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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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European Region Calls for Johannesburg Launch of New Initiative to Boost Sustainable Development

25 September 2001-Ministers and high ranking officials from the 55 members of the UN Economic Commission for Europe met in Geneva on 24-25 September and agreed to work towards the launch of a "concrete mechanism" to advance sustainable development at next September's World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

In a ministerial statement, the ECE member countries, stretching from Central Asia to Europe to North America, strongly reaffirmed their support for efforts to realize the objectives of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that were embodied in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. The agreement to support a major initiative, while still largely undefined, comes at a time when many believe bold new actions are needed to revitalize efforts aimed at promoting sustainable development.

The results of the Geneva meeting, along with scheduled meetings in Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Phnom Penh, and Cairo for the other world regions, will provide a starting point for the negotiations in the process leading up to the Summit, and ultimately, for a set of agreed actions that will be decided in Johannesburg.

The meeting produced agreement that much needed to be done on an array of issues, including poverty eradication, sustainable management of natural resources, improving governance, financing for sustainable development and for sustainable consumption and production. Still, there was a sense that the meeting did not go far enough towards producing a major breakthrough in thinking or in action.

"The meeting showed a common understanding regarding the problems facing the region," according to the chairman, Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss. But he reported differences appeared on how to face these challenges and seize opportunities.

Calling for "representation at the highest levels" at the Summit, the ministers agreed that global efforts were needed as "addressing such challenges far exceeds the capacity of any individual state." There was agreement that more public and private investment was needed for health, education and social programmes that help empower the poor. There was support for new initiatives to ensure a safe supply of fresh water, better sanitation, protection for oceans and seas, coastal zones, mountains and forests. Specific mention was made of the need to protect the Arctic region. And there was support for strengthening environmental treaties, such as those on climate change, biodiversity, desertification and persistent organic pollutants.

Globalization, it was agreed, could work in favor of sustainable development and could benefit all people, but new rules for trade and investment were needed in order to help integrate the poorest countries into the global economy.

In working towards the launch of a "concrete mechanism" in Johannesburg to propel efforts for sustainable development, the ministers agreed that they would continue to meet so they could "deepen the dialogue for an enduring global understanding.

" One idea for such a mechanism that did not win consensus support was a European proposal for a "Global Deal," that calls for a new collective effort to find solutions to problems that countries face.

According to Deiss, the proposed Global Deal calls upon each country to make its own contribution to meeting common worldwide challenges. "The Johannesburg Summit should break new ground by taking a major step in this direction."

There were also differences over proposed targets for official development assistance, but the Ministerial statement noted that "most countries in the region" agreed that the international community should strive to meet the accepted United Nations target of 0.7 percent of GNP.

Mary Pat Silveira, Chief of Environmental Performance and Governance for the ECE, said the meeting went well, and all countries worked hard to achieve consensus. In a very big and diverse region, she said, "any agreement is a major achievement."

Daniel Mittler of Friends of the Earth said many NGO's were disappointed over the lack of agreement on new initiatives. "Most of us were quite shocked to hear the same old stuff being discussed." He said considerable time was taken up by discussions over the precautionary principle and ODA, which he called "not exactly news." Among the efforts that NGOs were supporting, he said, were targets for renewable energy, more official development assistance, greater acceptance of the precautionary principle, and action on genetically modified organisms.

Still, Mittler held out hope that the process leading to Johannesburg would pick up steam. Although he had hoped the meeting would have accomplished more, he said there were signs that changing political dynamics could result in solid advancements at the Summit.

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24 August 2006