capture and storage, and biotechnology.
A representative of workers and trade unions cautioned against making Government "too business friendly", saying that sustainable development was not only about sustained economic growth, but aimed to meet the basic needs of people. It was necessary to question the ability of the private sector to provide the basic infrastructure, on which society depended, he said, adding that there was a danger of replacing the fundamental role of Government in providing basic services. Noting that voluntary measures were not enough, he called on the Commission to revisit the issue of corporate responsibility.
In that regard, he referred participants to the "Principles for Responsible Investment", launched by Secretary-General Kofi Annan last month. In addition, he noted that the Secretary-General himself had stated at the launch that, "while finance fuels the global economy, investment decision-making does not sufficiently reflect environmental, social and corporate governance considerations -- or, put another way, the tenets of sustainable development".
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