United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development

Background Paper

Commission on Sustainable Development                 Background Paper No. 29
Sixth Session
20 April-1 May 1998

                      EXTRACT FROM THE REPORT OF

Adopted without a vote by the Inter-Parliamentary Council at its 162th session
                        (Windhoek, 6 April 1998)

(* The Inter-Parliamentary Council is the plenary policy making body
of the IPU, comprising representatives of the Unionžs 137 member

A.  Preparation of a draft declaration on declining official development
    assistance and financial aid in general

1.     The Committee held hearings on declining official development
assistance and financial aid in general ... and adopted ... a draft
declaration which it submits to the Council for its consideration and
adoption (Annex I).

B.  Strengthening parliamentary input in the UN Programme for the Further
    Implementation of Agenda 21

2.    Members of the Committee reaffirmed their belief that parliaments
and governments have a crucial role to play in the implementation of
Agenda 21 and of the outcome of the 1997 special session of the UN
General Assembly.  Having reviewed the results of that session, the
Committee agreed that much greater efforts and a significantly stronger
political will are urgently needed to foster progress towards
sustainable development and to translate the spirit of Rio into

3.    Parliaments need to develop and promote greater understanding and
awareness of the concept of sustainable development as an integrated
policy framework aimed at achieving the triple goals of economic
growth, social development and equity and the protection of the
environment. Parliaments also need to exert pressure on their
respective governments, at all levels, to implement their commitments
made at UNCED and reconfirmed in the Programme for the Further
Implementation of Agenda 21 adopted by the special session of the UN
General Assembly in June 1997.

4.    Members of the Committee found it particularly important that in
this Programme the General Assembly for the first time explicitly
called upon national legislative assemblies to act in support of
national actions aimed at achieving sustainable development and thanked
the IPU Secretary General for his efforts in obtaining this reference.

5.    Of particular significance is paragraph 24 (b) of the Programme 
in which the UNGA stressed that in integrating economic, social and
environmental objectives, it is important that a broad package of
policy instruments - including regulation, economic instruments,
internalization of environmental costs in market prices, environmental
and social impact analysis and information - be worked out in the light
of country-specific conditions to ensure that integrated approaches are
effective and cost-efficient. In this context the UN General Assembly
underscored the need for an active involvement of national legislative
assemblies in promoting policy reforms aimed at sustainable

6.    Furthermore, in paragraph 108 of the Programme, the UNGA stressed
that further efforts are required to promote appropriate legal and
regulatory policies, instruments and enforcement mechanisms at the
national, state, provincial and local levels.  The UNGA felt that at
the national level, each individual must have appropriate access to
information concerning the environment that is held by public
authorities and the opportunity to participate in decision-making
processes.  It therefore called upon Governments and legislators to
establish judicial and administrative procedures for legal redress and
remedy of actions affecting environment and development that may be
unlawful or infringe on rights under the law, and should provide access
to individuals, groups and organizations with a recognized legal
interest. Access should be provided to effective judicial and
administrative channels for affected individuals and groups to ensure
that all authorities, both national and local, and other civil
organizations remain accountable for their actions in accordance with
their obligations, at the appropriate levels for the country concerned,
taking into account the national judicial and administrative systems.

7.    The Committee feels that another important area for parliamentary
action relates to ensuring participation in and compliance with
international legal instruments. Parliaments have important functions
relating to the ratification of international instruments as well as in
the development and adoption of national laws and policies which aim at 
their implementation. Expeditious ratification of, universal
participation in and effective compliance with various conventions and
protocols related to environment and sustainable development are
essential for the attainment of these goals.

8.    Likewise the Committee stresses the importance of parliamentary
action to promote education for sustainability and draws attention to
paragraph 105 of the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda
21 which outlines the rationale for an adequately financed and
effective educational system at all levels as a prerequisite for
sustainable development.

9.    The Committee summarizes its views on the need for strong
parliamentary action for sustainable development in the attached draft
political statement (Annex II).  It submits this statement and the
above recommendations for consideration and adoption by the IPU
Council.  It also suggests that the Secretary General bring them to the
notice of member parliaments for follow-up action and that parliaments
be encouraged to inform the IPU of action they have taken in this

10.   With a view to enhancing the contribution of the IPU to future
sustainable development deliberations in the United Nations, the
Committee decided to consider whether the thematic programme of work of
the CSD for the period until 2002 could be used for organizing the
agendas of its own future meetings. 

11.   Moreover, the Committee invites the IPU Council to encourage
member parliaments  to :

     (a)     Mobilize stronger political will and promote governmental
action aimed at achieving sustainable development ;
     (b)     Implement  specific recommendations outlined in the
Programme of Action for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 ;
     (c)     Engage themselves, as appropriate, in the preparation of
national reports which governments submit to the CSD on action taken
and progress achieved. This can play a significant role in promoting
governments' responsibility and accountability for actions they
undertake to advance sustainable development and implement commitments
emanating from various international agreements;
     (d)     Promote greater social  and environmental awareness of the
public and private sectors.

12.   The IPU Council may also consider establishing modalities for
collecting and exchanging experiences and promote best practices in
parliamentary action in promoting sustainable development through
national policy and legal reforms, as well as in promoting compliance
with international agreements.  

13.   The Committee urges the Council to invite national parliaments to
consider holding regional and sub-regional parliamentary meetings to
address specific themes on the sustainable development agenda. Taking
into account the provisions of paragraph 47 of the report of CSDž s
Working Group on Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management, one or
more of such meetings may be devoted to the issue of sustainable water

14.   Finally, in considering this subject, the Committee recommends
that the IPU Council give consideration to proclaiming the year 1999 as
the Year of Parliamentary Action for Sustainable Development and that
it devote one of its statutory sessions in the year 2000 to the issue.
In this manner, the IPU could make an important contribution to the
next comprehensive review of progress achieved since UNCED, which will
take place in 2002.

C.   Miscellaneous

15.   The Committee wishes to place on record its appreciation to the
Council for having acted on many of the recommendations the Committee
submitted in its report in 1997.  At the same time, the Committee
believes that the IPU can do more to increase parliamentary awareness
of sustainable development issues.  It therefore reiterates its
recommendation of 1997 that the IPU consider publishing, in co-
operation with the United Nations, a brief manual or brochure
explaining where and how information relevant to sustainable
development and already in the public domain can be obtained. 
Similarly, the Committee reiterates its 1997 recommendation that the UN
Commission on Sustainable Development make further efforts to interest
parliamentarians in its work and encourages the Secretariat to discuss
this matter further with the relevant units of the United Nations. 

                                   ANNEX I

                               DECLARATION ON
                       AND FINANCIAL AID IN GENERAL

Adopted without a vote by the Inter-Parliamentary Council at its 162th session
                         (Windhoek, 6 April 1998)

(*  The Inter-Parliamentary Council is the plenary policy making body
of the IPU, comprising representatives of the Unionžs 137 member

      Official Development Assistance (ODA) has been declining at an
alarming rate.  Rather than closing the gap with the target of 0.7 per
cent of Gross National Product (GNP) set by the international community
as far back as 1972 and reaffirmed at the United Nations Conference on
Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, overall ODA has fallen
from an average of 0.35 percent of GNP in the early 90s to less than
0.25 per cent today.  In absolute terms, ODA has decreased during the
last seven years by 25 percent, falling from a high of 60 billion
dollars in 1990 to 45.5 billion dollars in 1997.

      This decrease is the result of many factors.  The political
commitment to aid in donor countries is being challenged by chronic
fiscal pressures compounded in many countries by high rates of domestic
unemployment.  The end of the Cold War has done away with security and
ideological justifications for aid.  A perception of aid dependence
among the poorest countries and growing scepticism generally of past
effectiveness of aid in promoting development and reducing poverty are
further additions to the list of disincentives.  Changes in fundamental
development theories have also played their role.  The shift in beliefs
from development being equated with growth and led by public sector
planning efforts towards more complex, multidimensional concepts of
development as being people-centred, participatory and market-driven
has led to uncertainty about the most appropriate role of aid.  In
short, there is a crisis in confidence in the utility of aid.

      The decline in ODA is cause for very serious concern.  ODA is an
essential source of funding for many developing countries and
particularly in the area of social development cannot  be replaced by
private financial flows.  And it is at the core of the commitments made
by States at the several world conferences held this last decade
addressing sustainable development.  While States have agreed that
funding for the implementation of Agenda 21 and other international
commitments towards sustainable development should mainly come from
countriesž own public and private sources, they have also reaffirmed
time and again the need to mobilise and provide new and additional,
adequate and predictable financial resources to meet the targets of
poverty reduction, protection of the environment and economic growth.

     Beyond financial concerns, decreasing ODA has serious political
repercussions on the possibility to forge international consensus on
sustainable development in the future and, in particular, on its
environmental aspects.  The Special Session of the United Nations
General Assembly in June 1997 (Rio+5) to make an overall review and
appraisal of the implementation of Agenda 21 provides one example where
lack of progress on financing of sustainable development had a
noticeable negative effect.

      Hence, the urgent need to reverse the decline in ODA.  This will
require pursuing strategies which aim at improving the performance of
development assistance and restoring donor support for ODA.  We propose
that national Parliaments launch a debate in plenary on the subject of
declining ODA with a view to fostering a broader public understanding
and support for official development assistance and consequent
government action.  Such a debate should focus on the following
parameters for the future direction of aid :

     (i)     The development goal of Official Development Assistance,
implicit in its very name but often obscured by a narrow view equating
development with growth, must be reasserted.  We need to repeat that
the ethical case for ODA rests ultimately on aid's ability to alleviate
poverty, for this and future generations.  To that end, ODA must
address sustainable development conceived as a broad objective based on
the need to achieve - in an integrated and mutually supportive way -
the triple goals of economic growth, social progress and equity, and
the protection of the environment.  By definition, these goals must
prevail over short-term commercial or partisan motivations.
     (ii)    At the same time, overall effectiveness of ODA must be
improved.  Both donor and recipient countries need to ensure that
existing ODA funding is used in the most effective and efficient way
and that it contributes to economic growth, social development and
environmental protection in the context of sustainable development. 
More effective use of ODA is essential in overcoming current donor
fatigue and in promoting political support for increase of ODA levels
by the governments and general public in donor countries. 
     (iii)          To achieve these objectives, sustainable development
and therefore also the use of ODA must be driven by domestic
priorities.  Aid projects have the best chance of succeeding when they
are the result of a broadly based participatory process in which the
political leadership, the agencies of the State and civil society agree
on desirable policy changes and translate them into parameters of
policy and administration which are generally accepted.
     (iv)    Similarly, development projects should be implemented in the
context of sound economic, social and environmental policies. 
Recipient States need to develop a sound policy framework and
transparent, participatory and effective national institutions.  While
growth is necessary for poverty reduction, it will not achieve this
result unless it occurs in an environmentally sustainable manner and
within an institutional and policy framework which ensures that the
benefits of growth are equitably shared.
     (v)     Governments in both donor and recipient countries, as well
as international financial institutions, need to ensure greater
transparency with regard to the objectives of aid programs and the
consistency of actual allocations and end uses with those objectives. 
Greater accountability in determining the objectives of aid and in the
allocation of resources will help reduce donors' use of tied aid, and
recipients' use of aid for short-term political and economic gains. 
     (vi)    ODA should be better targeted to the least developed
countries and to those sectors in developing countries and countries in
transition which do not benefit from adequate funding from various
private sources, both domestic and external.  Such sectors where the
primary goal is to achieve human development are usually in the social
area, particularly education, health, and poverty eradication, as well
as environmental protection in many cases.

     (vii)          ODA can be instrumental in covering incremental costs
of national actions and policies aimed at achieving global
environmental benefits, in particular actions aimed at the
implementation of goals and objectives of various international
conventions.  Bearing in mind the  overarching role played by the
Global Environment Facility (GEF), governments have the responsibility
to ensure the adequate replenishment of the Facility as well as to
identify ways and means to improve access to its resources. 
Furthermore careful consideration has to be given to the scope of GEF's
programme activities. 
     (viii)         There is a need for more systematic use of donor-
recipient dialogues and more effective coordination among the donors
themselves in order to ensure that ODA meets national priorities and,
at the same time, facilitates the achievement of specific goals agreed
at the international level.  There also seems to be a need to improve
greater policy coordination and collaboration between bilateral and
multilateral donors, including international financial institutions,
and various funding and technical co-operation activities carried out
by the organizations of the United Nations system, as well as by NGOs. 
     (ix)    A most promising mechanism for donor-recipient coordination
is a clear, recipient-driven strategy for sustainable development. 
National and sectoral sustainable development strategies can serve as
the basis for designing  funding programs using both domestic and
international financial resources, including ODA.
     (x)     There is also a need to explore and foster new approaches to
the uses of ODA.  This includes consideration of the possibility of
further shifting the ODA financing from funding specific projects
towards supporting broader goals of national policy reform aimed at
sustainable development, including the need for addressing possible
short-term social implications of such reforms.  Furthermore, there are
discussions regarding the role that ODA can play as a catalyst for
leveraging private investment in support of sustainable development.
     (xi)    Within the broad context of ODA, the problem of indebtedness
of the poorest and the most indebted developing countries,  must also
be addressed.  In addition to traditional mechanisms such as commercial
bank debt buybacks and more innovative ones such as debt-for-nature
swaps or debt-for-social-development swaps, particular mention should
be made here of the Debt Initiative for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries
(HIPCs), a joint World Bank and IMF initiative now being implemented. 

     (xii)          A comprehensive policy regarding the financing of
sustainable development must also address the issue of subsidies and
particularly those that lead to unsustainable development.  Existing
subsidies will need to be made more transparent, examined in
parliament, reformed, and as the case may be, removed.  At the same
time, support will have to be provided to the most vulnerable affected

     (xiii)         ODA is not a form of charity.  In many cases ODA
provides an important long-term service for the tax payers in donor
countries themselves.  By addressing urgent social needs, particularly
the need to eradicate poverty, ODA can play an important role in
avoiding potentially dangerous social dislocation which, in turn, can
lead to national and regional conflicts. ODA, as shown above, can play
a crucial role in ensuring that all countries join efforts aimed at
addressing global environmental problems which, otherwise, can not be
effectively dealt with by developed countries acting alone.

                               ANNEX II

          Parliamentary Action for Sustainable Development

Adopted without a vote by the Inter-Parliamentary Council at its 162th session
                      (Windhoek, 6 April 1998)

(*  The Inter-Parliamentary Council is the plenary policy making body of the
IPU, comprising representatives of the Unionžs 137 member parliaments.)

          So far parliamentary action for sustainable development has been
spotty, progress has been modest, and governments' understanding of
sustainable development policies has mainly resulted in well-meaning
declarations of good intent.

          As we approach the next comprehensive review of progress achieved
since UNCED, which will take place in 2002, and the proposed year of
parliamentary action for sustainable development, it is urgent that
parliamentarians become acquainted in greater depth with the social,
environmental and economic significance of sustainable development and the IPU
Secretariat assist parliamentarians in facilitating the understanding of this

          If parliaments and governments are to give momentum to sustainable
development policies, parliaments must ensure that sustainable development
becomes the heart of national political concerns and pressure is exerted on
their respective governments, at all levels, to implement their commitments at
UNCED in 1992.

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Date last posted: 8 December 1999 15:15:30
Comments and suggestions: DESA/DSD