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Bali Next Stop for Johannesburg Summit Preparations

{short description of image}   New York, 5 April– The next and penultimate stop on the road to the World Summit on Sustainable Development is Bali, Indonesia, where participants in Summit preparations will have to conclude discussions on far-reaching actions to propel the sustainable development agenda forward.

The last round of New York-based preparatory talks for the Summit ended with growing support for proposals to launch result-oriented partnership initiatives in Johannesburg and for a new initiative to draft a consensus document that will commit governments to take specific steps to promote sustainable development.

The Summit, which will be one of the largest gatherings of world leaders ever held, will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September. The Summit is expected to provide the impetus for specific actions that will comprise a major departure from business as usual, toward a new approach that simultaneously promotes economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

"Countries at the Financing for Development conference in Monterrey committed themselves to almost $12 billion a year in new resources for development," according to Johannesburg Summit Secretary-General Nitin Desai, who added, "If we can come up with a good programme of action, we can get money for new initiatives on such challenges as safe drinking water and energy."

It is estimated that close to a third of the world's people live on less than two dollars a day and lack access to clean water, sanitation and electricity. One of the major goals of the Summit is to meet the needs of these people in an environmentally friendly manner.

Desai called the partnership initiatives "a major innovation" that, along with a solid action programme, could spark a dramatic increase in efforts to implement sustainable development projects and which, by including a wide range of stakeholders, could vastly improve the quality of implementation efforts.

"The partnerships can go a long way in raising the resources and expertise that we need to meet our goals," Desai said, but he cautioned that "the partnership initiatives are not substitutes for government action or government responsibilities."

It was discussions on the partnership initiatives that generated the most enthusiasm at the PrepCom. Now seen as a potentially viable outcome of the Summit, the partnerships -- between governments, the private sector and citizen groups -- can lead to tangible results in fighting poverty and improving living standards while preserving natural ecosystems and resources for future generations.

The partnership proposals received far more attention at the PrepCom than was expected. Jan Kara of the Czech Republic, Co-Chair of the discussions on the partnership initiatives, said, "The attention we received at our first meeting simply, and clearly, illustrates that this is an area of hope and of expectation."

"We're still at the beginning of the road," Kara noted, but he added that if the idea works, "it might be a great precedent for a new avenue of cooperation."

There were a number of concerns about the partnership initiatives, and many of the details still must be worked out in Bali and Johannesburg. Many NGOs and delegates, particularly from developing countries, suggested that proposed partnerships must be judged according to certain criteria to weed out potentially unsustainable undertakings. They also stressed that the initiatives should not be seen as a panacea for implementation, and warned that the partnerships should not lead to the privatization of government responsibilities.

There were more fundamental concerns as well. Some non-government groups warned that the partnership initiatives could serve as a shield for governments that were not interested in negotiating firm commitments to implement sustainable development. They indicated that the Johannesburg summit will only be regarded as a success if governments agree on an ambitious implementation programme, for which time is running out.

The process of negotiations on the action programme has been challenging, according to Dr. Emil Salim of Indonesia, Chairman of the Summit's Preparatory Committee, and he said governments were still engaged in determining which proposals are realistic. "What I want is a programme of action that is deliverable," he said, adding that the current round of negotiations had not been successful in producing an agreement. Working from a Chairman's Paper that was 21 pages long, governments proposed well over 100 pages of amendments, he said.

As a result, countries asked Salim to produce a new text that incorporates the concerns articulated during the PrepCom, yet in a short, concise manner. That new text would be discussed during the next preparatory meeting in Bali, Indonesia, which will be preceded by three extra days of informal deliberations.

Although progress had been made in the negotiations, Desai noted "There are a great number of differences and that is what negotiations are about," he said. "The test of a negotiation is not just that people reach agreement. The test is whether the agreement is a step forward."

"The advantage of this somewhat torturous process is that in the end, there is a product that had a far greater sense of ownership belonging to those that have to implement it," Desai commented.

In addition to the negotiated action programme, the Bali meeting, to be held at the ministerial level from 27 May to 7 June, will hammer out a political declaration that will be endorsed by the heads of State and Government who attend the Summit in Johannesburg.

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24 August 2006