“We need everyone to work together to create the future we want, ” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last Friday, urging the world body to rally behind the recommendations of his blue ribbon panel for launching a new, people-powered agenda for development which would eradicate poverty and promote inclusive growth, while protecting the environment and making consumption and production patterns more sustainable.
Presenting the final report of his High-level Panel on Global Sustainability to an informal meeting of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General said the Panel’s vision also included reducing inequality while combating climate change and ensuring respect for a range of other planetary boundaries. Its 56 recommendations fell under three main headings: empowering people to make sustainable choices; working towards a sustainable economy; and strengthening institutional governance.
The report, titled “Resilient people, resilient planet: a future worth choosing” (document A/66/700), was the outcome of work carried out by the team that Mr. Ban established in August 2010 to formulate a new blueprint for sustainable development. It was co-chaired by former Finnish President Tarja Halonen and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, whom the Secretary-General thanked today, alongside other Panel members, for their hard work, commitment and leadership.
“The report emphasizes that there are many opportunities available to individuals, Governments and businesses to influence our common future for the better, ” Secretary-General Ban said, adding that the Panel’s work highlighted good practices, without claiming to have found the perfect solution for all of today’s interconnected challenges. Rather, it called for a range of coordinated measures that could be implemented, “that take us beyond regimented silos, and that have the potential to set us on a more sustainable path”.
He encouraged Governments to examine closely the recommendations addressed to them, many of which would involve long-term measures and changes in mindset. At the same time, he urged them to ensure that those recommendations that were ripe for immediate action would become part of the outcome of the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as “Rio+20”. Governments were also urged to study the shortcomings of current bodies and processes, and consider a fresh start through new or reformed arrangements that integrated the three dimensions of sustainable development — environmental, social and economic.
The Secretary-General highlighted the report’s “nexus approach”, which underlines the inextricable link connecting food, water and energy security, as well as the need to pursue them together. He also noted that some of the recommendations related to initiatives that he had already set in motion, including his “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative, and a sustainable development strategy for the United Nations system. Others would be included in a new sustainable development index, or set of indicators for sustainable development goals, he added.
“We need to bring together all relevant actors, ” he said, stressing that, in addition to national Governments, the substantive involvement of civil society, the private sector and the scientific community, as well as subnational and regional authorities, was necessary for the right discussions to be held, the right decisions to be made and implementation to happen on the ground. “We also need to mobilize public support around the world for the vision of finally building a sustainable world that guarantees the well-being of humanity, while preserving the planet for future generations.”
General Assembly Vice-President Milan Jaya Nyamrajsingh Meetarbhan ( Mauritius), delivering remarks on behalf of the Assembly President, hailed the Secretary-General’s leadership on the issue of sustainable development, saying it reflected a personal commitment to ensuring a better future for the world. With the Preparatory Committee for Rio+20 set to begin the first round of negotiations on the Conference’s proposed outcome document on Monday, 19 March, the current informal Assembly meeting was an opportunity to reflect on how the report could feed into that process and to exchange constructive ideas on how it could advance the sustainable development debate, he said.
As for the Panel’s work, he noted that those high-level individuals from around the world had considered the input of a broad range of stakeholders. Their recommendations expressed “a consensus that stood well above the lowest common denominator”, and should inspire delegations as they strove to raise the level of ambition for the Rio+20 outcome. “So dear colleagues, let us work cooperatively to find inclusive, durable solutions to global challenges, because ensuring sustainable development is our responsibility, ” he declared.
As regional groups took the floor to comment on the report, Raymond Wolfe (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that, in presenting its case on the urgent need to integrate the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, the Panel had provided a fresh perspective on the “seemingly intractable question of political will”, and presented some ideas on how to overcome that challenge through the use of new and existing tools and mechanisms.
CARICOM supported the report’s focus on agriculture and oceans, he said, adding that it planned to consider the proposals under those themes, including on establishing a new “green revolution”. While supporting the Panel’s call for scaling up efforts towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, CARICOM was disappointed that the Panel had not offered specific recommendations on how to ensure that objective was reached.
Mourad Benmehidi (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that, while the report’s contents were still under careful consideration, the Panel’s recommendations certainly should be integrated into the intergovernmental process, especially the preparations for Rio+20 and the wider push to realize the Millennium Goals by 2015. International cooperation for development should remain the basis of all activities in the area of sustainable development, he stressed. At the same time, such intergovernmental cooperation should be complemented by the efforts of other relevant actors, including civil society. Overall, it was necessary to keep the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Goals in sight, especially for Africa.
John Busuttil, representative of the European Union delegation, stated that the report presented useful and challenging perspectives, as well as concrete recommendations. The Union and its member States did not necessarily support all the proposals, but it welcomed the opportunity to consider them. One idea that the European Union found useful concerned the limitations of measuring progress on the basis of gross domestic product (GDP), which did not reflect resource efficiency or sustainability. It was necessary to include other indicators that contributed to a more accurate picture of progress and welfare, he added.
He went on to welcome the idea of a sustainable development index, saying he looked forward to further discussions at the Rio Conference. Also interesting was the Panel’s recommendation for institutional reforms. The European Union’s view was that a strengthened Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development must include enhanced political leadership, transparency, accountability, and wider participation. Finally, he urged that the Panel’s work not become “just another report gathering dust on our shelves”, but one upon which Member States could consider taking action, especially in the run-up to Rio+20.
Gyan Chandra Acharya ( Nepal), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, welcomed the report, saying it took a holistic approach to sustainability. Sustainable development must continue to keep people at the centre of all efforts to achieve poverty eradication and broader social gains. The overall push for sustainable development must have a long-term, multi-stakeholder approach to deal with the challenges at hand, including environmental protection.
He said the Group of Least Developed Countries would continue to call for the protection of mountain and ocean ecosystems, as well for empowering the people to participate in crafting sustainable development policy. The report rightly stressed the need to scale up effort to reach the Millennium Goals by 2015, as well as the need to examine the international development agenda after that critical deadline, he said, adding that the report had made a definite contribution by presenting a “broad vision” towards meeting sustainable development goals.
Robert G. Aisi (Papua New Guinea), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, said he shared the Panel’s concerns on acidification and the danger it posed to marine food chains and coral reefs. Priority should be given to challenges now facing the marine environment and the “blue economy”, he emphasized. The Pacific was proud to have taken the lead in the field of coastal management frameworks, as evidenced by the Coral Triangle Initiative, the Micronesia Challenge, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the Pacific Oceanscape, he added.
He said he also agreed with the Panel that the ecosystem-based approach must be a guiding principle for the management of fisheries, which for many Pacific nations were a key foundation upon which their culture, food security and economies were built. However, the Pacific island States were dismayed that the Panel had been unable to agree on any recommendation addressing the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions or to limit the adverse impacts of climate change. That was “a glaring omission” because nothing was more important to sustainable development, he stressed.
Speaking on behalf of civil society, Jan Peterson, Chair of the Coordinating Council of the Huairou Commission, emphasized that none of the report’s recommendations could be implemented “without all of us working together”, which required the creation of enabling environments that would promote broader participation in the sustainable development process. “Different people must be sitting at the table to ensure real power-sharing, ” she said, stressing that local communities and Governments must be involved from the very beginning to ensure a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach.
All stakeholders must acknowledge that it was the people, especially women, who were the “change makers”, and that families and communities were the two keys to sustainability, he continued. “The international community must invest where the energy is, ” she said, calling for a focus on incorporating the efforts of community-based grass-roots organizations into the sustainable development process.
When individual delegations took the floor, some speakers welcomed the report as a major step forward while others said it lacked solid recommendations and offered no options that could be readily implemented by small and vulnerable countries. What some delegations saw as a “bold initiative”, others called “a stale vision”. One speaker said that, while the idea behind establishing the High-level Panel had been admirable, the report seemed to be an attempt to impose a global agenda that totally disregarded the priorities of small countries. Moreover, the report had been cast as an opportunity to correct past failures, but offered no concrete recommendations on ways to ensure that action plans critical to developing countries — Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Mauritius Strategy — were fully implemented.
Another speaker questioned the very reason for creating the Panel, recalling that the United Nations Charter had established the Economic and Social Council as the main United Nations organ responsible for coordinating policy dialogue on economic and social development. The Council’s work must be strengthened rather than diluted, he emphasized.
Wrapping up the informal debate, Secretary-General Ban addressed questions and concerns raised by some delegations, explaining that the Panel had been established by his own initiative. He had tried his best to ensure good geographical and gender representation, as well as adequate consideration of country- and region-specific priorities, such as those highlighted by the “Group of 77” developing countries, small island nations, and landlocked countries, among others. Further, the report did not force any country to make any commitments, but only attempted to show that it was in the self-interest of all to take certain steps. While the report recommended that the businesses make serious contributions, it was up to Governments to create the necessary conditions for private-sector involvement, he pointed out.
Overall, the Secretary-General said he was encouraged to receive such strong support for the Panel’s report, and repeated his call to Member States “to keep the level of ambition high” in the run-up to Rio+20. What was needed now was to evolve all the different agendas into one common, ambitious sustainable development agenda. “I am at your disposal, ” he stated, emphasizing the need to bring on board the global public at large. Sustainable development would not come from outside, he stressed. It would only take root if States took decisive action.
Also speaking were representatives of Australia, Cuba, Venezuela, Spain, Bolivia, Brazil, Japan, Viet Nam, Italy, Belarus, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Barbados, Turkey, Mexico, India, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden.