|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Preparatory Committee for UN Conference
on Sustainable Development
1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)
2012 Rio Conference Not Earth Summit Commemorative Event; Rather, Aims to Renew
Political Commitment to Sustainable Development, Preparatory Committee Told
Conference Head Voices Hope Negotiations Do Not Seek ‘Lowest Common Denominator’;
Secretary-General’s Report Sets Out Themes: Green Economy, Institutional Framework
Against the still elusive implementation of the 1992 Earth Summit’s groundbreaking “Agenda 21”, delegations began a three-day session in New York today — the first in a series of preparatory meetings for the 20-year follow-on Conference in 2012 – hoping to rally renewed political will to meet the challenge of balancing economic growth and human progress with environmental sustainability.
“The sad truth”, asserted Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Conference Secretary-General, “is that, despite two centuries of spectacular growth on our planet, we have failed to eradicate the scourge of poverty.” “If we continue on our current path we will bequeath material and environmental poverty, not prosperity, to our children and grandchildren.”
Stopgap solutions no longer sufficed, he said, adding that only sustainable development, with its emphasis on interlinkages to address social, economic and environmental challenges in a balanced and integrated way could provide long-term and durable solutions.
Amid waning interest in sustainable development, the General Assembly had decided to convene the Rio + 20 Conference not as a commemorative event, but to renew political commitment to the issues, he explained. The international community needed to “reinvigorate support here and now”. (For background on the Conference and the first preparatory session, see Press Release ENV/DEV/1138.)
Voicing hope that negotiations on an outcome document would not “be a process of seeking the lowest common denominators”, he said that work must begin immediately and, given that the Preparatory Committee had just eight days of meeting time in the next two years, there was a need to be especially efficient. He urged States to consider how to elaborate the themes of the Conference — building a green economy and an institutional sustainable development framework.
He spoke passionately against the tendency for negotiations to devolve into “turf battles”. Saying “enough is enough” to an applauding audience, he called for States to work in an open and transparent manner. For his part, he promised States that, if they discovered others playing “games and tricks” or engaging in “conspiracies”, he would not hesitate to expose it on the spot.
Welcoming delegates to the meeting, Committee co-Chair, Park In-kook of the Republic of Korea recalled that, nearly 20 years ago, the international community had met in the face of irrefutable evidence of the need for more efficient use of Earth’s resources, launching a platform for future action embodied by the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. That meeting had also given rise to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biodiversity.
The world was currently at a crossroads, he said, with multiple crises — of energy, food and finance — complicating the political landscape and adding new demands on States. Among other tasks, States needed to converge on a common understanding of what constituted a “green economy”, and to explore elements of a more resilient global infrastructure to ensure effective synergy between existing instruments in support of sustainable development. The outcome of the Committee’s discussions would form a road map to 2012.
Director of the Division for Sustainable Development, Tariq Banuri, introduced the Secretary-General’s report, entitled “Progress to date and remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits in the area of sustainable development and analysis of the themes for the Conference” (document A/CONF.216/ PC/2).
The report, Mr. Banuri noted, describes sustainable development as a bridge which seeks to bring together, not only the three domains — economic, social and environmental — but also developed and developing countries, Governments, businesses and civil society, scientific knowledge and public policy, the city and the countryside, and present and future generations.
Explaining that the report seeks to underscore the inexorable link between those different agendas and commitments, he said development was the “midwife of sustainability” and sustainability was the “life support system” of development. The two needed each other to function and move forward, and the Conference was an important opportunity to assess progress. The agencies provided ways to do that, and the report had sought to include all of those.
Slow progress did not make the Rio Agenda wrong, said Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. But he challenged world citizens to contend with what lay at the heart of the paradigm of twentieth-century thinking regarding economic growth: that it could only occur at the expense of the environment. That was a fallacy that the present generation could no longer afford.
Looking ahead to one of the twin themes of the Conference, he said greening the economy was not mere ideology, but a stimulus for further growth. The concept was inherently economic, and captured within it respect for the social pillar of sustainable development. When forests disappeared and oceans collapsed, the poor had nowhere to turn for livelihood and food security. The world community must strive to become more efficient, to pollute less and to use equity to drive the sustainable development agenda. A green economy was the most promising of options available to achieve sustainable development.
In two parts today, the Committee took up, respectively, “Assessing the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development”, led by John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda; and “Addressing New and Emerging Challenges”, moderated by co-Chair Park.
Along with adoption of its provisional agenda and programme of work, and establishment of two Contact Groups to frame out organizational and other matters for the 2012 Conference, the Committee elected 10 officers to its Bureau, as follows: Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt and Charles Thembani Ntwaagee of Botswana from the African States Group; Asad Majeed Khan of Pakistan and Park In-kook of the Republic of Korea from the Asian States Group; Jirí Hlavácek of the Czech Republic and Tania Valerie Raguž of Croatia from the Eastern European States Group; Anna Bianchi of Argentina and John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda from the Latin American and Caribbean States Group; and Paolo Soprano of Italy and John Matuszak of the United States from the Western European and Other States Group. Mr. Ashe and Mr. Park will also serve as Committee co-Chairs.
The Preparatory Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 18 May, to continue its work.
The Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development met today to begin its first session, aimed at securing renewed political commitment to sustainable development, assessing the progress and implementation gaps in meeting already agreed commitments, and addressing new and emerging challenges. (For background, see Press Release ENV/DEV/1138, issued today.)
It had before it its provisional agenda (document A/CONF.216/PC/1) and a report of the United Nations Secretary-General on progress to date and remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits in the area of sustainable development, as well as an analysis of the themes of the Conference (document A/CONF.216/PC/2). Also before it were notes by the Secretariat on organizational and procedural matters (document A/CONF.216/PC/3) and on draft provisional rules of procedure of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (document A/CONF.216/PC.4).
The Secretary-General’s report provides an assessment on progress made in achieving a convergence between the three pillars — economic growth, social improvement and environmental protection — and highlights remaining challenges to implementation. The assessment is based on four mutually complimentary perspectives, which take into account progress made on the three pillars both separately and jointly, the fulfilment of commitments made by Governments and other stakeholders, and the effect of emerging crises within the larger context. Through analysis on progress made, gaps and challenges, such as income level disparities, threats to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and high per capita resource use are identified.
The report also provides a review of the two themes of the Conference — the concept of a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development. In addressing the way forward, the report highlights the need to build upon what has been learned, as well as the need for a global return to the “spirit of Rio”.
Welcoming delegates to the meeting, PARK IN-KOOK ( Republic of Korea), Committee co-Chair, said the session was an opportunity to begin a periodic global introspection on how far the international community had come in the past two decades. Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang would serve as Secretary-General of the Conference. Nearly 20 years ago, the international community had met in the face of irrefutable evidence of the need for more efficient use of earth’s resources, launching a platform for future action embodied by the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. That meeting had also given rise to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biodiversity.
The world was currently at a crossroads, he said, with multiple crises — of energy, food and finance — complicating the political landscape and adding new demands on States. It would be pertinent and timely for the Commission on Sustainable Development to examine old concerns along with emerging issues in the realm of sustainable development, centring on the theme of a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and arriving at an institutional framework for sustainable development.
He said delegates to the Commission’s eighteenth meeting had offered perspectives on how to make the shift to a green economy, while promoting greater resource efficiency, promoting economic and social development and increasing employment opportunities for the poor. He recalled that Assembly resolution 63/303 had stressed the need to promote green economic initiatives in an inclusive manner, and to seek opportunities for climate change financing for, and technology transfer to, developing countries. He said States needed to converge on a common understanding of what constituted a “green economy”, and to explore elements of a more resilient global infrastructure to ensure effective synergy between existing instruments in support of sustainable development.
The involvement of major groups, United Nations agencies and other international organizations were important to ensure a participatory bottom-up approach during the preparatory process, he said. To facilitate discussion, the Committee’s interactive dialogue would focus on a series of questions around how emerging issues would impact upon the advancement of sustainable development. The outcome of those talks would then form a road map to 2012.
SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the 2012 Conference, also known as Rio + 20, was one of the most important on the United Nations agenda, with the Secretary-General ranking sustainable development as a top priority. The Conference would meet against the backdrop of multiple crises – financial, food insecurity and volatile energy prices. On a global scale, climate chance, land degradation, loss of biodiversity and water shortages were some of the cross-border challenges threatening prospects for long-term growth and sustainable livelihoods.
“The sad truth is that, despite two centuries of spectacular growth on our planet, we have failed to eradicate the scourge of poverty,” he said. “If we continue on our current path we will bequeath material and environmental poverty, not prosperity, to our children and grandchildren.” Five million infants still died every year of preventable diseases, while 2 billion living in poverty lacked access to health care and primary education, he added.
He said stopgap solutions no longer sufficed and that only sustainable development, with its emphasis on interlinkages to address social, economic and environmental challenges in a balanced and integrated way, could provide long-term and durable solutions. Amid waning interest in sustainable development, the General Assembly had decided to convene the Rio + 20 Conference not as a commemorative event, but to renew political commitment to the issues. The international community needed to “reinvigorate support here and now”.
He said work must begin immediately, and given that the Preparatory Committee had just eight days of meeting time in the next two years, there was a need to be especially efficient. He said States must specify mechanisms through which it could best use inputs from both intergovernmental and non-governmental processes. It also needed to determine how the outcomes of other international events planned between now and mid-2012 — the Millennium Development Goal Summit, the review of the small island developing States Mauritius Strategy, the Conference of parties to the Rio conventions, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environmental Forum, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) Governing Council and the least-developed-countries conference will be assessed and made into building blocks towards a strong framework for Rio + 20.
States also needed to consider how to elaborate the themes of the Conference, which centred on building a green economy and an institutional framework for sustainable development. He invited States to share their understanding on those themes, and whether they thought it could underpin a new development paradigm. States were also invited to discuss the key ways in which they thought Governments could prompt action at the regional and national levels.
He noted that the Organization would dedicate a “significant” amount of resources to the Conference, with staff from various United Nations entities to be seconded to the Conference’s dedicated secretariat. Inter-agency collaborative mechanisms had been set up, and the Environmental Management Group, headed by UNEP and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), would provide support both thematically and at country-level.
He stressed that the Rio + 20 Conference was to be driven by Member States, voicing hope that negotiations of an outcome document would not “be a process of seeking the lowest common denominators”. The nine major groups were strongly urged to play their part. Progress since the 1992 Earth Summit had been too slow.
Mr. Sha spoke passionately against the tendency for negotiations to devolve into “turf battles”. “Enough is enough,” he stressed, to an applauding audience, calling for States to work in an open and transparent manner. For his part, he promised States that, if they discovered others playing “games and tricks” or engaging in “conspiracies”, he would not hesitate to expose it on the spot. He recalled a similar promise he had made at the eleventh United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Conference in 2004.
“The results of this meeting are crucial for a strong preparatory process for Rio,” he said. While there were bound to be differences in priorities and perspectives, he said he nevertheless believed there was sufficient common ground.
Mr. PARK said Brazil would serve in ex officio capacity as a member of the Bureau, based on past practice. The two co-Chairs would alternate in chairing the Committee’s subsequent meetings. The closing session would be chaired by his co-Chair, John Ashe ( Antigua and Barbuda).
After the Committee had adopted its provisional agenda and the proposed organization of work, Mr. PARK further explained that the Bureau had agreed to propose the establishment of Contact Group I, to review the preparatory process, and Contact Group II, which would review the draft rules of procedure for the Conference.
Introduction of Report
TARIQ BANURI, Director, Division for Sustainable Development, introduced the report of the Secretary-General entitled “Progress to date and remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits in the area of sustainable development and analysis of the themes for the Conference” (document A/CONF.216/PC/2). The report, he said, covers all substantive themes of the Conference. In preparing it, the authors had sought the advice of United Nations entities and agencies, which had provided a broad and rich volume of inputs. The authors had sought to be faithful to those.
Reviewing the “big ticket” items, he said the report had centred on the critical importance of renewed political commitment to sustainable development, which was a bridge to bring together the agendas of, among others, countries and Governments and major groups, the past and the future, and scientific knowledge and public policy. The report had tried to underscore the inexorable link between those different agendas and commitments. Development was the “midwife of sustainability” and sustainability was the “life support system” of development. The two needed each other to function and move forward, and the Conference was an important opportunity to assess progress in that report. The agencies provided different ways to do that, and the report had sought to include all of those.
The report also contained a diagram which looked at the important achievements of the past decade, he said, noting that between 1998 and 2008, there had been a significant increase in the rate of growth of developing countries. That was a very promising development, because it implied that within our lifetime, or that of our children, sustainable development would have been achieved. However, several things remained to be done to achieve social development, and the report had sought to include the innovative ideas emerging in that connection. Overall, the global architecture for sustainable development and national sustainable development processes and institutions, as well as the involvement of major groups, remained fundamental issues, he asserted.
ABDULLAH M. ALSAIDI (Yemen), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that a review of results since the major conferences showed a persistent implementation gap; many international commitments had not been fully met and the world was still suffering from the repercussion of the combined global food crisis, an energy crisis and the global economic and financial crisis, as well as climate change. A more holistic approach towards sustainable development was needed. Consequently, a refinement of strategies and sharper policy perspectives aimed at effective implementation was essential.
At present, he said, there was no clear and consensual definition of a “green economy” approach. There was an assumption that a green economy could be equated with a cluster of economic policies, under the sustainable development paradigm, so as to bridge the gap between the economy and the environment. However, that assumption was far from settled. An understanding of the scope and possible benefits of a green economy approach, as well as its risks and costs, was necessary. It was also crucial to explore its relationship to the economic and social pillars of sustainable development. An effective institutional sustainable development framework at all levels was key to full implementation of Agenda 21, the follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and to meeting emerging sustainable development challenges.
In that context, he said there was an international consensus on the need for enhanced coordination and cooperation; however, diverging views remained on how to enhance the efficiency of the current United Nations system in the area of sustainable development. That process was a key element of the overarching framework for United Nations activities, including achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The Conference on Sustainable Development, including its preparatory process, should, therefore, ensure the balanced integration of economic growth, social development and environmental protection, as those were interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable development.
He said that the Group, meanwhile, was “deeply” concerned that severe challenges remained in achieving the three pillars of sustainable development, particularly in the context of the current global crises. At the same time, there was a need to address new and emerging sustainable development issues that arose. Those included climate change, biodiversity, desertification, water scarcity, frequency of disasters and the need to prepare and recover from disasters. All those crises had significant and, in some cases, unforeseen impacts on the standards of living, the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals and the health of those in developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable.
JUAN ANTONIO YÁÑEZ-BARNUEVO ( Spain), on behalf of the European Union, said that present “multiple and serious” challenges might represent new opportunities to change development to a more sustainable path. “We cannot afford an inefficient use of limited resources, or overlapping or incoherent responses to the challenges in front of us. This idea becomes even more evident in times of crises. That status quo is, therefore, not an option,” he underlined. Sustainable development was a bridging concept, whose ultimate goal was to bring convergence among economic growth, social improvement, and environmental protection. It also brought together not only environment and development, but also developed and developing countries, offering a common space and the opportunity to strengthen the coherence and efficiency of policies.
For those reasons, he said, the Union and its member countries welcomed the organization of the Conference for 2012, as well as the call for a renewed political commitment to sustainable development. The Conference should be forward-looking and deliver an ambitious and action-oriented outcome. It was an opportunity to develop new thinking and innovative solutions, and to revise current trends of unsustainable development. The assessment of gaps should build upon the Commission’s work and avoid overlapping with already ongoing review processes. It should be well-defined and focused. On that basis, the Union looked forward to early discussions on the sustainable topics of the Conference, and the first Preparatory Committee was an opportunity to launch substantial discussions on the themes and build consensus on its objectives.
Regarding the theme of the green economy, he said the Secretary-General’s report introduced the major green economy policy instruments, but failed to show more precisely how a green economy was contributing to sustainable development and poverty eradication. That would be a key topic for discussion. The Conference should develop a clear understanding of the concepts and instruments related to the green economy theme, as well as its benefits and challenges, firmly embedded in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. It should present best practices and develop recommendations and options for its implementation, taking into consideration the varying needs of industrialized countries, emerging economies and developing countries. Discussions should stress the importance of an equitable low-carbon and resource efficient economy, and the need to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation and unsustainable natural resource use.
Mr. DALEY ( Canada), speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, discussed the need to ensure adequate time within the preparatory process for substantive discussions of the issues at hand. The two themes outlined in Assembly resolution 64/236 — green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and institutional framework for sustainable development — needed to be considered in greater detail. Through the refinement and convergence around those themes over the course of the preparatory process, States should aim at developing a common understanding of the potential outcomes of the Conference’s political document.
He noted that the preparatory work would take place within a full complement of international activities and events, many of which overlapped with the themes and objectives of the 2012 Conference. He would like to see discussions focus on what could be done to ensure progress and concrete action, without duplicating the work being undertaken in other processes. To that end, he said States needed to identify how relevant United Nations and other international institutions and processes could support preparations for Rio 2012. On the basis of the agreed process, as per Assembly resolution 64/236, States should make efficient use of the preparatory time available through focused discussions and the use of other complementary institutions and processes.
LUIZ ALBERTO FIGUEIREDO MACHADO (Brazil), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, noted that the promise of a balanced approach to development based on three pillars — economic, social and environmental — had not been fulfilled. Brazil, with the support of developing countries in the Group of 77 and China and other partners, had proposed to host a meeting in 2012 to rekindle the “ Rio spirit”. In the preparatory process, States would not meet to engage on a theoretical debate, but to recommend actions and concrete measures to achieve meaningful results.
To be successful, he said the Conference must honestly assess progress and gaps in implementing commitments in all areas of sustainable development, including a clear evaluation of the “thorny issue” of developing countries’ means of implementation. It must also respond to emerging issues and explore the concept of a green economy. It must, as well, reform the institutional framework for sustainable development at the international level, to allow for effective support for implementation of the three pillars. It was a daunting task, requiring informed and focused discussions. The less time available for preparations, the greater the potential for misunderstandings and blame games. States should not allow that to happen.
FRANZ PERREZ, Deputy Head of the International Affairs Division, Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland, said his country hoped that the first Preparatory Committee would help to achieve a clear common understanding of the outcome of the Conference itself. Based on such a common understanding, it should be possible to refine the preparatory process overall. Switzerland expected the Conference not only to endorse and adopt concrete measures on strengthening the environmental governance being adopted by Governments within their respective processes, under the auspices of UNEP, but also to reform the broader international sustainable development governance.
He said that not only were strong institutions needed, but also clear goals. The Millennium Development goals had been crucial in that regard for the broader development agenda. A similarly strengthened vision might be needed in other areas of sustainable development, namely the environment. Switzerland similarly expected the Conference to use the green economy theme to focus on a specific area of sustainable development. It should adopt concrete measures and perhaps even a broader green economy road map to accelerate the transformation towards a sustainable future.
NORIHIRO OKUDA ( Japan) said that the common and urgent challenge to protect the planet, which informed past world conferences, remained valid today. The successful outcome of the 2012 Conference should derive from a well-focused discussion of meeting new challenges. Low-carbon societies were crucial, for which a green economy should be fostered. For the sake of efficiency, duplication with the Commission’s work, both during the preparatory process and the 2012 Conference, should be avoided. The Conference’s final outcome should be a focused political document; it should be a short, but compelling, message on the two themes. Japan was fully committed to engaging in constructive discussions to ensure a most successful outcome.
JULIO RAFAEL ESCALONA OJEDA ( Venezuela), welcoming the statement by the Group of 77 and China, said that the lack of compliance by the developed countries with the internationally agreed development goals was a leading cause of today’s problems. Asymmetrical relationships, which dominated North-South relations, and the continuing systemic disruptions, had contributed decisively to present challenges. The domination model was accompanied by “anti-values”, which placed the market, selfishness and profits ahead of human beings and the common good. Humanity needed more than having developed countries adopt a slogan for a green economy, which appeared only to justify their new market policies. Given the disrepute into which the “Washington Consensus” had fallen, a new way to present neoliberal policies had been devised to justify new conditionalities.
He said that reform was not simply about putting on a green label to justify the privatization of natural resources, overall biodiversity and all of Earth’s assets. “We are facing a new offensive, taking advantage of the ecological crisis, created precisely by the developed countries to try to complete the privatization process of the planet”. In non-capitalist societies, nature was sacred. In capitalist societies, nature had been turned into merchandise and humans had been turned into things and objects. Outlining the things developed countries should do, he said that, first, they must take historical responsibility for the destruction of the ecosystems and recognize that, to address climate change, there were common, but differentiated, responsibilities. And, in that area, they had the main responsibilities. Among other things, they should undertake a profound redirection of production to radically alter patterns of production and consumption. In short, he said that the implementation problems in the area of sustainable development had to do with “conflicts” among the three pillars: economic development, social development and environmental protection.
DANIEL REIFSNYDER ( United States) observed that 18 years had passed since Rio, and 8 since Johannesburg. States must be practical on what could be achieved in real terms, and must take care to involve as many stakeholders as possible, such as youth. For its part, his country was eager to share progress in promoting ideas it had gained through sustainable development initiatives at home and abroad, in greening its economy and strengthening institutions, while recognizing that more needed doing. In identifying gaps, the United States would emphasize the importance of addressing climate change concerns, global health, food security, the health of oceans and the marine environment and promoting access to clean water. It would stress the need to integrate the three pillars into economic activities, and highlight the centrality of human capital in sustainable development.
He said a full range of United States agencies was built around clean energy, and training the workforce for a green future. The United States would stress implementation at national and local levels, in which non-governmental organizations were actively engaged, among other stakeholders. It would focus on strengthening the Bali strategic plan and Johannesburg plan of implementation. Also, it would highlight initiatives of international environment governance and gender issues.
ACHIM STEINER, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, stressed the need for honesty during the negotiations. He observed that the world had not been able to come together around the challenge of global warming, and just last week, a new report revealed that not a single Member State could claim it had achieved the reverse of the loss of biodiversity. The world fishery situation was in crisis, while land and soil fertility issues had arisen, affecting food security. The world’s environmental balance sheet was not encouraging.
Slow progress did not make the Rio agenda wrong, he said. By the same token, to proceed as if something singular had caused its delay was not the answer. The concept of a green economy had given rise to many debates. The world must contend with what lay at the heart of the paradigm of twentieth-century thinking regarding economic growth: that it could only occur at the expense of the environment. It was a fallacy that the present generation could no longer afford.
He said greening the economy was not mere ideology, but a stimulus for further growth. The concept was inherently economic, and captured within it respect for the social pillar of sustainable development. When forests disappeared and oceans collapsed, the poor had nowhere to turn for livelihood and food security. The international community must strive to become more efficient, to pollute less and to use equity to drive the sustainable development agenda. And, without discussing its governance dimension, Member States stood the risk of becoming paralysed and repeating habits of the last 15-20 years.
He argued that the debate on the green economy would benefit from an honest reflection not only on how to implement decisions, but also on how to address consequences already occurring on the ground. All those looking to advance national efforts towards a green economy faced risks, solutions to which were tied to questions of trade barriers, aid conditionalities and poverty eradication. As said in the Nusa Dua Declaration at the UNEP Governing Council in Bali, a green economy was the most promising of options available to achieve sustainable development.
VEERLE VANDEWEERD, Director, Environment and Energy Group, Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme, said there had been some progress, but that important gaps persisted. Only 45 countries were on track to meet the poverty reduction target of the Millennium Development Goals, for example, and maternal and child health care had deteriorated. Additionally, more than 1 billion people were still undernourished. The preparatory meeting might wish to discuss the reasons for the lack of convergence between the environmental, economic and social pillars of the sustainable development paradigm.
He said that the green economy theme was an opportunity to engage a cross-section of government ministries and organizations. Indeed, the green economy could build a bridge between the three pillars, but the scope of the discussion should be expanded to include finance, the multilateral development system, and United Nations system-wide coherence, among others. He looked forward to an inclusive preparatory session.
Session 1, Part I
Part I of the first session, “Assessing the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development” was led by JOHN ASHE of Antigua and Barbuda.
He drew attention to questions to assist delegations in the discussion, as follows: What indicators or information on sustainable development had proven to be most useful for assessing gaps and progress towards sustainable development? What underlying factors explained gaps in implementation, and what steps should be taken to address those? And what kind of guidance would be helpful for countries, as well as international organizations and other stakeholders, for preparing inputs on assessing progress and implementation gaps to enrich the preparatory process?
The floor was first given to representatives of major groups, who said the challenge of Rio + 20 was clear ‑‑ to balance economic growth and human progress with environmental sustainability. But, involvement of major groups was, in some instances, lacking. For example, women did not have sufficient access to decision-making or to financial instruments for sustainable development. Indigenous peoples said the current economic model was based on infinite extraction and consumption of resources and unsound financial markets, which had devastating impacts on their peoples, causing massive degradation of ecologies, human rights violation and increased poverty. Another speaker urged political courage for a substantive outcome for change, which must include civil society, especially children and youth.
One participant strongly welcomed the statement by the Under-Secretary-General on his promise to foster an open and transparent process. The new document should reinforce political will and table the means of implementation. The speaker cautioned against any attempt to reach consensus on new ideas that required more confidence-building. Already, many green economy ideas had been tabled and implemented, pioneered by local authorities; however, a global framework was needed to enhance and support those local efforts. The financial and economic crisis had shown that the global architecture was not functioning in the interest of the majority, but to the benefit of a few. The discussion at Rio + 20, therefore, needed to lead to a transformation of that trend, in addition to trying to revive multilateral decision-making.
They said sound policies and practices of sustainable development must be built on sound science and environmentally friendly technologies. In selecting a tone for the preparatory process and Conference, the focus should be on achievements and engaged with the larger populations, including the “stories” of local achievements. A harangue of failures alone would not suffice.
As the floor opened to Member States, speakers highlighted the need to achieve balance between the three pillars of sustainable development, pointing to the clear framework provided by various declarations and agreed goals in achieving them — such as the Rio Declaration, Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, and others. But, without clear indicators, it would be difficult for States to gauge progress and to know where best to direct their resources. As such, some speakers suggested that States, with the Secretariat’s assistance, compile data on financial flows and technology transfer to indicate areas where there were shortfalls. Others added that similar information could be gathered on the effectiveness of markets and existing partnerships in addressing development challenges. The preparatory process should also solicit input from major groups. Gathered together, such information would form the basis of a report which States could submit to the Secretary-General in the lead up to the second meeting of the Preparatory Committee.
At the preparatory stage, States said it was important to avoid duplication with work already being done on sustainable development. In doing so, it was important first to clarify whether “green economy” was a destination in itself, or merely the trajectory towards sustainable development. States should also recognize that there were many pathways to economic greening, and subsequent international agreements should make room for different national approaches.
Looking ahead to 2012, several speakers stressed that Rio + 20 should not be an occasion to redefine or “re-prioritize” the three pillars of sustainable development, but to find ways to reconcile the three. One speaker underscored that Rio + 20 was not “a re-set button” to erase prior obligations, but that its outcome would go hand-in-hand with efforts to conclude the development round of World Trade Organization trade-talks, and with developments that would arise at the Millennium Development Goals high-level event in the fall. One delegate called for the establishment of a climate court of justice, to ensure that developing countries received the financial and technical assistance they needed. It was unfair for developing countries to be made to pay their debts to banks, when developed countries did not pay their own “ecological debt”. But, others pointed out that the conflict between North and South had overshadowed areas in which they held common interests; protecting the world’s natural resources was not up for bargaining.
They also said the international community needed to look beyond 2012 and even 2015 — the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals — to enable access and transfer to technology and to promote fairer trade. With the global population approaching 7 billion, many of whom lived in poverty, the international community must progress towards a green economy.
Participating were the representatives of Yemen (on behalf of the Group of 77 and China), Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Bolivia, Argentina, Norway, Switzerland, Indonesia, Guatemala, Egypt, Cuba, India, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Australia, South Africa, United States, Brazil and Nigeria.
The representatives of the Observer Mission of Palestine and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also spoke.
Session 1, Part II
Turning to the topic, “Addressing New and Emerging Challenges”, Co-Chairman Park framed questions that could be used to guide delegations in their discussion, as follows: What new and emerging challenges and issues should be considered at the Conference, and how did those impact the advancement of the sustainable development agenda? How could the link between science, education and policy be strengthened to address the new and emerging challenges, especially those defined under the preceding question? And, in addition to measures already being implemented by countries, what additional ones were needed to enable countries to strengthen resilience to shocks emanating from new and emerging challenges?
Several delegations participated in the discussion, with one focusing primarily on widespread poverty and malnutrition, and lack of safe drinking water. With more than 1.1 billion people still lacking access to safe water and 2.6 billion to sanitation, he hoped the 2012 Conference would significantly deal with the water issue and promote effective coordination.
Concern was also expressed that, in addition to the current global crises, increased population growth and natural disasters were destroying hard-won development progress. It must be ensured that the Conference strengthened the sustainable development framework, renewed global participation to facilitate the globalization of resources and technology transfers, and instilled national action as the cornerstone for achieving sustainable development.
Attention was turned to social development and environmental protection, when one speaker suggested that discussion should focus on, among others, the sovereign right of countries to exploit their own resources pursuant to their development and environment policies. Those issues should also be examined in the context of the Conference’s objectives, which were to secure political commitment to sustainable development and to assess the remaining implementation gaps.
The green economy was a tool to improve the convergence between economic development and environmental protection, said another delegate, and debate on the topic must take into account human indicators, and the concept of growth should be rethought. The commitment to sustainable development also involved a change in consumer production patterns. The global management system was currently overburdened and fragmented, and competition persisted over financial and human resources. There was also an overlap of mandates. Thus, sustainable development aims were lacking effective implementation.
Focusing squarely on education, one delegate said that the sustainable development goals could only be reached if people had the necessary knowledge and skills. There must be investment in education and training, from childhood to adulthood. Basic primary and secondary education were key to a country’s future, and colleges must be engaged in education, service and discovery. At its heart, development meant promoting human abilities to promote value.
One participant noted that environmental degradation affected both developed and developing countries without prejudice, with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico being one example. One aim of the process should be to restore trust in the multilateral system, as the international community strove to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries. Such a task was not the purview of one single summit alone, although it should be a “penetrating” main theme in the preparatory process for Rio + 20. But, while it was important for the Conference agenda to be informed by the multitude of issues referred to by all speakers, it did not need to be enlarged into an entirely new Agenda 21.
Along with others mentioned previously, those issues included recognizing labour as key drivers of a sustainable economy, achieving gender equality, and connecting people through better use of social media. State sovereignty was important to some States, who pointed out that, sometimes, conclusions were drawn using indicators that were not widely agreed upon by States. But, irrespective of the tools States chose to delineate such trends, they agreed that it did not absolve States from needing to identify areas of responsibility and means of implementation. A few speakers argued for the need to develop a system of environmental governance, perhaps overseen by a United Nations agency such as UNEP, based on the principles of equity — among people, countries and generations — the “polluters pay” principle, the principle of prior informed consent, environmental rights, economic “decoupling”, and enhanced corporate accountability. There was also a need to strengthen public participation in such a system.
Participating in Part II of the session were the representatives of the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Singapore (on behalf of the Group of 77 and China), Spain (on behalf of the European Union), United States, Tajikistan, Bolivia, Australia, Egypt, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland, Argentina and Sweden.
Also speaking were representatives of the World Meteorological Organization, the International Labour Organization and representatives of the major groups for children and youth, women and non-governmental organizations.
* *** *