Sixty-first General Assembly: Second Committee (Economic and Financial)

The Second Committee continued to tackle the enormous dilemmas of economic inequality, poverty and environmental degradation. Many developing countries expressed their frustrations at the lack of progress on the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Round of multilateral negotiations, aimed at increasing economic growth by lowering trade barriers worldwide. Negotiations reportedly broke down because developed countries could not agree on dismantling their agricultural subsidies. WTO Secretary-General Pascal Lamy told the Committee that "heavy political lifting" was needed from Europe and North America to prevent the failure of the Doha Round, which would improve market access for goods produced in developing countries by reducing agricultural protectionism. The Committee adopted a resolution calling on developed countries to show flexibility and political will to resume talks. It also heard the Secretary-General's report on trade and development, pointing out that South-South trade continued to grow, with 42 per cent of exports from developing countries going to other developing nations. UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs José Antonio Ocampo said that the more than 40 resolutions adopted by the Second Committee constituted significant contributions to poverty eradication and the advancement of the Millennium Development Goals.

But Consensus Still Lacking

Factory smokestacks and automobile exhaust pipes spewed more carbon dioxide in 2006 than any other year in history. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said these emissions caused the greenhouse effect and predicted that the average global temperature would increase from 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100, which would lead to rising sea levels as ice caps melt.

As the issue of global warming receives increasing media coverage and becomes part of mainstream politics for many countries, Committee delegates could not reach consensus on a resolution that reiterates support for United Nations efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, at a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, important steps were taken to ensure that African countries can benefit from efforts to introduce green technologies and that developing nations can adapt to climate change.

Born out of the 1992 Earth Summit, which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took effect in 1994. Some 189 countries have ratified the Convention, which aims to prevent global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and places most of the burden on industrialized countries as they are the main source of most greenhouse gases. The Kyoto Protocol, which builds on the UNFCCC and sets specific and legally binding targets for industrialized countries, requires a total reduction of at least 5 per cent from the 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the 2008-2012 commitment period. Established in 1997, the Protocol went into effect in February 2005, following the Russian Federation's ratification.

The text on the "Protection of global climate for present and future generations of mankind" was intended to reflect international concern for global warming, said Sufaya Ebrahim Zia of the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations, whose delegation presented the resolution on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries. It mentions various efforts undertaken by UN bodies to address climate change, such as the Kyoto Protocol and its flexible mechanisms. These included the clean development mechanism (CDM), wherein an industrialized country can gain "carbon emission credits" towards reducing its own obligations under the Protocol by investing in a developing country's project to lower carbon emissions. An example is the City Council of Cape Town, in South Africa, which installed solar water heaters and efficient lamps, and insulated ceilings in 2,300 low-cost housing units. The insulated roofs reduce the amount of indoor dust, and air quality is improved by reducing the need for paraffin (kerosene) stoves. The project increases energy-efficiency, reduces carbon emissions and improves the health of residents. It also generates jobs for local workers, who install and maintain the lamps, ceilings and locally produced solar-water heaters. The first 10,000 carbon credits generated by the project were sold to the United Kingdom in 2005 for 15 Euros (about $22.50) each.

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, said there had been an "explosive growth" of the CDM, with over 1,000 projects in the pipeline for approval, which would lead to an estimated $75 billion investment in developing countries. Under the Nairobi Framework -- an initiative presented by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the 12th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in November 2006 -- African countries would get assistance to develop their CDM projects. The meeting was a "big success" because it helped build confidence in developing countries towards UN efforts to mitigate climate change, Mr. de Boer said.

Another success was the "adaptation fund", which will provide monies for projects, such as building walls to protect coastal cities from rising sea levels and restoring wetlands to protect coastal areas from storms, as countries cope with the effects of climate change. The fund is particularly interesting because it does not rely on donors, but finances itself through a levy on CDM projects. Despite some positive developments, Committee debate on the resolution broke down as countries could not agree on common language. The European Union, represented by Finland, called for a vote and then abstained from that vote. For Ms. Zia, it was a disappointment. "Right up to the last minute, we tried very hard to get a consensus document."

In a statement sent to the UN Chronicle by the Permanent Mission of Finland, the European Union said that the resolution was "not an adequate response by the General Assembly to the serious threat posed by climate change, nor does it reflect the actions that we must all take to tackle it". It was "a step backwards" after the achievements made at the November 2006 Conference. The statement also said that the European Union wanted to emphasize the importance of the forward-looking process to tackle climate change, which was not possible in the context of the resolution. Nonetheless, the European Union underlined the urgency of the issue and the central role of the United Nations, saying that "climate change threatens peace, development and economic prosperity, not in the future, but now. The UN must be at the centre of our efforts to tackle climate change".

For Mr. de Boer, the lack of consensus in the Committee reflects the "increasing nervousness in the international community on what the next step in climate change is going to be". He pointed out that discussion on the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 must begin soon, considering that negotiations and ratifications can take several years. The key to the success of the Protocol is assuring industrialized countries that they can meet their obligations in a cost-effective way, Mr. de Boer said, and ensuring that a new framework would support poverty eradication and help "green the economies" of developing countries. He called for leadership from Heads of State, as well as a continuing effort by the United Nations. "I hope the new Secretary-General makes global warming a top priority."