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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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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 "Johannesburg Vision."

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 now."

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24 August 2006