July 19, 2011
The inclusion of the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development as a theme of the Rio +20 Conference has provided the international community with an important opportunity. How can we strengthen the commitment to sustainable development at all levels of government and by all parts of society? How do we move the commitment to sustainable development beyond environment ministries? To take advantage of this opportunity we need to work both vertically and horizontally.
Thinking vertically, to achieve sustainable development we must address it at all levels. Action on Sustainable development must begin with grassroots action by local governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses scientists and citizens. The role of national governments and intergovernmental organizations should be to facilitate and catalyze their efforts.
Thinking horizontally, the international sustainable development dialogue cannot just be a discussion of environment ministries. It should include finance, development and planning ministries. It needs to be a discussion among representatives of ministries responsible for agriculture, water, forests, health, infrastructure and commerce.
Multilaterally, our efforts at the global, national and local levels need to complement each other. The “Delivering as One” UN pilot initiative seeks to coordinate, at national and local levels, the actions and efforts of the UN on the ground and to rationalize them with the actions of other donors and the priorities of the host countries. This also needs to take place at the global level involving the headquarters of various UN bodies and their governing bodies, as well as those of other donors and the efforts of the major groups – scientists, NGOs, businesses and others.
So there we have the challenge. What should we do? What are the components of the institutional framework for sustainable development? How do we make them more effective in facilitating sustainable development at the global, national and local levels?
At a global level we established the Commission on Sustainable Development, but it has not fulfilled its promise.
It was established to review and facilitate implementation of Agenda 21. Instead it has continued to negotiate new text. Shouldn’t we focus on implementing Agenda 21 and The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation first?
The CSD was placed as a Commission under ECOSOC to encourage the participation of Ministries other than environment to participate. Unfortunately this has rarely happened. The meetings have been dominated by environment ministries and agencies, often replicating and repeating the debates and issues of UNEP GC/GMEF. We cannot re-energize sustainable development without the active participation of officials responsible for economic and social as well as environmental policy.
Placing CSD under ECOSOC also exposes other issues. CSD seeks to take on the economic, social and environmental pillars, and yet ECOSOC has not exercised much of a coordination or policy role in environment and simply endorsed the outcomes of the CSD regarding sustainable development.
As we address the institutional framework for sustainable development surely we need to reexamine the role of ECOSOC and the role and very existence of the Commission on Sustainable Development.
We will also need to examine the role of the General Assembly, which passes a number of sustainable development resolutions every year and is the reason we are all here today. Finally we will need to examine the relationship of these bodies and UNEP, UNDP and all of the other parts of the UN system that we want to promote sustainable development.
So what are our options? In the United States we are looking across the board at what we can do to facilitate the implementation of sustainable development at all levels and especially at how intergovernmental discussions can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the work the UN does in support of country priorities and commitments to sustainable development.
• Disband CSD and create a Sustainable Development Council: The Council could report directly to the General Assembly. This would elevate sustainable development issues and provide the opportunity for cross-agency monitoring. It is unclear, however, what the relationship would be between the Council and ECOSOC, and who would be on the Council. This lack of clarity implies that we may be adding duplication to the system. There might also be a budget impact, and there has traditionally been resistance to the creation of a new UN body.
• Reform CSD: CSD could be transformed from a negotiating to an implementing body, which would change to focus to discussion/analysis of issues (akin to WEF) rather than disputes over texts. Other possibilities would be for CSD to report directly to UNGA rather than ECOSOC or to charge it with reviewing national and UN programs to facilitate support for country efforts to promote sustainable development.
• Strengthen ECOSOC: Elevating ECOSOC’s attention to sustainable development and enforcing the mandate of its Coordination Segment would also increase coordination among UN agencies and the MEAs. This could be accomplished without the creation of a new body, but would entail ECOSOC playing a stronger role in the environmental arena.
• Create an UNGA Day on Sustainable Development: This would entail dedicating one day each year at UNGA to sustainable development. This would guarantee higher level attention, but would have no institutional legs. The Swiss proposed this in the Global Panel on Sustainability discussions.
• Strengthen UNEP: There are a variety of ideas which have been discussed regarding this, including Universal Membership, enhancing capacity building, and having UNEP lead a UN-wide process to enhance environmental standards and safeguards throughout the UN system.
• Enhance MEA Coordination: Multilateral environment agreements (MEAs) currently have overlapping and duplicative mandates, as well as redundant administrative functions. This is in spite of the fact that UNEP houses most MEA secretariats. The UNEP chemicals conventions are pursuing synergies and partially merged secretariats, and the synergies process has been suggested for biodiversity and atmospheric conventions. A new model would feature enhanced coordination and streamlined administration, leading to more effective program implementation, reduced administrative costs and fewer meetings. FAO and WIPO offer models of greater MEA coordination and internal support services.
At Rio we have the opportunity to be bold and to begin to fulfill the promise of genuine sustainable development, to put aside processes that merely maintain the divisions of the past and focus instead on finding the solutions to the problems and challenges of the next 20 years.