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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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Plenary Sessions on Action Areas Conclude With Forward-Looking Proposals

Johannesburg, 29 August— By conference standards, the plenary sessions on six areas where the World Summit on Sustainable Development is expected to make a difference, was extraordinary. Instead of endless prepared statements, serious moderated discussions were held, that forced representatives of governments and major groups to think on their feet and consider various points of view.

Plenary organizers knew it was uncharted territory for a Summit and were uncertain what to expect. But with South Africa's Foreign Minister Nkosazana Zuma chairing all but one of the sessions, and the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to the Summit moderating, the sessions turned out to be both stimulating and informative.

The special plenary sessions were intended to promote partnerships aimed at implementing projects in five action areas identified by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan which include water and sanitation, energy, health, agricultural productivity, and biodiversity and ecosystem management. An additional session was held on finance and other cross-cutting issues.

"The sessions went far beyond my expectations," according to Luis Gomez Echeverri of the UN Development Programme, adding that the moderating by Pronk and the willingness of Zuma to chair the meetings helped considerably. But the efforts to put the sessions together, including the preparation of comprehensive reports pointing out possible areas for action in the five action areas, he said, was one of the best examples of cooperation within the UN system and between the UN and the World Bank.

"There were 250 people from every agency working on this," Echeverri said. "I've never seen a group like this work together like this, putting out five books in five weeks."

But there is still the question of what comes next. Pronk said the process must continue, with an even more intense level of debate, with governments participating more fully in the give-and-take discussions. "We need this process and we should establish such a process for the five areas." Each area needs a different type of process, he added. "I hope there will be a decision at the Summit that the new approach will be embraced.

Pronk said it was clear from the discussion on water that there was overwhelming sentiment that a goal for reducing the number of people who lack proper sanitation should be established, and in the energy sessions, there was substantial interest in renewable energies.

Echeverri said that each of the sessions resulted in a number of proposals. "If that is not a mandate to proceed on a select number of issues, then I think we have wasted our time," he said. On water, which he said so many countries were willing to put a lot of money into, and on energy, processes and mechanisms should be established. "They can play a major role on influencing policies that could lead to more investment. If we do this jointly, and concentrate mobilizing political will, it can make a tremendous difference."

On the energy discussions, Pronk said there were concrete proposals to do away with subsidies, and to see the quick entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, "if only to do away with the disastrous consequences of global warming."

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24 August 2006