Preparations for 2012 sustainable development conference kick off

Source: Third World Network
New York, 18 May (Chee Yoke Ling and Saradha Iyer) -- Preparations began on Monday for a United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 to review the implementation progress and gaps of the historic outcomes of the 1992 "Rio de Janeiro Summit" on environment and development as well as other relevant UN meetings.

Mr. Sha Zukang, who has been appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to head the Conference Secretariat, made a surprisingly passionate pledge in his statement at the opening plenary of the Preparatory Committee, to ensure that the intergovernmental process will be transparent, democratic and open.

He emphatically stressed that Member States must take the lead, rejected turf conflicts among UN agencies and called for any manipulation of the process to be reported to him and exposed.

Mr. Sha emphasized that the General Assembly decided to convene the Rio+20 Conference, not as a commemorative event, but to renew political commitment to sustainable development, to identify gaps in implementation and to address new and emerging challenges.

He underscored that given that only eight days have been allotted over a two-year period for the inter-governmental Preparatory Committee to meet, it was important to be efficient and that already planned summits will and should be used as building blocks for Rio +20.

He pledged to fully mobilize the UN machinery and to strive toward coherent and coordinated Inter-Agency inputs into the process from all levels.

In a departure from his prepared statement, he made a promise that "I will conduct business in an absolutely transparent, democratic and open manner". This was welcomed by many government delegations and non-governmental speakers.

[Mr Sha, a career diplomat from China, is currently Under-Secretary General in the UN for Economic and Social Affairs whose duties include responsibility for the follow-up to the major UN Summits and Conferences.]

He said that "We are meeting against the backdrop of multiple crises. The financial turmoil and its aftermath continue to reverberate throughout the world economy. Food insecurity, as well as lack of access to modern energy services, along with volatility in energy prices, continues to loom large in the lives of millions of vulnerable people. On a global scale, climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, and water shortages, are 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 ... If we continue on our current path we will bequeath material and environmental poverty, NOT PROSPERITY, to our children and grandchildren".

He said further that "Our stopgap solutions in response to these crises, with short-term timeframes and sector-based approaches, can no longer suffice in tackling the multiple crises. Only sustainable development, with its inherent emphasis on inter-linkages to address social, economic and environmental challenges in a balanced and integrated manner, can provide long-term and durable solutions to the crises".

On 24 December 2009, the UN General Assembly, at its 64th session, adopted Resolution 64/236 that decided "to organize in 2012 a Conference on Sustainable Development at the highest possible level, including Heads of State and Government or other representatives".

The Conference objective is "to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assessing the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development and addressing new and emerging challenges".

[The main outcomes include the Rio Declaration of the Conference on Environment and Development and Agenda 21 adopted by heads of state and government in 1992 as well as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the 2002 Johannesburg Plan of Action adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and the commitments and action plans from the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the 2002 International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, the 2008 Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus in Doha and the 2009 UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development.]

The focus of the 2012 Conference "will include the following themes to be discussed and refined during the preparatory process: a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development ..."

The Conference is to result in "a focused political statement".

The three-day meeting at the UN headquarters in New York (17-19 May) will set out the roadmap that culminates in a conference to be hosted again by Brazil that was host to the 1992 Rio Summit.

On 1 April 2010, the UN Secretary-General's 30-page report titled "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" was released, which is a background paper for the first preparatory meeting.

It called for reviving the Spirit of Rio 1992 but did not make any reference to the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" that underlies the Agenda 21, Rio Declaration and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Ambassador John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda and Ambassador In-kook Park of South Korea are the Co-Chairs of the preparatory process leading up to the 2012 Conference. They are members of the Conference Bureau that also comprise governmental officials from Argentina, Botswana, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Italy, Pakistan and the United States. These Bureau members are nominated by their respective UN-denominated regions to represent those regions. Brazil, as the Conference host, is an ex officio member.

Ambassador Abdullah M. Alsaidi of Yemen spoke on behalf of the Group of 77 and China. He said that "an overview of the results achieved since the landmark Conference of 1972, the Earth Summit in 1992 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, show that a persistent implementation gap, and many commitments by the international community have not been fully met at the time when the world is still suffering from the repercussion of the combined global food crisis, energy crisis and global economic and financial crisis and climate change".

The Group emphasized "the need for more holistic approach towards sustainable development. Consequently, a refinement of strategies and sharper policy perspectives aimed at effective implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, especially at the regional and national level complemented by stronger and effective international mechanisms in terms of global and regional support as well as significantly greater financial commitments, is essential".

On the green economy concept, the Group said that there is not, at this moment, a clear and consensual definition of what that approach entails. "Reports, declarations and discussion assume that a green economy' can 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, this assumption is far from settled".

The Group stressed that "an understanding of the scope and possible benefits of a green economy' approach, a well as its risks and costs, is necessary to avoid replicating a discussion on the interrelationship between environment, economy and society, or on the distinctions between the development challenges facing the developing world and the situation of developed countries, that was conceptually concluded 18 years ago in (Rio).

"Moreover, in the Nusa Dua Declaration, environment ministers set the context of the concept of the green economy in relation to the environment pillar of sustainable development and acknowledged the need to further define it. We must also explore its relationship to the economic and social pillars of sustainable development".

[The Nusa Dua Declaration was adopted at the February 2010 meeting of the UNEP Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Bali, Indonesia.]

On the issue of the institutional framework for sustainable development, the second theme of the 2012 Conference, the Group said that an effective framework at all levels is key to the implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development and to meeting emerging sustainable development challenges.

It said that while there is international consensus on the need for enhanced coordination and cooperation among international organisations and environmental agreements, there remain divergent views on how to do so in the current UN system in the area of sustainable development.

The Group identified new and emerging sustainable development issues to include: the financial and economic, food and energy crises, climate change, biodiversity, desertification, water scarcity, frequency of disasters and the need to prepare for and recover from disasters.

The Group welcomed Mr. Sha's candour and called on the Co-Chairs of the preparatory process to establish a transparent and inclusive inter-sessional process, i. e. open-ended working groups that would allow for work between the first and second preparatory meetings (the latter will be in February 2011).

Developing countries are concerned that the eight days allocated for the preparatory committee are insufficient.

Spain, on behalf of the European Union, reiterated that sustainable development was the most important challenge of our times, a top priority for the EU and called for an ambitious action-oriented outcome in Rio 2012, building on the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), and avoidance of overlapping with other review processes. It also called for confidence building.

The EU said the Conference should develop a common understanding of "green economy" and explore how a green economy can eradicate poverty.

The EU said the Preparatory Committee at this first meeting should give guidance and a clear roadmap and time table in addition to the list of documents required for the second preparatory meeting.

Canada, on behalf of the CANZ group (Canada, Australia and New Zealand), outlined its views on the two themes, saying that green economy and institutional framework for sustainable development were identified as important issues and challenges since 1992. It said that these would need to be considered in greater detail and discussions should arrive at a common understanding.

The group urged focused discussion and effective use of limited time allotted for the preparatory process. It said that the Rio 2012 process should focus on the work of the CSD and that there should be no duplication with other review processes. The preparatory work should see how other relevant review processes can support the Rio 2012 process.

[Among the ongoing UN work are implementation reviews of the Millennium Development Goals and the Mauritius Strategy for the Further Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States as well as the Ad Hoc Working Group to follow up on the Outcome of the UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development.]

Brazil, as host country for the 2012 Conference, pledged its full cooperation. Ambassador Luiz Machado said that sustainable development can be achieved by rekindling the Rio Spirit, that Rio 2012 would build on the success of its predecessors and that the goal of UN Member States should be to recommit and follow through their commitments.

He said that governments do not need to engage in a theoretical debate and added that the Conference can be successful by honestly assessing the implementation gaps including the evolution of many thorny issues such as means of implementation (finance and technology transfer). He called for an institutional framework for sustainable development in particularly to be at the UN level and actions to support the three pillars of sustainable development at the national level (environment, social and economic pillars).

Switzerland said that Rio 1992 occurred in the last century and last millennium and that there was a need to take stock and reflect changes over the last 20 years. The statement also emphasized the need to pay greater attention to the MDGs and environment protection pillar of sustainable development.

On the green economy, it said a road map was required to guide all countries towards a sustainable future.

Japan called for a new spirit of partnership between North and South to protect the planet and a compelling message in the political document that would come out of the Conference.

Venezuela emphatically called for an evaluation of the green economy proposal and insisted that it should not become an alternative concept to sustainable, saying there should be "No privatization of nature".

The US said that Rio +20 could well be "Rio for twenty somethings", underscoring the importance of engaging stakeholders especially young people. The statement emphasized the US' commitment to addressing climate change, food security, protecting global health, the marine environment, and called for the integration of the three pillars into each economic activity.

On new and emerging challenges, it cited the need to invest in human capital through education.

On the green economy, it mentioned as priorities clean energy, resource efficiency and job training.

On institutional framework, it said national and local level implementation was just as important.

UNEP Executive Director Mr. Achim Steiner started off by saying that Member States had chosen the green economy as a theme and that it was the most promising solution. He said it has given rise to many debates and perhaps that is good.

He insisted it was not an ideology and is inherently economic and can build bridges. He said it is a concept that fits absolutely into the sustainable development agenda - resources would be used efficiently and there should be equity in doing so.

Mr. Steiner added that risks will have to be faced and that concerns on trade barriers and new conditionalities (arising from a green economy) should be addressed.

Ms Veerle Vandeweerd of the UNDP said that balanced and integrated finance, social and environmental development is needed more than ever. She said that "Too often we have been dealing with the concept of sustainable development in a way that became synonymous with environmental sustainability'".

On the green economy theme, she said that it offers an opportunity to reach out to and engage finance and social ministries as well as international finance and developmental organizations in a different kind of process.

UNDP hopes that the institutional theme will also focus on the broader institutional landscape. While strengthening the environmental pillar should continue, there is a need to expand the scope of the discussion to encompass finance, social and development institutions at all levels and address how to improve coherence of the full multilateral development system, including UN system-wide coherence.

All government speakers strongly supported the effective participation of civil society groups and stakeholders in the preparatory process and the 2012 Conference itself.