Preparations Move Ahead For Rio+20 Summit

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By Richard Johnson
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

GENEVA (IDN) - A significant step in preparations for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro was taken as delegates from UN agencies, member states and various civil society organisations concluded three days of deliberations on the draft outcome document.

"It is encouraging that the zero draft is viewed as a starting point for negotiations," said Sha Zukang, the Secretary-General of the conference popularly known as Rio+20, at the end of the discussions at UN Headquarters in New York.

“We will need to keep up a brisk pace if we are to complete negotiations in a timely manner. We must present to the world leaders and, indeed, to the world's people, an outcome that will make a difference in our shared undertaking to achieve a sustainable future – a future we all want," said Sha at the conclusion of three-day negotiations on January 27.

This informal round was the first of four more negotiating sessions to be held in March, April/May and June in the lead-up to Rio+20 from June 20 to 22, 2012.

Sha said that governments must make the draft ambitious and action-oriented, as many of them had emphasized, and ensure accountability. "We must not go home from Rio and forget our commitments the next day," he said, adding that a mechanism to ensure genuine delivery of commitments must be spelt out in the outcome document. He called for "decisions that show the world we mean business, but not business as usual."

The 'zero draft' for the outcome document of Rio+20, made public on January 10, was condensed from more than 6,000 pages of submissions from member states, international organizations and civil society groups in an open, transparent and inclusive process spanning months.

It underlines that 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, where countries adopted Agenda 21, the UN is again bringing together governments, international institutions and major groups to agree on a range of smart measures that can reduce poverty. And this while promoting decent jobs, clean energy and a more sustainable and fair use of resources, says the UN Department of Public Information in a special brochure.

Agenda 21 was a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection. It stipulated that industrialised North will be a role model for the developing South.

'Must Haves'

Sha presented for Rio+20 a short list of "must haves" based on the three days of comments and suggestions. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), he said, could be one of the important contributions of Rio+20. At the very least, by 2015, SDGs should be defined with a clear timeframe and give clear direction to building green economies appropriate to national circumstances.

With an eye on the Rio summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on January 30 for action on a new blueprint for creating a sustainable planet, a just society and a growing economy, stressing that the current path will not lead to a fair and resilient future for the world’s people.

"We need to chart a new, more sustainable course for the future, one that strengthens equality and economic growth while protecting our planet," he stated. "Sustainable development offers our best chance to change course."

Ban was speaking at the launch in Addis Ababa of the report prepared by his High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, Ban stressed that sustainable development is a top priority for his second term of office.

"Sustainable development is a social, economic and environmental imperative," he stated. "I call on all sectors of society to join in this effort. We need everyone – government ministers and policymakers, business and civil society leaders, and young people – to work together to create a future worth choosing – a future we want."

'Sustainable Planet'

The 22-member panel, established by the Secretary-General in August 2010 to formulate a new blueprint for sustainable development and low-carbon prosperity, was co-chaired by Finnish President Tarja Halonen and South African President Jacob Zuma.

The group's final report, 'Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing', contains 56 recommendations to put sustainable development into practice and to make it a part of mainstream economic policy as quickly as possible.

"Today our planet and our world are experiencing the best of times, and the worst of times,” states the report. "The world is experiencing unprecedented prosperity, while the planet is under unprecedented stress."

It adds that because of the array of overlapping challenges the world faces, it is more urgent than ever to take action to embrace the principles of the sustainable development agenda. "It is time that genuine global action is taken to enable people, markets and governments to make sustainable choices."

The report calls for integrating social and environmental costs in how the world prices and measures economic activities. It also calls for a set of sustainable development indicators that go beyond the traditional approach of gross domestic product (GDP) and recommends that governments develop and apply a set of Sustainable Development Goals that can mobilize global action and help monitor progress.

It underscores the importance of science as an essential guide for decision-making on sustainability issues. It calls on the Secretary-General to lead efforts to produce a regular Global Sustainable Development Outlook report that integrates knowledge across sectors and institutions, and to consider creating a science advisory board or scientific adviser.

“The need to integrate the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development so as to achieve sustainability was clearly defined a quarter of a century ago. It is time to make it happen,” states the report.

"The opportunities for change are vast. We are not passive, helpless victims of the impersonal, determinist forces of history. And the exciting thing is that we can choose our future."

The report serves as an important contribution to the UN's work on sustainable development, particularly in preparation for Rio+20.

President of the General Assembly Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, who has made sustainable development a cornerstone of his work, said on January 31 that reform of environmental institutions is needed so countries can achieve sustainable development. He stressed that States must prepare and contribute to this reform ahead of Rio+20 in June.

"Realities on the ground show that sustainable development depends on an effective framework of institutions and decision-making processes at local, national, regional and global levels, working together. Yet international environmental governance is, at present, in need of more consolidation," said Al Nasser at the conference entitled 'Towards new global governance for the environment' in Paris.

Al-Nasser stressed the need for new innovative mechanisms to ensure that existing environmental mandates are well-coordinated and efficient, and underlined the opportunity that Rio+20 presents to work on this aspect.

“From our preparations to date, one single message emerges: the Rio+20 outcome will need to give birth to a strong institutional architecture. "An architecture that promotes a better integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental protection – and addresses new and emerging issues," he said.

Al-Nasser highlighted at the conference several preparation activities that have already made recommendations for environmental reform including those made by the Rio+20 initial draft, 'The Future we Want,' which was the result of three days of deliberations concluded January 27.

He also reiterated his support for members states in this particular issue. "It is my intention to support Member States in achieving ambitious reform of the UN’s environmental governance structure," he said.

"There is no doubt that the success of our efforts will require longer-term vision, as well as the genuine willingness of Members States to preserve our planet for future generations to enjoy in dignity," he added.

Earlier in an interview with IDN's magazine for international cooperation, Global Perspectives, Al-Nasser said: "In all my meetings with world leaders, ministers and other high officials I continue to urge them to do more for 'Sustainable Development and Global Prosperity' which is one the four areas of special focus of my Presidency. This is why the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June in Brazil is very important. It can surely give an extra push to efforts towards the achievement of the MDGs and take the UN’s development agenda forward." [IDN-InDepthNews – January 31, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Image: Rio+20 | Credit: UN

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