Global Preparations for Johannesburg Summit Advancing
29 October 2001-Preparations for next year's World Summit on Sustainable
Development in Johannesburg moved into high gear as the General Assembly's main
committee on economic and environmental issues heard delegations call for
breaking through the obstacles to promoting development, reducing poverty and
preventing environmental degradation.
The debate in the General Assembly's Second Committee marked the first time
that countries, at the global level, have attempted to suggest how the
Johannesburg Summit agenda will shape up. Aside from meetings on procedure and
organization, most of the discussion between countries so far has been held at
the regional level.
The early indications from delegations are that countries want the Summit to be
forward-looking and action-oriented, and that it should not renegotiate Agenda
21. Adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Agenda 21 is the
landmark agreement that spells out how all sectors of society must balance
economic, social and environmental concerns in order to meet people's needs,
now and in the future.
In addition, the Secretary-General's newly formed high-level panel of experts
met for the first time to discuss possible strategic objectives for the Summit.
The Second Committee also heard the concerns and suggestions from the leaders
and representatives of five regional roundtables of experts that were convened
earlier this year. Taking advantage of the events of the week, NGOs met
informally in New York to exchange ideas on mobilizing for the Summit.
Speaking for the coalition of over 130 developing countries known as the Group
of 77, Iranian Ambassador Nasrollah Kazemi Kamyab said, "The Summit should
provide a unique and exceptional opportunity for the international community to
undertake a comprehensive assessment of the achievements, constraints and
shortcomings in the implementation of Agenda 21." He added that developing
countries hoped that the Summit would result in "concrete measures"
with a specific timetable for implementation.
Ambassador Dumisano Kumalo of South Africa, which will host the Summit, said
Johannesburg 2002 must bring about "forward-looking solutions using Agenda
21 and its implementation in the past decade as a platform to generate
innovative ideas to address new challenges of the 21st Century."
Poverty reduction, environmental degradation, unsustainable patterns of
consumption and production, financial resources and transfer of technology
issues dominated the debate. Many countries voiced concern that globalization
has deepened the gap between developed and developing countries, between the
haves and the have-nots, and that Johannesburg must address issues of trade,
finance and official development assistance.
All countries agreed that the three basic pillars of sustainable
development-economic growth, social development and environment protection-must
be upheld and adhered to, but there were clear differences in approaches. China
and other developing countries, stressed the principle of "common but
differentiated responsibilities," which calls for all countries to play
their part in sustainable development, but for richer countries to help the
poorer in offering financial and technical assistance. The United States
stressed the importance of the private sector "as the primary engine of
economic growth," and the need for countries to build strong institutions
that promote sustainable development.
While delegations called for new, results-oriented initiatives to address these
problems, only a few have been proposed so far. The European Union proposed
that the Summit conclude with a "global deal," where, it is
envisioned, firm commitments by governments and major groups would pave the way
for action. African countries have called for the Summit to agree on a
A number of delegations expressed concern that time was running short to tackle
many of the problems associated with sustainable development. Foo Teow Lee of
Singapore stated, "Time is not on our side. No matter where you look on
the earth, we are facing increasing environmental challenges."
Summit Secretary-General Nitin Desai, in opening remarks, also emphasized the
time factor. "It's a tall agenda, but it's a do-able agenda," he
said. "The Summit must be a wake-up call that tells the world it is now or
never." As the world has already heard previous alarms that it is time to
act, Desai said that "pressing the snooze button is not an option
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Department of Economic and
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24 August 2006