In Less Formal Setting, High-level Officials Discuss Key Rio+20 Themes, Merits of Draft Outcome Document

22 June 2012

In Less Formal Setting, High-level Officials Discuss Key Rio+20 Themes, Merits of Draft Outcome Document

22 June 2012
Meetings Coverage
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Conference on Sustainable Development

High-level Round Tables 1-4


In Less Formal Setting, High-level Officials Discuss Key Rio+20 Themes,

Merits of Draft Outcome Document


RIO DE JANEIRO, 22 June — Away from the podium and the media spotlight, Heads of State and Government, as well as ministers, United Nations system officials, representatives of major groups and other international actors held a series of round tables in parallel with the plenary, during which they discussed the main themes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — Rio+20 — and the draft outcome document to be formally adopted today, 22 June.

Round Table 1

Participants in the summit’s first round table, held on the afternoon of 20 June, said that a plan to draft a set of strong, coherent sustainable development goals, coupled with mechanisms to hold Member States accountable for implementing them, would ensure that Rio+20 left an indelible mark on the development landscape.

“This Conference could be fast forgotten,” warned Prince Albert II of Monaco, who co-chaired the round table alongside President Armando Emílio Guebuza of Mozambique.  It was the responsibility of all those present to ensure that it was not “just another environmental meeting,” and that it established true momentum for implementation of the sustainable development agenda. “We need to rekindle the spirit of solidarity that pervaded Rio [in 1992],” he said.  Nurlan Kapparov, Minister of Environment Protection of Kazakhstan, served as Rapporteur of the round table.

Poised as it was at the nexus of financial and environmental meltdowns, the world stood at a “cataclysmic turning point,” cautioned one Environment Minister, who said it was therefore vital that developing countries had a path to development that was both sustainable and affordable.  She called for a “sufficiency revolution” around the world, asking people to “do more with less”.  The world needed a true green economy, not a “greed economy” that had been “green washed”.

Another senior Government official underscored the ongoing importance of Agenda 21, the so-called “Rio Conventions” — respectively on climate change, biological diversity and desertification — and the other major principles agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit.  Specifically, he said, the international community must examine how and to what extent the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities had been implemented over the last 20 years. 

Had those countries with greater capacity carried their fair share of the sustainable development burden? Had developing countries received support for the implementation of sustainable development policies and for efforts aimed at eradicating poverty?  The world must take the opportunity presented by Rio+20 to reaffirm their commitment to the agreements reached in the last 20 years.  “I know the political will is there,” he stressed.  “Let us join hands to ensure that the planet we live in today continues to be a home for future generations.”

One Minister for International Cooperation said that the Conference’s draft outcome document was timid and lacked focused and action-oriented commitments.  As a strong supporter of the proposed set of sustainable development goals, he agreed with those calling for targets that “have teeth” — they should be strong and be backed by accountability mechanisms.  In addition, he agreed with many speakers that the goals should be both global and differentiated in nature.  “We need to stop talking about how growth can contribute to equity, and start talking about how equity can contribute to growth,” he declared.

Yet some speakers disagreed with the notion that the draft outcome document was neither ambitious nor focused, with the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) describing it as “significant and substantive”.  Despite the criticisms levied against the text, all parties should look at it pragmatically.  Moreover, the text’s worthiness lay in the way in which it would be implemented, he said.  As for financing implementation, he urged eliminating “distortive subsidies” to help countries bring about sustainable development.

Round Table 2

In the second roundtable, held on the morning of 21 June, participants, spurred by a shared sense of contemporary risks to sustainable development and conscious that a new formula must be articulated 20 years after the landmark Earth Summit, sought ways to bridge divergent interests and perspectives and coalesce around a common framework for implementation.  The discussion was co-chaired by Denzil Douglas, Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, and María Ignacia Benítez, Chile’s Minister for Environment.  Marcin Korolec, Poland’s Minister for the Environment, severed as Rapporteur.

A new knowledge-based narrative was emerging of the risks and opportunities to transition to global sustainability, said a speaker from the Stockholm Environment Institute, insisting that science, still uncertain about the risks 20 years ago, today had a “high degree of certainty that global sustainability is a prerequisite for healthy business, communities and nations”.  Humans constituted a geological force of change on a planetary scale.  That had not been known the last time in Rio, but it was known today, he said, adding that in such a situation, science dictated that a great transformation to global sustainability was needed.  Also needed was “simply a new way of doing science, a new contract between science and economy”.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) added his voice to the growing chorus calling for sustainable development, stressing that it was only durable when it was equitable.  A development model that left behind millions of children in poverty and excluded them from basic health care and quality education was unacceptable.  Children bore the least responsibility for climate change, but they would bear the greatest consequences.  Indeed, children would “inherit their parents’ misery”, he said, stressing that investing in children was an engine for sustaining development.

In terms of implementation, there were many fronts on which the process could be advanced, a representative of the European Union suggested.  There had already been success in evolving a strong basis for a human-centred agenda.  The path towards a green economy would require institutional reform, a framework for action, sustainable development goals, and the participation of business and finance, and local communities.  In the coming years, he said, all those avenues would have to be explored and defined.  The Conference was an opportunity for those who wanted to develop the policy of a green economy as a common undertaking.

Tax reforms that encouraged environmental protection while benefiting the poor were proffered by a professor from Columbia University, who said that a modest and gradually rising tax on carbon and other “environmental bads” would be effective.  He also advocated a tax on internal financial transactions, with a view to contributing to a green fund to protect decent jobs and green technologies.  The baton should be passed from the Millennium Development Goals to the “sustainable development goals”, he said, and the first of the sustainable development goals should be aimed at completing efforts to combat extreme poverty.

Round Table 3

In the afternoon roundtable that same day, participants continued to focus on implementing the expected outcomes of the Conference, stressing the importance of turning political commitments into action as soon as possible.  Several called for a stronger institutional framework, particularly after 2015, to implement and monitor implementation of agreed targets and decisions.  The round table was co-chaired by President Dalia Grybauskaitė of Lithuania, and President Laura Chinchilla Miranda of Costa RicaCatherine Gotani Hara, Malawi’s Minister for Environment, served as Rapporteur.

Participants voiced support for upgrading the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to a specialized United Nations agency and expanding its reach.  At the same time, others warned that the draft outcome document did not go far enough and had failed to meet the expectations of civil society and major groups.  Yet others called for a greater focus on ways to measure progress and assess potential gaps and constraints.  Environment Ministers from some least developed countries and small island States reminded the gathering of their pressing need for financial and technological aid to achieve sustainable development.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) cited the social, economic and environmental benefits of empowering women, calling on Governments to eliminate gender-based discrimination in agriculture, water, sanitation and other sectors.  A representative from the Convention on Biological Diversity made the case for mainstreaming biodiversity into national action and economic growth strategies, pointing out that that underpinned all three dimensions of sustainable development in addition to supporting agricultural production and food security.

Round Table 4

The Conference’s final round table discussion, held on the morning of 22 June, was co-chaired by Prime Minister Winston Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda, and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai of Nepal.  Flavia Muuaaba, Uganda’s Minister of State for Environment, served as Rapporteur.

As he welcomed participants, Mr. Spencer said that while everyone would agree that Rio+20 was a historic event, “history” truly depended on what happened after the final gavel sounded the end of the Conference and the process of implementing its outcomes got seriously under way.  As such, major commitments regarding environmental protection, a “green economy”, poverty eradication and social equity must be kept, while long-term strategies were put in place to meet emerging sustainable development challenges.

When speakers took the floor, it became clear that achieving sustainable development for all hinged on the success of measures to tackle climate change and reverse environmental degradation.  Delegates from small island developing States and tiny landlocked countries spotlighted climate change as “the existential challenge” of the day, emphasizing that without technology transfer and help with capacity-building, they would be hard pressed to address its myriad impacts.  More importantly, it would be difficult for their countries to generate the funds — or the momentum — to implement sustainable development targets.

Also addressing the roundtable were two Rapporteurs of the Sustainable Development Dialogues convened by the Government of Brazil ahead of the Conference — Gro Harlem Brundtland, United Nations Special Envoys on Climate Change and former Prime Minister of Norway; and Nawal al-Hosany, Director for Sustainability, Masdar.  Explaining that there was not enough time to give details of all the diverse discussions and proposals, Ms. Brudtland said that the panels had heard calls for education, decent, “green jobs” for youth and women, access to land water and clean energy, as well as seeds for women and small farmers.

Ms. Al-Hosany said the panels she had followed had focused on cities, with participants urging, for example, technological assistance so that waste could be used as a renewable energy source in urban environments.  Among other innovative proposals, one civil society group had called on world leaders to commit to identifying one city in their respective countries as a hub for implementing “green” initiatives, measure their implementation and then manage the roll out of the successful projects to other urban areas.

A representative of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) said that if the international community wanted to increase the amount of resources devoted to climate change and forest rehabilitation, it would first need to ensure the efficient use of funds that were already available.  Indeed, she said, it had become clear in the post-Earth Summit decades that creating multiple and often overlapping entities did not necessarily mean the required funds would be made available or effectively dispersed.

With that in mind, she said international agencies must do more to build national capacities for managing projects and generating resources.  It was time to seriously consider building an international aid architecture that would funnel resources directly to national entities and then ensure their transparent and effective dispersal by local authorities.

While many of the speakers weighed various aspects of the Conference’s outcomes — Had they gone far enough? Would they be too complicated to implement? — one minister said he hoped that Rio+20 would be remembered as much more than its outcomes.  It should be seen as the beginning of an inclusive global process to eradicate poverty and ease the pressure of human activity on the planet.  Moreover, with active and vocal participation from the major civil society groups, it had provided an unprecedented opportunity for exchange of views and ideas.  Rio+20 would be remembered as a “milestone” in international cooperation on sustainable development.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.