Meeting on reform options for sustainable
Published in SUNS #7196 dated 22 July 2011
21 Jul (Meena Raman) -- Due to the weakness of implementation of the
sustainable development agenda, the Rio Plus 20 summit in 2012 should
strengthen the institutional framework so that policies and programmes
can be implemented more effectively, according to speakers at a preparatory
meeting for Rio Plus 20, held in the Indonesian town of Solo.
Speakers and participants discussed various options for institutional
changes at the global level, including the establishment of a Council
on Sustainable Development, a reformed ECOSOC (UN Economic and Social
Council), and converting UNEP (UN Environment Programme) into a UN specialized
Another option, to have minimal or incremental changes by simply calling
for strengthening institutions like the Commission on Sustainable Development
(CSD) and UNEP, were considered insufficient by most.
The high-level dialogue on the institutional framework for sustainable
development (IFSD) was organized by the Government of Indonesia and
the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA)
in Solo on 19-21 July, as part of the preparations for the United Nations
Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Conference) to be held
next year in Brazil.
The meeting was opened by Indonesia's
Environment Minister, Prof. Dr. Gusti Muhammad Hatta, and was attended
by around 300 participants, including representatives of governments
(mainly officials from capitals and diplomats from the UN in New
York), major groups and international organizations.
Ambassador Sha Zukang, the UN Under-Secretary General for Economic and
Social Affairs, and also the Secretary-General of the Rio+20
Conference, spoke at the opening session of the meeting on 19 July.
He said that the international community must begin to reach a common
understanding on how best to strengthen the IFSD. "At Rio,
we must aim at strengthening institutions for all three pillars - environmental,
as well as economic and social and we must ensure that the voices of
major groups will become stronger in these institutions," he added.
Sha said that "this historical moment is also one of rethinking
conventional wisdom on many fronts - on how we manage our financial
institutions, our economies, our food and energy systems, our social
protection systems, our global environment. This is also a moment when
major shifts are occurring in international relations. New voices are
making themselves heard, both those of governments in dynamic developing
countries and those of civil society and business.
"We are faced with multiple and inter-linked challenges - food,
energy, climate, finance, jobs, development - and the institutions we
build for the future must be prepared to address these in a coherent
and integrated way."
Sha identified three goals for the IFSD. "First, is to build the
necessary synergies for coordinated implementation of sustainable development
at the national and local levels. Our second goal is to eliminate fragmentation
and duplication of functions among sub-regional, regional and international
institutions, backed by coordination and coherence at the national level
and our third goal is to build new arrangements capable of providing
strong leadership and direction in tackling major global sustainable
development challenges," he said.
He added that experiences can be drawn from institutional reforms done
in major UN Conferences. "We converted the Human Rights Commission
to a Human Rights Council with enhanced mandates and resources. We have
added new functions to ECOSOC - the Annual Ministerial Review and the
Development Cooperation Forum. We set up the Peace-building Commission."
Sha said that the President of Switzerland had recently called for the
establishment of a Sustainable Development Council. "I hear many
variants of this idea when I talk to people around the world. Can we
examine this more closely?" asked Sha.
Speaking at the first session on "Coherence and Coordination of
the IFSD", Mr. Nitin Desai (who was UN Under Secretary General
for Economic and Social Affairs from 1993 to 2003) said that the world
is not any closer to the path of sustainability. While there was some
increase in awareness, the world is still very far from accepting fundamental
changes in consumption patterns and production systems, and the core
issues of finance and technology for sustainable development remain
In identifying some barriers to operationalisation of sustainable development,
Desai said that "there were no accepted principles for burden-sharing
that will allow us to handle issues about who does what, when and who
compensates whom for what." He cited the climate change negotiations
as a classic example of this.
He asked if we should be thinking of sustainable development as an overarching
or umbrella concept that subsumes all other notions of development.
"If so, then we would look for an apex institution that can infuse
the basic ideas of sustainable development into the agenda of all developmental
and environmental bodies. If however we think of sustainable development
as a bridge concept designed to facilitate a dialogue between those
whose primary concerns relate to the environment and those who see their
role as promoting growth and development then we need a different type
of institution," he added.
"If we want results, we will have to give institutional expression
to sustainable development as an umbrella concept that sits over all
notions of development that guide the work of global institutions. In
particular, we need to ensure that sustainable development does not
remain an environmental programme in disguise and that the development
agencies are as committed to the implementation of Agenda 21, the Johannesburg
Programme and whatever comes out of Rio+20," said Desai further.
"In doing this we must also recognise that the global development
dialogue has new elements that were not present at Rio," he said. Referring to the Millennium Development
Goals and the Monterrey Consensus on finance for development, Desai
said that "both of these have their own arrangements for intergovernmental
review, coordination and programme development."
"The ECOSOC is central to the task of linking sustainable development,
the MDGs and finance for development. Its role in macro economic matters
has been strengthened and it is well placed as the forum of choice for
an integrated view of the commitments made at all Conferences. But it
must go beyond reviewing the decisions of subsidiary bodies. It should
undertake thematic reviews organised around the relevant decisions of
all Global Conferences, including UNCTAD and of its own subsidiary bodies.
None of this is actually new. It was envisaged many years ago when the
ECOSOC discussed the coordinated follow-up to UN Conferences,"
Elaborating further, Desai said that "The institutional expression
of sustainable development as an umbrella concept need not take place
only in the ECOSOC. There is some talk of a Sustainable Development
Council directly reporting to the General Assembly on the lines of the
Human Rights Council. This Council would have a remit that extends to
all three pillars of sustainable development - the environmental, the
economic and the social. A question that will need to be addressed is
the placing of the subsidiary bodies of ECOSOC that deal with one or
the other of the three pillars. The Commission on Sustainable Development
(CSD) would clearly need to be reoriented if such an apex arrangement
is set up. One role that I can see for a CSD-type arrangement is as
an open space for policy dialogue and exchange of best practices."
On the issue of coordination, Desai said that the UN agencies, programmes
and departments need to be brought together not just for servicing intergovernmental
bodies but for programme planning and implementation. The focus on implementation
will require more than just routine coordination amongst secretariats.
It must involve funding organisations, including bilaterals and all
implementation partners including NGOs. The Joint Programme on AIDS
and the CGIAR mechanism and some of the arrangements in the field of
humanitarian assistance provide models for this type of coordination
that leads to a good mix of centrally managed coherence and flexibility
at the edges.
Referring to a proposal for a World Environment Organisation (WEO),
Desai said that "the plethora of institutions, particularly on
the environmental side have led to demands for a WEO. The multiplicity
of secretariats is not a very strong argument. After all, on that type
of argument about multiple overlapping agencies one could ask for a
World Development Organisation!"
In questioning the need for a WEO for enforcement, Desai said that "the
analogy with the WTO is quite unfortunate because it immediately raises
the fear of trade conditionality. Moreover, do remember that the WTO
came after many decades of implementation of a treaty-based trade system.
In some ways the WIPO provides a better analogy as it handles a multiplicity
of conventions with differing membership. But it too emerged after many
decades of implementation of treaties. In the environmental field, we
have a long way to go before we have a proper treaty-based regime that
covers the full range of issues that concern us. A unified mechanism
to manage the reporting, review and dispute settlement processes must
wait till these processes themselves are agreed."
Martin Khor, the Executive Director of the South Centre, who also spoke
in the first session, said that 20 years after the Rio Summit 1992,
the global sustainable development situation has deteriorated. The environment
crisis has worsened, while after a period of good development performances
in some developing countries, the prospects for the global economy have
worsened, with the financial-economic crisis now affecting Europe and
the US, which has implications for developing
countries. The social dimension is bound to be affected by the environment
and economic crises, which has adverse effects on poverty, employment
and social services, food security, health, etc.
Thus, there is need to examine what has gone wrong, said Khor. A major
problem is the weakness of institutions set up to follow up the outcomes
of Rio. The Rio
vision was far-reaching, and the agenda was very ambitious, but the
institutions to follow up were weak. The CSD as the main institution
had a limited mandate, few resources and it only convened meetings for
a few weeks in a year. As a result, there was little implementation
capacity or strategy. The great deficiency has been in implementation,
and in the institutional framework for implementation. Thus, there is
need to greatly strengthen the Sustainable Development architecture
through Rio Plus 20.
Khor provided four options for reforming the IFSD. The first is to mainly
have the status quo, with a decision to strengthen the CSD, the UNEP
and other relevant organizations like UNDP (UN Development Programme),
the Multilateral Environmental Agreements, Commission for Social Development,
etc. "The likelihood is that there will be minimal changes or at
least changes inadequate to the task," he said.
The second is the proposal by some to convert UNEP to a World Environment
Organisation. Khor said there are some questions raised, such as the
roles then of other UN agencies that have a bearing on environment and
natural resources such as FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) regarding
forest and agriculture, or the UNFCCC regarding climate change; the
upgrading of one pillar while not the other two pillars and whether
it is better to develop the three pillars in a more balanced way; the
foundational principles of the new organization (whether they are based
on the Rio sustainable development package); and the political feasibility
at the present.
The third option is the institutional reform of the CSD, perhaps with
its re-naming as a Council on Sustainable Development, said Khor, adding
that this is a variant of the concept of a sustainable development umbrella.
Such a transformation could include the following elements:
-- An architecture with a general component and with three pillars (social,
economic and environment).
-- The overall Council should have its status clarified with regard
to the General Assembly and with regard to ECOSOC (the division of work
between the new CSD and the ECOSOC).
-- The general component could have the function of integration of the
three pillars, the development or updating of the general sustainable
development principles, and the international cooperation components
of finance, technology and capacity-building. This general component
could include mechanisms for coordinating among the agencies, committees
or secretariats of the three pillars; the mobilizing and operations
of finance and technology transfer; and the convening of high-level
meetings of Ministers or Heads of Government and State on "Sustainable
Development" overall in which the issues of the three pillars are
on the agenda.
-- The formulation of elements and issues in each of the three pillars.
These could include a Sub Council or Committee (intergovernmental) for
each pillar, with a supporting secretariat department, and the coordination
of implementing actions by relevant agencies in the pillar.
-- The regional commissions and agencies of the UN system should also
be involved in the three pillars, as well as the role of the UN at national
-- The methods of interaction with and involvement of the Bretton Woods
institutions and the WTO in the three pillars should be worked out.
-- The status of the reformed CSD with the General Assembly, and its
relations with ECOSOC, as well as other UN organs such as the Commission
on Social Development, the General Assembly Second Committee, etc has
to be worked out.
Khor added that "Under this umbrella architecture, there should
be more time given for the convening of meetings on sustainable development
pillars and issues, for example, climate change, biodiversity, financial
and economic issues, where there is now a felt need for more time for
intergovernmental discussion. There would be space to explore new mechanisms
or better coordination for important but relatively neglected issues
such as water or energy. There can be more time for more effective mobilizing
of financial resources and technology development and transfer.
He said that a fourth option is to carry out the reforms referred to
in the third option, but to make it happen in ECOSOC rather than a Council
on Sustainable Development. The advantages and disadvantages of option
three and option four have to be considered.
Khor said in conclusion that "the above options are perhaps not
the optimal one. In the optimal model, we may even have a UN Organisation
for Sustainable Development, with a powerful integrated mandate to deal
with all the issues of the three pillars, and with a large Secretariat
that may subsume the secretariats or parts of the secretariats of several
existing UN departments, funds, programmes and agencies. Maybe this
may happen in 20 years. However, it is more realistic to envisage an
intermediate model, that upgrades from what we have today. The business-as-usual
model has not worked, and an upgrade is necessary to face the sustainable
development challenges of today, 20 years after Rio."
The meeting also heard presentations dealing with "Strengthening,
transforming and reforming the intergovernmental institutions";
"Promoting sustainable development governance at the national and
local levels"; "Strengthening international support to national
level sustainable development governance"; and "Emerging issues:
Can the existing institutional framework adequately address them?"
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