Mr. Wu Hongbo Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General for the International Conference on Small Island Developing States
Opening remarks at the Group of 77 and China Brainstorming Session on the Follow-up of Rio + 20: The Way Forward
25 February 2013, New York
I am very pleased to be here today. I thank you for your kind invitation. This brainstorming session is very important for the future of sustainable development.
Without a doubt, Rio+20 has launched an important vision. One aimed at achieving shared prosperity on a shared, but finite, planet. This vision will hopefully lead to a post-2015 development agenda with sustainable development at its core.
Two key outcomes of Rio+20 include the establishment of the high-level political forum (HLPF), and a process to define sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Many other important processes were also launched. These include:
- convening the SIDS Conference in 2014;
- defining a sustainable development financing strategy;
- studying measures of progress to complement gross domestic product;
- identifying options for a technology facilitation mechanism that promotes the development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies; and
- adopting the 10-year framework of programmes for sustainable consumption and production.
It is now clear. In order to rise to our tasks at hand, we must, together, find the best way to follow-up on these outcomes and processes.
Today you are focusing on the High-level Political Forum, and SDGs. Allow me to share some food for thought for your discussions.
When the first Rio Conference was held in 1992, it established the Commission on Sustainable Development to follow-up on its outcome – Agenda 21. The 2012 Rio+20 Conference established the High-level Political Forum. This Forum is intended to improve upon the Commission – or CSD – learning from its twenty years of experience, its accomplishments as well as its shortcomings.
The Secretary-General will soon issue his report, based on inputs from Member States, distilling the lessons from the CSD. Let me share a few messages from that report. These may be relevant for your thinking on the contours of the High-level Forum.
The CSD was criticized for not attracting the participation of Ministers. This was a misperception. Many ministers attended the CSD sessions. In fact the problem was that it did not consistently attract ministers from portfolios that represent the three pillars of sustainable development. Overwhelmingly it attracted environment ministers, and officials from foreign ministries. However, the economics and finance ministers, and ministers dealing with social dimensions of sustainable development, were not represented.
Going forward, and looking at the High-level Forum, we must now ask the question: How can we ensure high-level and balanced engagement of all those ministers from relevant portfolios?
My view is that this will happen only when the forum’s agenda goes to the heart of what it takes to build inclusive and sustainable economies. So, agenda setting will be key to securing high-level and balanced participation.
Another concern raised in the submissions from Member States is that the CSD conducted prolonged and contentious negotiations of very broad, and wide-ranging decisions. And, these, in the end, were not always a useful guide to policy-makers in capitals. Nor were they helpful to decision makers in the private sector and civil society, not to mention the UN system itself.
Many Member States agree that the High-level Forum needs to be much more than a talk shop. It needs to have decision making authority. At the same time, there needs to be much sharper focus on key priorities, and on issues that would benefit from high-level political guidance.
The technical work to prepare recommendations on those issues for the consideration of ministers and, if necessary, heads of state and government, could take place in focused working groups at the technical level. Closer interface and interaction with the scientific community can also make use of information technologies, and help inform the forum in its agenda setting.
There is expectation that the forum would maintain a strong focus on implementation at all levels. This would include sharing of experiences, with a particular emphasis on integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development, on cross-cutting issues, and on inter-linkages among sectors.
We know, for example, that water, food, energy, health and climate change – to name a few – are all closely interdependent. Yet, rarely do policy makers take a holistic view. The High-level Forum should demonstrate clearly the value added of an integrated and holistic approach to decision making, at all levels.
It is expected that Member States will have agreed by 2015 to a set of sustainable development goals, which should form a centrepiece of the post-2015 development agenda.
The High-level Forum could be expected to have a role both in facilitating and in monitoring progress towards those goals. This role would give due consideration to means of implementation and the global partnership for sustainable development.
The forum, while intergovernmental in nature, will also need to engage Major Groups, and encourage partnerships for sustainable development and voluntary commitments.
While its relationship to the General Assembly and ECOSOC are still to be defined – and that is ultimately in the hands of Member States – it will clearly benefit from working in close coordination with both, as well as UNEP.
It is important to think carefully how all the CSD mandates will be picked up by the new forum, in cooperation with other key bodies. It is also important to consider how the forum can best provide high-level political direction and momentum to support full and timely implementation of Rio + 20 mandates and commitments.
You, as the largest group of countries, have a crucial role to play in shaping the forum. In this regard, you should ask yourselves how your own priorities and interests would be best served by the High-level Forum.
A forum that follows up on the SDGs, together with a financing strategy for sustainable development and an enhanced global technology facilitation mechanism, could be a central feature of a strengthened institutional framework for sustainable development.
Let me turn now to the Sustainable Development Goals.
The SDGs have a transformative potential. They can help the international community move decisively onto a truly sustainable development path.
The SDGs will build on the MDGs. They will need to maintain poverty eradication at their centre. The social development goals of the MDGs are critically important, and are expected to feature, in the SDGs.
At the same time, we know from the Rio+20 outcome that the SDGs are meant to address and incorporate, in a balanced way, the three dimensions of sustainable development and their inter-linkages.
This is a big leap forward. At the same time, it is a challenge for the open working group, and for all Member States. Yet, we know it is essential.
The economic pillar needs to ensure that countries become more resilient to shocks, and able to sustain improvements in the well-being of their people.
The environmental pillar needs to be prominent. Otherwise environmental degradation – including from water shortages, land degradation, deforestation, and climate change – will set back social and economic progress. This is sure to hurt first, and most seriously, the most vulnerable.
The SDGs must meet the legitimate aspirations for social and economic well-being of developing countries. The message ought to be framed, not in terms of limits to growth, but rather how all countries can achieve and maintain growth, within limits. The focus must increasingly be on the quality, inclusiveness and resource-efficiency of growth.
Sustainable Development Goals are meant to be universal, to apply to all countries. We know that sustainable development is a truly global undertaking, which is why we have had several historic global summits to address its challenges.
Sustainable development speaks as much to developed countries as to developing countries. So must the SDGs. We will want to find ways, ideally through the SDGs and the post-2015 development agenda, to realize sustainable patterns of consumption and production everywhere, even as we work to ensure universal human development.
Let us truly be guided by the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities as the basis of international cooperation for sustainable development.
The thought of condensing sustainable development priorities into a crisp, concise, easy-to-communicate set of goals may indeed seem daunting. But let us recall the tremendous amount of work the international community has done on sustainable development over the past three decades or more. Member States have a very rich repertoire of international and regional legislation on which to draw.
You also have the legacy of the CSD. Without its focus on sustainable development and breaking new ground, especially in the areas of oceans, energy, forests, water and chemicals, we would not be where we are today. We are discussing sustainable development goals, because sustainable development is the only pathway that can bring us shared prosperity on a finite planet.
I have no doubt that you will come to the best possible decisions to secure the well-being of all people, both present and future generations. I look forward to your deliberations.