Plenary Sessions on Action Areas Conclude With Forward-Looking
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
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
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
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Department of Economic and
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24 August 2006