Rio+20 User Guide        
      UNEP at Work                
Good Governance!

Rita Mishaan
Rio +20 Central American and Guatemalan Coordinator (2010-2011)

Rio + 20 seeks to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress and implementation gaps in meeting previously-agreed commitments, and address new and emerging challenges.

Throughout the preparatory process, two major issues were identified for the ongoing negotiations; a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and the International Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD ).

Discussions on the IFSD approached the major issue of Governance at the International, Regional and National Level. Member states raised questions on how institutional frameworks can support and promote sustainable development, nationally and regionally, and on what can be done to strengthen them. They also asked what actions are required to build stronger bridges between the three pillars of sustainable development — economic, social and environmental — and what changes and adjustments are needed to strengthen the global institutional architecture.

The Implementation Plan of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development — held in Johannesburg on the tenth anniversary of the original Rio Earth Summit — affirmed that: an effective institutional framework for sustainable development at all levels is key to the full implementation of Agenda 21, the follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and meeting emerging sustainable development challenges. Measures aimed at strengthening such a framework should build on the provisions of Agenda 21, as well as the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 of 1997, and the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and should promote the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration, taking into account the Monterrey Consensus and relevant outcomes of other major United Nations conferences and international agreements since 1992. It should be responsive to the needs of all countries, taking into account the specific needs of developing countries including the means of implementation. It should lead to the strengthening of international bodies and organizations dealing with sustainable development, while respecting their existing mandates, as well as to the strengthening of relevant regional, national and local institutions.

So, what has happened since then? Why have we not achieved all the agreements established along the road? Are we too afraid to launch the ideal framework for sustainable development at the global, regional and national levels? Or is there a common political arrangement, the kind that is agreed in silence, among the strong and powerful political leaders of the world whose economic and industrialised interests have the last word? How can we advance towards the challenge of confronting the excessive production and consumption that uses 80 per cent of the planets natural resources for the benefit of only 20 per cent of its population? Needless to say, at the present rate of population growth, we will need three and a half or four planets by 2050 to feed humanity.

So, is there any possible solution for achieving true and desirable global “sustainable development”? Are we willing to agree to a cohesive and united force to achieve international governance? And, what about the regional and national levels? These are some of the questions that remain unanswered. But it is up to us, the member states, regions and working groups, to push forward some of the solutions.

During the Central American consultation process we agreed that over the last 20 years the United Nations system has never enabled an Environmental Agency to have a “high level mandate” that fully implemented Agenda 21 principles, or had the potential to coordinate among the different international bodies or generate a cohesive political force to ensure that the three pillars were aligned in the same direction.

The main lesson learned, time and time again, is the lack of comprehensive political coherence among the international, regional and national institutions “in charge” of sustainable development. It is a long way from the political will expressed, 20 years ago, to say the least.

If we are to approach sustainable development, we must generate “good governance”. This, in turn, is essential for sound economic policies, solid democratic institutions that are responsive to the needs of the people and improved infrastructure that can form the basis for sustained economic growth, poverty eradication, and employment creation.

So, during our national and regional discussions on this regard, we concluded that the challenges to consider are; changing the format of existing institutions and improving coordination between them.

The Commission on Sustainable Development should undergo a change of architecture that gives it more leverage at the highest level, transforming it into a “Council for Sustainable Development” to deal with the subject within the United Nations system and serve as a forum for the discussion of all the issues related to integrating the three dimensions of sustainable development.

When it comes to improving coordination among existing institutions, it is important to highlight the history generated in the course of the deliberations of the Intergovernmental Panel on international environmental management of UNEP, which supported the concept of programmatic clustering of multilateral environmental agreements.

Strengthening UNEP as a program should be raised to a higher level. It should be given the power to mobilise more financial resources and implement projects at national and regional levels. Such a new architecture for UNEP should, in turn, strengthen its regional offices and include national presences to accompany implementing and monitoring actions on the ground.

Ultimately, generating and strengthening a new framework of international institutions for sustainable development is, as always, down to decision makers who are willing to make a difference. What is certain is that — two decades after the Rio Earth summit and four decades since nations met in Stockholm for the first major international political conference specifically dedicated to the environment — we do not have 20 or 40 more years in which to decide the future of the Planet or the survival of future generations.

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