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Commissioner Nielson’s statement at the CSD

Summary: April 28, 2003: Statement by Poul Nielson, Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, European Commission, at the Commission on Sustainable Development - Eleventh Session - High Level Segment (New York)

1. Please let me add a few specific remarks to the statement of my colleague from the European Union’s Presidency, which, of course, I fully support. Eleven years after the Rio Summit, Sustainable Development is firmly placed on the agenda of our societies. To quote only one example close to me: Since 1999, the European Treaty of Amsterdam enshrines Sustainable Development as an overarching goal of European Union policy; and indeed, the integration of this goal into all sectoral policies has a high priority for us. In the EU’s Sustainable Development Strategy, emphasis is put upon ensuring coherence between internal and external policies and commitments. Less official but equally important are the thousands of Local Agenda 21 initiatives, the rapidly growing number of companies reporting on their “triple bottom line” performance, or the over one million Internet pages referring to Sustainable Development.

2. The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development has played, and will continue to play, a crucial role in this paradigm shift. There is no higher political authority for guiding our societies towards a more sustainable future; in the implementation of the outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, we expect leadership from the CSD. This leadership role of the CSD will be needed in three areas:

3. On policy guidance, I will make only one short point – there is a risk to fall back into intellectually stimulating but fruitless debates. Five years ago, if a citizen asked for a Sustainable Development framework, Agenda 21 would have been the obvious answer. Today, MDGs, JPoI, MoI, PRSPs, SPC, CSR, WEHAB and several other cryptic acronyms would be on the list of “frameworks” in the widest sense. While this is a positive sign, showing that sustainable development has penetrated all levels of policy-making, it is confusing for most citizens. We have to adopt a much simpler language; otherwise we lose the ability to communicate with people outside this room.

4. On implementation: We have worked very hard to obtain the Johannesburg outcomes, and we should work even harder to translate nice words into measurable results. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation will obviously be the basis of our work. However, it contains an impressive array of objectives, from poverty eradication to rainwater harvesting and fighting the risks of alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy diets. We have to reflect thoroughly on how to deal with this document to ensure an effective, focused long-term work programme for the CSD.

5. In the CSD work programme, focus should be on themes where the CSD can bring added value, while avoiding overlap with other bodies. Of course, from a development perspective, I am particularly interested in those elements in the JPoI that have a clear link to the Millennium Development Goals and the overarching goal of poverty eradication.

6. The analysis of the selected themes through the lens of cross cutting issues such as sustainable production and consumption, good governance, gender rights and sustainable globalisation will be the most visible output of the CSD. Some cross cutting themes, like sustainable consumption and production and corporate social responsibility, also need to be addressed in the work programme in a comprehensive way, as self-standing issues. The important thing is that we do not engage in conceptual debates, but rather push for a rapid and smooth implementation of the existing commitments.

7. Regarding Means of Implementation, we should explore the use of the complete “toolbox”, including economic instruments and other innovative sources for financing Global Public Goods. Progress towards the goals and targets of the JpoI as well as the MDGs should be systematically monitored on the basis of the indicators designated for this purpose[1]; measuring the achievement of MDGs would also act as a safeguard against our natural tendency to confuse success in political processes with real progress. Monitoring will also help us to see whether Partnerships, an innovative tool that came out of the WSSD, can keep their promises. Tonight at 18:15, I will speak on the EU Partnership initiatives on Water and Energy in a Side Event here in Conference room 4.

8. The third, and maybe most important, task of the CSD is the integration of Sustainable Development into the UN Family’s mainstream. It is embarrassing to see so few colleagues from non-environmental ministries in the audience... is it failure to communicate that input from other ministries was needed here? Sustainable Development is, by its very nature, a holistic concept, and requires the active participation of all relevant decision-making bodies. We need to find ways to better connect the work of CSD to ECOSOC, to the work of other functional commissions and the General Assembly. CSD should seek better co-operation with those UN Agencies and Programmes, particularly UNDP and UNEP, which have important programmes for following up the WSSD.

9. Certainly, integrating a young and still relatively weak process into more powerful political agendas is difficult and not without risks; but the examples of Doha and Monterrey demonstrate that the attempt is worth the effort. The Civil Society’s broad support for Sustainable Development is an important asset: The CSD should act as a catalyst, and as the voice of major groups and business in the integration process.

10. Governance, the emerging “fourth pillar” of Sustainable Development, needs most urgently the involvement and support of the whole UN System. The European Union’s commitment to increase its ODA by 20 billions until 2006 was an essential step towards the implementation of the MDGs. However, this step will lose all its credibility if, due to violent conflicts, the absence of basic administrative structures, corruption and other symptoms of bad governance, we can not invest these funds where they are most urgently needed. The ongoing debate on aid efficiency needs to address these issues, too. The European Union has adopted a progressive position on untying aid from the economic interests of donor countries. We now have to “re-tie the loose ends” to the goals of the Millennium Declaration and Agenda 21, and insist that ODA be linked to reforms that address structural and political inadequacies. Good Governance is the key to success in this process.




[1] UNGA: Road map towards the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, Report of the Secretary-General, A/56/326 of September 6, 2001 (Annex)


  • Ref: EC03-101EN
  • EU source: European Commission
  • UN forum: 
  • Date: 28/4/2003


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