Press Releases

    14 April 2004

    Background Release                                                                       


    Commission on Sustainable Development to Meet 14 – 30 April with Focus on Safe Water, Sanitation, Human Settlements

    First Three Days to Consider Preparation for August Meeting on Small Island Developing States in Mauritius

    NEW YORK, 13 April (UN Headquarters) -- The key United Nations forum bringing countries together to consider ways to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development -- economic growth, social development and environmental protection -- is set to open its 2003 session this week at Headquarters in New York.

    The twelfth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development will kick off Wednesday morning and is scheduled to run through 30 April. Marking the first critical assessment of policies and programmes instituted by world governments following the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, the Commission aims to focus on action needed to ensure safe water, sanitation and human settlements -- the first cluster of issues under its multi-year work plan.

    The first three days of the session will be devoted to preparatory discussions for the International Meeting to Review the Implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, to be held in Mauritius this coming August. The session will close with a three-day high-level segment, during which the Secretary-General and top government ministers will discuss priority concerns for future implementation work and cooperation.

    Aiming not only to review the actions that have been taken to date, the Commission will also assess what needs to be done to help countries stay on track to meet the commitments, goals and targets agreed at the WSSD, as well as the Millennium Development Goals. A major focus for the top government ministers for housing, environment and planning joining delegations for the two-week meeting will be on boosting commitments to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation, to promote integrated water resource management, and to improve the lives of slum dwellers.

    In addition, a “partnership fair” will showcase practical initiatives launched at the Summit and since, and will encourage other partners, including governments, international organizations, business and other organizations, to join or initiate activities. A “Learning Centre” will present training material for sustainable development, and side events will provide informal presentations.

    Last year, the Commission approved a forward-looking work programme –- built around two-year, thematic “implementation cycles” on related issues –- to focus efforts on ensuring the broadest possible support for achieving global development goals. Next year’s session would focus on energy, industrial development, air pollution, and climate change. The third would be devoted to agriculture, rural development, droughts, and desertification. The fourth cluster would be devoted to waste management, the fifth, forests, biodiversity, biotechnology, tourism, and mountains, and the sixth, to be discussed in 2014 and 2015, comprises oceans and small island developing States.

    The 53-member Commission was established in 1993 by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to monitor progress in the implementation of “Agenda 21” -- a blueprint for sustainable development agreed upon at the 1992 United Nations Conference for Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The WSSD decided that the Commission should continue to be the United Nations’ high-level organ on sustainable development, and the Johannesburg Implementation Plan contains provisions on how that mandate might be carried forward.


    With over 1 billion people worldwide lacking access to safe drinking water, and with weak institutions and management pressuring Earth’s freshwater supplies, the global water agenda centres on two critical issues: access to safe drinking water and integrated water resources management. At the WSSD, governments pledged to halve the proportion of people unable to reach or afford safe drinking water by 2015, and also to develop integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans by 2005. Options the Commission will discuss include allocating sufficient financial resources, safeguarding water quality by strengthening and enforcing pollution controls, and intensifying agricultural water productivity by adopting more efficient conservation and irrigation practices.


    With 32 per cent of the world’s urban population, or nearly 1 billion people, living in slums, the session will assess how well the agreed goals from Johannesburg are being met and chart the way ahead. Governments reaffirmed their pledge to achieve significant improvement in the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. While some progress has been recorded, future growth in slum settlements is expected in almost all regions of the world, owing to both high natural population growth and rural-to-urban migration. Increasing public and private investment, improving access to land and minimizing excessive regulation of its use, and substantially improving access to water, sanitation, energy and transportation will be among the key ongoing and future reforms.


    Having agreed to halve by 2015 the proportion of people lacking access to basic sanitation, governments will look at ways to infuse the process with substantial additional funding, and systems well suited to the local environments. Innovative thinking, such as combining culturally sensitive hygiene education with increased access to sanitation to reduce the burden of water-borne diseases in developing countries and increase school attendance, especially for girls, will also likely underpin the discussion. In the 1990s, improved sanitation reached an additional 1 billion people and the proportion of people worldwide with access to improved sanitation increased by 10 per cent. Two billion more people will need access to improved sanitation to achieve the target.

    Commission Membership

    Børge Brende, of Norway will Chair the twelfth session of the Commission for Sustainable Development. The remaining members of the Bureau include Vice-Chairs Bruno Stagno Ugarte, (Costa Rica); Toru Shimizu (Japan); Bolus Paul Zom Lolo (Nigeria); and Eva Tomic (Slovenia).

    The Commission is comprised of: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, Japan, Lesotho, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Saint Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sudan, Switzerland, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

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