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U.N. to Host Slew of Talkfests Through 2011

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2011 (IPS) - Living up to its reputation – or notoriety – as one of the world’s quintessential talking shops, the United Nations has scheduled a slew of high-level meetings and international conferences through December this year.

The meetings, which cover mostly social, economic and environmental issues on the U.N. agenda, also provide a platform for world leaders to do their grandstanding on political issues such as human rights and racism.

The three high-level meetings on the U.N. calendar for 2011 include: HIV/AIDS (Jun. 8-10); commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 2001 Durban Declaration on racism (Sep. 14); and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (Sep. 19-20).

The first major talk fest will be the Fourth U.N. Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) being hosted by Turkey and scheduled to take place May 9-13 in Istanbul.

In October and November there will be two major summit meetings: the South Summit (of the Group of 77 developing nations) in Tripoli, Libya towards the end of October, which will be immediately followed by the sixth annual G20 summit – a non U.N. event – in Cannes, France Nov. 3-4.

The conventional wisdom, according to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is that the United Nations should “cede responsibility to the G20” on issues such as climate change and poverty.

“But the G20, by itself, is not the answer,” he declared last month, pointing out that G20 leaders need to work closely with the United Nations.

The last of the U.N. meetings will be the Conference of Parties (COP-17) on climate change due to take place in South Africa Nov. 28-Dec. 9.

There will also be a series of preparatory meetings this year leading up to the Rio-plus-20 international conference on the environment in 2012.

Described as a follow-up to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio and the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, the 2012 conference will also take place in Rio.

Addressing the General Assembly Friday, and laying out his priorities for 2011, the secretary-general told delegates the overriding goal this year is to build on progress already made that places a premium on the global legitimacy and pulling power of the United Nations.

“Last year, we put forward an ambitious action plan to fight poverty and advance the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” he said.

During the year ahead, the United Nations plans to emphasise sustainable development as it works towards Rio+20.

“We will also give special focus to the needs of the most vulnerable, wherever they may be,” Ban said.

He described the upcoming U.N. conference on LDCs as “an important occasion to recommit ourselves to these issues”.

“We have a big opportunity to advance on climate change, as well. Over the past few years, we raised the issue to the top of the global agenda,” Ban said.

He said there was “progress” at the last climate change talks in Cancun, Mexico in December, and every indication of further progress in the run-up to COP17 in South Africa. “Our challenge is to keep up the momentum,” he said.

A major political turning point this year is the creation of a major new agency – U.N. Women – which began functioning last week.

Ban said 2011 will be the year to build U.N. Women into all that it should be: a fully integrated, fully operational and fully funded dynamic force for change and women’s empowerment worldwide.

During the last four years of his tenure as secretary- general, Ban claimed the appointment of the largest number of women to high ranking positions in the U.N. system.

He said he has appointed “more women senior advisors than any time in the history of the United Nations”.

“I have increased by 40 percent of senior women advisors, above the rank of Assistant Secretary-General and Under- Secretary-General. I will focus more now in strengthening the mid-career women’s leadership,” he declared.

Besides advancing action on sustainable development, climate change and gender empowerment, his other priorities for 2011 include promoting a safer and more secure world; human rights and accountability; improving the U.N. response to major humanitarian crises; and strengthening the United Nations from within.

“If 2010 was a challenging year for the United Nations, 2011 will be even more so,” Ban declared.

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