Innovation & Insights
What is can we expect Rio+20 to deliver? Read More…
Who is driving the sustainable development agenda? Read more
One of the expected outcomes is a new set of Sustainable Development Goals. This idea is included in the first UN zero draft text and has also been strongly encouraged by the UN High Level Panel on Global Sustainability (UN GSP). Such goals would include universal access to affordable sustainable energy, as well as universal telecommunications and broadband access by 2025.See European Environment Commissioner Potocnik’s views on the zero draft here.
A re-emerging topic ahead of the conference is the discussion on measuring progress. In this area the UN GSP suggested work to establish a sustainable development index by 2014.See the views of Bernard Avril, Science Officer at the European Science Foundation here, where he talks about the need for political will after the last 20 years of science and successful understanding.
Upgrading UNEP to a specialised agency– similar to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNESCO – is another potential outcome at Rio+20 this summer. The general perception is that UNEP –limited by its role of coordinating UN environmental activities- is currently too weak to push for the implementation of international environmental agreements. But transformed to a specialised agency, UNEP would enjoy greater decision-making power and be better equipped to push forward the sustainability agenda.
From Concept to Political Action
Ahead of Rio+20, the discussion on outcomes of the conference is gaining momentum. Two reports adopted recently provide early indications:
- The UN zero draft published on 10 January
- The UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (GSP) report “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A future worth choosing” published on 31 January
Reviewed in parallel, these texts hint at growing support for establishing new Sustainable Development Goals. See more on this above.
Rio +20 Zero draft
After more than one year in the making, the UN published the Rio+20 zero draft “The Future We Want” on 10 January 2012. Based on extensive stakeholder consultations, the zero draft will serve as a basis negotiating a focused political agreement on sustainable development that will be adopted at the Rio+20 conference in June.
The zero draft covers a wide range of priority areas: food security, water, energy, cities, green jobs, oceans and seas, natural disasters, climate change, forests and biodiversity, land degradation and desertification, mountains, chemicals and waste, sustainable production and consumption, education, gender equality… Despite this long list of priority areas identified, the focus is on:
- Improving the implementation of sustainable development and
- Enhancing the integration of the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development through a number of new initiatives – this is not about (re)defining sustainable development.
To achieve this, the zero draft calls for the participation of a wide range of stakeholders including the private sector which is called on to incorporate its specific knowledge and practical know-how into sustainable development policies. Read More…
- Integrating sustainability information in the businesses reporting cycle
- Developing green economy roadmaps for industry sectors
- Sharing experiences towards creating an international platform for green economy policy design
Click here for a range of interviews with industry stakeholders including Maxime Bureau, Director of Government and Public Affairs for Europe at 3M and Christopher Burghardt, EMEA Vice President for Government Affairs, First Solar on renewable and efficient energy.
In terms of key deliverables that could come out of Rio+20, the zero draft text puts a number of proposals on the table:
- Developing Green Economy Roadmaps tailored to the needs of different countries that set out national commitments for achieving sustainable development. A comprehensive assessment of progress is set for 2030.
- Adopting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as of 2015 to better measure progress towards sustainable development; these will complement the already existing Millennium Development Goals. To allow Parties to better measure progress towards achieving SDGs proposals for Beyond GDP indicators should be considered.
- Strengthening the UN institutional framework on sustainable development either by reaffirming the importance of the Commission on Sustainable Development or dissolving it and putting in place a Sustainable Development Council to serve as a high-level body for sustainable development. A third option is to upgrade UNEP to a specialised agency for environmental issues.
Please see the video interview with European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik for his views on the zero draft here.
Ahead of Rio+20, Parties will be coming together to further negotiate the zero draft proposals. Some key upcoming dates are:
- Third round of “informal-informal” negotiations on the zero draft, 29 May-2 June, New York, US
- 3rd Preparatory Committee Meeting UN Conference on Sustainable Development, 13-15 June, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Sustainable Development Dialogues, 16-19 June, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Rio+20 – United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, 20-22 June, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The hope is that these negotiations will bring us closer to a focused political agreement that Parties can endorse in Rio. Given that a third round of informal negotiations (29 May – 2 June) was hastily set up to compensate for the slow progress so far, it is worth looking the diverging views being put forward by countries and how these may shape the outcome of Rio+20. Read more
First Informal Negotiations, 19-27 March 2012
Following the publication of the zero draft, delegations started submitting comments and amendments to its proposals. To discuss these, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development organised a first round of informal negotiations in March 2012. By that time, the zero draft text had expanded from 19 to 206 pages.
Discussions focused on the need for better planning and implementation of sustainable development by bringing science closer to the policy making process. Emphasis was placed on knowledge-sharing and developing beyond GDP indicators to better demonstrate the costs and benefits of sustainable development.
See the views of Bernard Avril, Science Officer at the European Science Foundation here on the importance of science in policy-making.
Columbia and Guatemala’s proposal for putting in place Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) gathered the support of both developed and developing countries. Also recommended by the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (See section below on UN High Level Panel on Global Sustainability), SDGs may be one of the most concrete outcomes of Rio+20. However, negotiators warn that the final details including how SDGs will complement Millennium Development Goals are only expected to fall into place during the final hours of the conference itself.
See Michael Starbæk Christensen, Cabinet for Commissioner and High-level Panel on Global Sustainability member Connie Hedegaard on Sustainable Development Goals here.
Discussions for a new institutional framework, one of the greatest challenges at Rio+20, did not make any significant headway. Dissatisfaction with the Commission on Sustainable Development was noted but a clear alternative did not emerge from the discussions as concerns over budgetary implications were highlighted by a number of delegations.
Second Informal Negotiations, 23 April – 4 May 2012
Following the March negotiations, the draft text increased a further 70 pages. This poses a challenge for negotiators who have to now mould this text into a focused political agreement for Parties to endorse at the conference. Due to the slow progress of negotiations, a third round of informal negotiations will be convened on 29 May-2 June.
The second round of negotiations accentuated the gap between North and South with China and the G77 repeatedly calling for the deletion of references to the green economy and valuation of ecosystem services, both of which feature prominently in the EU position. Opposition was expressed once more to the EU’s proposal for a green economy roadmap with indicative targets and milestones; this included a clause requiring companies to include sustainability information in their corporate reporting. EU proposals for concrete actions to phase out fossil fuel subsidies are expected to be watered down due to opposition from Japan, the U.S. and Canada.
Agreement on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across seven priority areas (food security, sustainable agriculture, water, energy, urban environment and social inclusion) is still being discussed but negotiators do not expect agreement on mandatory targets. A key sticking point continues to be how SDGs will be linked with MDGs.
A lack of interest in any new institutions was expressed, limiting chances for parties to agree on upgrading the institutional framework for sustainable development.
The Danish EU Presidency which will lead the EU’s Rio+20 delegation along with European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik has recognised that EU member states might be hesitating to define concrete action in areas such as water, land-use and biodiversity, sustainable energy, resource efficiency and waste management.
See interview with Danish MEP Dan Jørgensen Vice-Chair of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee on his views on Rio+20 here.
UN High Level Panel on Global Sustainability
Reaffirming concepts and addressing long-term challenges
At the launch event of the report “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A future worth choosing”, South African President Jakob Zuma stated that “with the possibility of the world slipping further into recession, policymakers are hungry for ideas that can help them to navigate these difficult times.” The UN High Level Panel on Global Sustainability (GSP) has risen to this challenge, with the final report including a total of 56 concrete solutions for addressing the challenges of sustainable development. Challenging us all to do more, the leaders on the GSP also point out that political inaction also comes with a cost. See Michael Starbæk Christensen, Deputy Head of Cabinet for European Commissioner and panel member Connie Hedegaard on this report here. Read More…
The GSP was set up in summer 2010 to help move the sustainable development agenda forward. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed 22 high-level political personalities as members of the GSP, including South African President Jakob Zuma, Finnish President Tarja Halonen, European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard, former Prime Minister of South Korea Han Seung-soo and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland (who led the Brundtland Commission in 1987).
The first action of the GSP was to reconfirm the 1987 definition of sustainable development: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The panel highlighted that the main problem of the last 20 years has been a lack of political will to implement what was agreed in Rio in 1992, not a need for new definitions and/or concepts. The majority of policies and institutions continue to reward short-term decision-making and therefore, incentives for policymakers to practice the sustainable development principles enshrined in 1992 are still missing.
Developing a sustainable economy: getting the price right
Most significantly, the Global Sustainability Panel (GSP) calls for a paradigm shift in the way we talk about and measure growth. Today’s prices of goods and of services do not reflect the full environmental and social cost of production and consumption. In this vein, the GSP calls on governments at Rio+20 to build the true environmental costs of products into the prices paid by costumers – thus creating an economic system that protects natural resources. Read More…
By suggesting the – often controversial – GDP+ concept, the GSP argues that adopting a GDP+ approach would make it easier to mainstream sustainable development into political decision-making. In terms of other pricing tools, the GSP recommends the use of carbon pricing, taxation, regulation and emissions trading systems. It also supports the expansion of national and international schemes for payments for ecosystem services in areas such as water use, farming, fisheries and forestry. Sustainable development criteria for public procurement within the next 10 years, and the phase out of trade-distorting subsidies and those for fossil fuels by 2020, also feature in the GSP’s recommended armoury of actions for creating global sustainable growth.
Moreover, in order to create a market for green products and enable consumers to make more informed choices about the goods they purchase, the GSP advocates eco-labelling for goods.
Last but not least, the panel suggests the creation of an “incentive road map valuing long-term sustainable development in investments and financial transactions” alongside ideas for private-public partnership and new financing for sustainable development.
See Michael Starbæk Christensen, Deputy Head of Cabinet for European Commissioner and panel member Connie Hedegaard on this report here.
Driving Sustainable Development
Sustainable development is by its nature a cross-sectoral issue which needs to be addressed collectively by a range of actors and from a range of angles. Should business leadership drive us to a green economy? Or should politicians lead the way? Will consumer concerns and single–issue campaigns keep us on a sustainable path? How can we successfully transition to a green economy?
Fundamental issues, such as those embodied in the idea of sustainable development (human rights, equality, access to justice, education, safeguarding the planet, resource access) pose a clear challenge to policy-makers.
If policymakers wish to be successful in the implementation of green economy goals, sustainable development considerations would need to be taken into account in various policy areas. However, even if mainstreaming efforts are made, sustainable development will often risk ending up on the bottom of the list of priority actions leading to ineffective implementation.
At EU level, the current compartmentalisation of European Commission policy has tended to isolate climate change discussions. This needs to be overcome. Environmental concerns must be taken on board by other Directorates General (DGs). Mainstreaming is already an important priority for DG Climate Action and DG Environment but the challenge is to make sure that sustainable development is translated into real policy action through all relevant Commission departments. Where is DG SANCO on population causes? Where is the European External Action Service (EEAS) on the crisis of HIV/AIDS?
At the same time, an important challenge for policy-makers is to put in place the right regulatory frameworks that encourage green growth and change in production patterns. Industry could feed into this process by providing useful input but also by communicating the benefits of sustainable development to different policy areas.
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