New Report Adds Clarity to Rio+20 Agenda
The UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Global Sustainability on 30 January delivered its long-awaited report, marking a key juncture in the preparations for this year's UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).
The two co-chairs of the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (GSP), Finnish President Tarja Halonen and South Africa's Jacob Zuma, presented the report - entitled "Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing" - to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa.
The report arrived 25 years after the release of the Bruntland Report, which coined the concept of sustainable development. The new report highlights the interconnected web tying together the core elements of sustainable development.
"Today we see with increasing clarity that economic growth, environmental protection, and social equity are one and the same agenda: the sustainable development agenda," the report reads. "We cannot make lasting progress in one without progress on all."
The report focuses on a range of issues, such as modalities for including social and environmental issues into economies; ways of measuring progress beyond gross domestic product; developing sustainable development indicators, as well as sustainable development goals; and strengthening the role of science in the political process. The report contains 56 specific recommendations, including the need for a periodic sustainable development outlook report.
A new set of SDGs
The sustainable development goals, or SDGs, that were included in the report echo similar discussions taking place in the lead-up to Rio+20. The deadline for implementing the current Millennium Development Goals is approaching in 2015, and the report notes that the world now faces a wider set of sustainable development challenges.
Therefore, the authors support "a set of key universal sustainable development goals [that] could help to galvanize action, drawing on the experience of the Millennium Development Goals and building on their successful aspects." These should be defined in a way that complements the Millennium Development Goals while allowing for a post-2015 successor framework, they added.
In receiving the report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted several recommendations for further action on his part, including task forces to develop indicators to measure progress towards sustainable development and to define new Sustainable Development Goals for the post-2015 period. He stressed that sustainable development lies at the core of his second term in office.
A number of non-governmental organisations active in the field of sustainable development, such as WWF and Oxfam, welcomed the report, while saying that it did not call for enough immediate and concrete action.
Greenpeace agreed with the report that "it's time to end the perversity of taxpayers paying for fossil fuels which destroy our future and to admit that ‘tinkering at the edges will not do the job' of achieving a sustainable future for all." However, Greenpeace said that it would have preferred immediate targets, rather than SDGs with targets stretching out to 2030 in terms of their implementation.
On the other side, the Times of India reports that government officials there had taken a more cautious approach to some of the GSP recommendations, specifically with regards to Sustainable Development Goals. In their view, agreeing on a set of universal SDGs would go against the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, eliminating the ‘firewall' between obligations on developing and developed countries - a statement that some observers say is contrary to common interpretation of last December's outcomes at Durban's UN climate conference.
Initial discussions on Rio+20 Outcome Document
Meanwhile, diplomats and interested stakeholders met in New York late last week for initial discussions on the Outcome Document for Rio+20. The zero draft of the Outcome Document was released on 10 January (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 23 January 2012).
Among the topics receiving strong support among delegates at the meeting were the SDGs. However, with different actors viewing the Goals in a myriad of ways, some observers say the road ahead towards concrete and workable definitions remains long.
For example, in their intervention, the African group said the SDG's negotiation must not lead to the MDGs being left aside. The group also called for higher ambition overall in the zero draft, and stressed the importance of sustainable land management and responding to desertification as an African issue. The group also noted the continent's particular vulnerability to climate change.
The EU said they strongly believe that countries at Rio+20 should agree to accelerate and broaden the worldwide transition towards a green economy.
The G-77 group of developing countries emphasised the need to fulfil obligations and goals undertaken at Rio twenty years ago, as well as other major conferences on sustainable development. The group also underscored the need to secure new and additional financing, as well as technology transfer.
India, in its statement, noted regarding SDGs that these should be understood as voluntary and aspirational, should not distract from the MDGs, and should respect the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities.
In an informal meeting convened by Colombia's delegation, as a co-proponent with Guatemala, broad support was voiced for the initiative of establishing SDGs, whether at Rio or in a process initiated then. Civil society and various government representatives took the floor to endorse SDGs as a visionary idea that could speed up efforts towards sustainable development.
Road to Rio
A new round of "informal-informal" negotiations on the zero draft is expected on 19-23 March, and the next inter-sessional meeting of the Preparatory Committee for Rio+20 will be held on 25-27 March.
The last Preparatory Committee meeting is scheduled for 13-15 June, only days before Rio+20 itself, which takes place from 20-22 June.
Rio+20 marks the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The conference aims to secure renewed commitment to sustainable development and meet new and emerging challenges.
The UN report Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A future worth choosing can be accessed here.
ICTSD Reporting; "India opposes UN panel's ‘back door' for green caps," THE TIMES OF INDIA, 31 January 2012.