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Bali PrepCom Opens with Calls for Bolder Commitment to Action

{short description of image}   27 May, BALI , INDONESIA—The fourth and final preparatory meeting for the World Summit on Sustainable Development opened today on a note of urgency, with calls from Summit officials and citizen activists for bolder commitments that the people of the world would recognize as progress.

"The World Summit on Sustainable Development has not been called to endorse business as usual," Summit Secretary-General Nitin Desai told the opening of the preparatory meeting. "It has been called because people want change. And this Summit must signal a real commitment to change."

Negotiations on the Summit outcome documents quickly got underway, with Summit officials hopeful that work on a programme to intensify and expand implementation of sustainable development activities can be completed by the end of the PrepCom's first week. Discussions on the elements for a political declaration to be endorsed by the world leaders attending the Summit will be held during the second week of the PrepCom, when ministers from around the world will attend."

Desai said he hoped that the implementation programme, when completed, would be known as the "Bali Commitment for Sustainable Development," and would serve as a guide for actions that bring measurable results that improve the symbiotic relationship between people and their environment.

Progress in five strategic areas-water, energy, health, agricultural productivity, and biodiversity-that had been highlighted by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was essential, Desai added.

"We should not meet ten years after Johannesburg with the same concerns and find that we have not been able to retain high level political attention on what we agreed to in Johannesburg, and that we have not been able to find resources to implement what we agreed upon in Johannesburg," he said.

The Summit, which will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September, will be attended by world leaders and representatives of citizen groups, businesses, and representatives of other important sectors of society, and presents a major opportunity to forge agreements and actions to tackle crucial problems arising from poverty, unsustainable consumption and production and the impact of human society on the environment.

Indonesian Environment Minister Nabiel Makarim, welcoming delegates to the Bali, said the PrepCom was "an historic opportunity to breathe new life into sustainable development" where a number of landmark outcomes can be achieved.

Yet a strong contingent of non-governmental organizations expressed disappointment in the text presently under negotiation. Glen Farred of the South African NGO Coalition said the document resembled a "government shopping list" and "will not be an action plan that people desperately want." Remi Parmentier of Greenpeace International warned, "we are heading toward a crisis."

Some compromise was necessary, according to Preparatory Committee Chairman Emil Salim, to achieve a consensus, but he added that it was the job of civil society to lobby delegations to urge them to change their positions. "Look to the countries who are challenging time-bound initiatives and who don't want targets. Put pressure on delegates," he exhorted.

The process of dialogue between members of civil society and government has been a hallmark of the Rio legacy, and discussions between representatives of major groups and governments began in earnest during the first of six dialogue sessions between them. The dialogues offer the major groups--farmers, trade unions, the scientific and academic community, business, youth, women, local authorities, non-governmental organizations, and indigenous peoples-an opportunity to directly offer suggestions to government delegations that could ultimately affect the outcome of the Summit.

A constant concern of many major groups was that government attention was far too focused, at the moment, on markets and not people. NGO representatives warned that the major international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization were the dominant forces in international governance, a fact that obstructed progress towards implementing sustainable development.

The United States said the multi-stakeholder dialogues were particularly important, since in the end, "no declaration or plan of action will give people access to drinking water, halt the spread of AIDS, or ensure access to primary education." The US said that partnerships among governments, businesses, NGOs and other stakeholders could deliver concrete results.."

The development of voluntary partnership initiatives has emerged as a third major outcome of the Johannesburg Summit. The partnerships, it is hoped, will go beyond what governments can and must do to implement sustainable development.

While many NGOs have criticized the partnership initiatives as a vehicle for corporations to promote the privatization of essential government functions, Desai emphasized that the partnerships were not a substitute for government responsibilities. He said the partnerships were encouraged to raise the quality of implementation, and would be geared toward achieving concrete results in the areas identified by governments in the negotiated agreements.

"I don't know why people think partnerships just involve corporations," Desai said. "That's not true. Many of the partnership proposals that we have received do not involve any corporate involvement." One partnership, he said by way of example, is the Global Reporting Initiative, which is directed toward setting certain levels of responsibility and accountability for corporations

Widely diverging national prerogatives have made the negotiations leading up to Bali challenging, and the talks in Bali are also expected to be difficult. "Negotiations are not a smooth road," according to PrepCom Chairman Emil Salim, whose revised text is the basis of negotiations. But noting that the present approach to development has benefited 20 per cent of the world's population while the living standards of the other 80 per cent have largely stagnated, Salim said the value of the Summit outcome documents hinges on whether "it has the elements of change or is it business as usual."

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24 August 2006