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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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Enthusiasm and Some Concerns Voiced Over Partnership Proposals

{short description of image}   2 April, New York– The idea of using the World Summit on Sustainable Development as a launching pad for new partnerships between governments, the private sector, and community and citizen groups gained considerable momentum during a wide-ranging discussion of the concept at PrepCom III for the Summit.

The partnership proposals would be one of three outcomes for the Summit, which will take place in Johannesburg this August, according to Preparatory Committee Chairman Emil Salim. The result-oriented partnership initiatives, he said, would be based on and linked to a political declaration and an implementation programme. In the parlance of the Summit, the implementation programme has come to be known as a Type I outcome, and the partnerships, Type II. The partnerships, Salim said, are supposed to address the issue of who is doing what, where, and with what resources.

The partnership concept is an answer to a question that has long plagued international conferences, i.e., how to make sure the commitments and the good intentions expressed at a global meeting translate into tangible action. If specific actions by specific partners could be announced at Johannesburg, it is hoped that donors would also steer resources to actions that can achieve results.

Johannesburg Summit Secretary-General Nitin Desai said, in his address to PrepCom III, that the partnerships are not independent of the government agreements, but could help leverage additional resources and "change the quality of implementation." He said that it may be difficult to work out all the details of a partnership by the time of the Summit, but the event could still be an opportunity to announce a statement of intent.

As an example, Salim said, countries could decide, as a Type I agreement, to commit themselves to maintaining the marine environment. But the problem, he said, "is after saying this, how are you going to implement it?" Developing sustainable fisheries, Salim said, requires the involvement of marine biologists, fishermen and people who can finance the project. "It's a total package," he said.

Salim said the partnerships could help implement all areas under consideration by the Summit, and in particular, can help efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals– a series of commitments to slash the poverty rate by 2015.

Jan Kára of the Czech Republic, Co-Chair of the partnership discussions, said the Type II outcomes are not a replacement for government commitments, but are complementary. "The concept has been evolving," he said, and the discussions are part of a continuous process between now and Johannesburg.

Many countries and non-governmental organizations said the initiative still needed structure, guidelines, monitoring and follow-up.

Spain, speaking for the European Union, said the partnerships could be one of the main outcomes of the Summit, but they must have a specific scope and a strong political connection to the governmental commitments. The EU added that there must be a proper institutional framework for the concept to be a success.

While supporting the principle of partnerships, South Africa cautioned that these relationships should not be based purely on the relationship between resource-rich and resource-poor partners, but should be based on a common future, common values and agreed goals.

The International Chamber of Commerce strongly supported the partnership initiatives, calling for actions that deliver results rather than procedures. The ICC representative said that business was collecting flagship examples of real partnerships, and that new efforts must address all three pillars of sustainable development—economic growth, social development and environmental protection—while focusing on measurable results that should be replicable and capable of being scaled up. In addition, he said several stakeholders must participate in any partnership.

The Third World Network voiced concern that if all stakeholders were lumped together, those who have money would drive the process. It also voiced worries that the partnerships, as a non-negotiated initiative, could undermine the main implementation programme of commitments by governments, and could lack legitimacy.

The Women's Caucus went further, saying that the partnerships concept was not clear, contained no criteria, and did not consider the impacts of the initiatives. The Caucus representative asked, "How can we be partners on an equal footing?" She added that they would not be partners with transnational corporations and objected to United Nations partnerships with the corporations.

Delegates to the preparatory meetings must now work though the concerns that have been raised and to bring the concept of partnerships into reality on a scale never before seen.

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24 August 2006