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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

9 July 2008

Climate change, United Nations reform -– including the reform of the Security Council -- and the global food crisis had been and would continue to be top priorities for the sixty-second session of the General Assembly, its President Srgjan Kerim told correspondents at a briefing this morning.

Highlighting the debate during yesterday’s follow-up meeting to the high-level climate change segment in February, he said the meeting clearly underscored the needs of the most vulnerable countries and highlighted the special threats and extra demands that climate change placed on a considerable group of countries.

“For them the threat is far from abstract and remote, but clear and present and may already affect the livelihoods of their people,” he said, also pointing to the video statement made by the President of the Maldives. He noted that the declaration adopted yesterday by the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized nations had also underscored the plight of countries that were especially vulnerable to adverse climate changes.

Climate change had become a “defining” agenda item for the General Assembly. It had not only been the main topic of last September’s general debate and follow-up high-level debates, but was a large part of discussions on major development issues such as the Millennium Development Goals, financing for development and the global food crisis. Together, these meetings gave the clear message that a multi-stakeholder approach, which especially involved the private sector, was needed to build effective and creative partnerships, in order to take concrete, practical actions to curb the adverse impact of climate change.

Turning to the work of the General Assembly on the global food crisis, he noted its link with climate change and its potentially serious repercussions on reaching the Millennium Development Goals and on financing for development.

“Our solution to the crisis will test our capacity and innovativeness,” he said, noting that the goal of the upcoming General Assembly special meeting on 18 July on the food and energy crisis would be to agree on a unified strategy and to take immediate, inter-governmentally agreed decisions.

Turning to the Security Council, he said that, because the Security Council did not reflect the realities of the twenty-first century, it should adapt its working methods and composition. After more than 14 years of discussions, the options, including an intermediary solution, were well-known. Yet, reaching agreement for negotiations remained difficult. The only way to bring the process to the next stage seemed to be opening negotiations on all positions expressed so far, and to conduct them in various configurations.

For Security Council reform to make sense, changes in the Economic and Social Council, the General Assembly, the programmes, the agencies and the functioning of the whole United Nations system would have to be part of the discussion.

“If we want to make procedural progress, then we can continue as we started 14 years ago,” he said. “If we want to achieve a real progress –- a profound and comprehensive one –- then we must address the issue in a different way. We have to go for a complete institutional reform of the UN system.”

With this in mind, he said his Task Force on Security Council reform was currently working on drafting the report of the Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council reform, which would also include a draft decision. This would be taken up in the next meeting of the Working Group planned for later in July.

Among other possible meetings, Mr. Kerim said he had proposed holding annual review meetings on the Millennium Development Goals in the General Assembly through 2015 to maintain full, continuous and high-level commitment to the Goals by Member States. Preparations were also being made for a high-level meeting jointly planned with the Secretary-General, scheduled for 25 September, and a meeting focusing Africa’s development needs slated for 22 September.

On the issue of financing for development, he said the first draft of the outcome document for the Doha review conference was being prepared and he would share this with Member States by the end of July. The draft document is based on inputs from meetings which covered the various chapters of the Monterrey consensus -- domestic resources mobilization, international resource mobilization, debt, systemic issues, aid and trade –- as well as on informal meetings with civil society and business representatives.

Other preparations were being made for the formal review of the global counter-terrorism strategy of the United Nations on 4 September and on the issue of system-wide coherence, which had been the focus of consultations on governance, finance, business practices and gender during this session and would likely be discussed further during the next session.

Turing to management reform, he underscored his belief that the ultimate aim of the process should be a unified budget for the Organization that would then allow for more transparency, control and efficiency. The Capital Master Plan should not only allow for a renovation and renewal of the building, but also a renewal of United Nations management practices.

“Hopefully leaving the building may also lead to a clearing of heads and a change in the mindset of officials,” he said, stressing that the General Assembly and the Secretariat had to cooperate on management reform issues, even on such sensitive issues as the budget.

“I cannot imagine a profound management reform if we do not achieve this goal,” he declared.

In addition, he said it was “absurd” that the General Assembly President was “treated like an outsider, like a consultant”. The President of the General Assembly was elected by the Member States and, as such, should never be an outsider. An institutional decision should be made and a resolution passed by the General Assembly so that the office of the General Assembly President was adequately equipped and funded by the Organization.

As an essential part of management reform, the mandate review process had made an important step forward when Member States reached agreement in May on several recommendations related to the mandates on “humanitarian assistance” issues. This had been the first concrete outcome since the mandate review process started in 2005 and, once the Secretary-General prepared information on their operational and financial implications, Member States would take a final decision on these recommendations.

He added that the report of the Working Group set up during this session on General Assembly revitalization would soon be submitted to Member States, stressing that such revitalization was ultimately about strengthening the United Nations system through more responsive, substantive work in the Assembly. To that end, progress was being made, as Member States became the driving force behind issues. There was also a growing tendency to focus on real and topical issues. There had been a shift away from a series of monologues towards a dialogue, through panel discussions and interactive debates that involved all Member States.

Further, there was a new focus on seeking practical solutions through innovative partnerships, he said, citing the food crisis as an example. The General Assembly had had the flexibility to take on a topical issue not on its set agenda, and had worked closely with United Nations system actors to address the crisis.

He underlined the need for a new culture of international relations that rested on the principles of human rights, human security, responsibility to protect, shared responsibilities and sustainable development. This new culture was more than institutional reforms. It required a change in mindset, shifting the focus from the well-being of States to also include the well-being of people and stressing individual and shared responsibilities for the future. The two thematic debates held on human security and human trafficking were examples of how the well-being of the individual could be put at the centre of attention and highlighted shared social responsibilities.

He said, in response to a question on the input of Member States on the selection of a Human Rights High Commissioner, that he discussed the issue with the Secretary-General and his understanding is that the Secretary-General intends to brief the General Assembly on the selection process within the next 10 days, most likely.

To a question on the evolving principle of the responsibility to protect, Mr. Kerim said that the international community and the United Nations should identify all the cases in which the principle was applicable, which could include natural disasters and catastrophes related to climate change. The principle had been defined in relation to genocide and crimes against humanity, but recent discussions about the most vulnerable States raised the spectre of scenarios in which not intervening in cases where a crisis moved beyond the national capacity of a Government to cope would be morally questionable.

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For information media • not an official record

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