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TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Jul11/04)
22 July 2011
Third World Network
 

Meeting on reform options for sustainable development institutions
Published in SUNS #7196 dated 22 July 2011

Solo, Indonesia, 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 agency.
 
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 contentious.
 
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," said Desai.
 
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 level.
 
-- 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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