UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME ‘AMBITION PAPER’ Ideas for possible outcomes of the Rio + 20 Conference INTRODUCTION The following overarching ideas are suggested as proposed outcomes which the Conference might consider. While these ideas transcend the specific items on the formal agenda of the Conference, they might be seen as flowing from anticipated outcomes of an objective and realistic process to assess progress made since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development of 1992. These ideas seek to be transformative in nature and to address some of the obstacles to progress towards Sustainable Development. They flow from the perspective we take that the Conference presents an historic opportunity for governments to demonstrate political will and commitment to Sustainable Development, and to set in motion some fundamental processes that could set a new and higher course of approach to that goal. Within these ideas there is much scope for more effectiveness through enhancement of how the United Nations System entities consolidate and coordinate their work relating to specific outcomes in the context of sustainable development, but also to be transformative of the way in which the world approaches the goal of sustainable development. 1. PERSPECTIVE ON THE UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT The UN General Assembly adopted in December 2009 resolution 64/236, which provides for the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio +20. Its objective “will be to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assessing the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development and addressing new and emerging challenges.” 1.1 The Conference has the opportunity to be an historic event:
The world now has considerably greater understanding of the issues of Sustainable Development and the ways in which economy, environment and human well-‐being are inter-‐related and mutually supportive
At the same time, the evidence is abundant that this inter-‐relationship is not sufficiently developed or put into practice for moving towards Sustainable Development, and that environment imperatives and human well-‐being are 1
invariably traded off as optional and secondary to economic growth. The Conference needs to move away from equating Sustainable Development with ‘Environmental’ issues – this has been a major limitation of past and present processes and participation relating to ‘Sustainable Development’ matters -‐ and to focus on a new and different approach to economic growth which the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was to engender. This raises a challenge of how to get others such as Finance and Planning and Development ministries and constituencies involved in the Conference, alongside environmental ministries and constituencies -
The Conference could set a perspective about the way in which these three aspects of Sustainable Development need to be brought in harmony, in order to set the stage for transforming the paradigm of Development as we practice it now, to move to one that is more in keeping with the concept of Sustainable Development, one that is more people-‐centred and planet-‐centred.
The Conference could signal the political will to move to such a transformation and with urgency, which could trigger and accelerate much of the technical work that would be required to facilitate that new approach
The Conference could also take some affirmative decisions to facilitate and enable its political direction to be applied and be made effective in relation to particular objectives
The Conference could move from a programmatic to a political framework: not reissuing all the diagnosis and policy recommendations on a sectoral basis that is so well documented and understood, but seeking to overcome obstacles to a transformative process, to scale up good practice and approaches and results, to forge a systemic approach to solutions, to achieve coherence among the many parts that make up a national or the global response system, and to address through specific affirmative decision some of the more pressing global issues.
1.2 The Conference will take place in a radically changed geo-‐political world compared to 1992. This makes it possible for the ‘developing’ countries to exercise new and different leadership towards the outcome of the Conference, in relation to the world and to themselves. All countries must choose a different economic pathway to seek to move to Sustainable Development. There is a sense in which ‘Our Common Future’ is now more starkly revealed than it was in 1987 (the year of the report of the Brundtland Commission) or in UNCED in 1992, bringing new urgency to the need to focus and elevate the Sustainable Development agenda in all societies. The economic rise of BRICS has led to disappearance of some former distinguishing features of ‘North’ and
‘South’, ‘developed and developing’ countries. All share in common but differentiated responsibilities towards global sustainable development. 1.3 The participation of several countries of ‘the South’ in the G20 grouping offers opportunities for setting a new and higher threshold for moving towards Sustainable Development and for achieving an enhanced quality of international cooperation. There is therefore an opportunity to make the Rio + 20 Conference a watershed in international development cooperation: to be transformative, to set a new threshold for enhanced global development cooperation towards Sustainable Development. This will require bridging country groupings and regions and transcending narrow national interests in order to champion the needs of under-‐served countries and neglected but urgent global issues. 2. THE CORE OF THE PROBLEM 2.1 At the core of the ideas that follow is the perception that:
the world’s approach to dealing with the ‘three pillars of Sustainable Development’ – economic, environmental, social -‐ has led us to juxtapose these rather than to integrate them
that environmental and social imperatives are usually traded off in favour of simple economic growth, regarded as optional add-‐ons, and invariably factored out because they incur incremental costs
environmental and social issues need to be addressed in economic institutions (International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organisation at the global level; but also in Finance and Planning and Development ministries at the national level)
economic growth at all costs based on the existing economic model is not routinely delivering environmental and social objectives (a failure of the Development process, hence the need for special initiatives like Millennium Development Goals to bridge the gaps in achievement, in sustainability and equity; but these special initiatives remain peripheral to the main motor of the economy)
and in particular, economic growth is accompanied by widening equity gaps at global and national levels.
2.2 Given that analysis, we are of the view that there is need for harmonizing, rather than juxtaposing, the three dimensions of Sustainable Development, which requires recognition: -‐ that they are the composite of Sustainable Development, in which they are mutually dependent and mutually supportive and exist in a dynamic relationship -‐ that they should therefore be indivisible in the concept and practice of Development -‐ that economic growth should not continue to be seen as an independent variable, without regard for environmental boundaries, imperatives and objectives, and indifferent to social and human well-‐being outcomes -‐ that each unit of economic growth should simultaneously deliver environmental and social objectives (the approach of the proposals for moving towards Green Economies) -‐ that it is not the arithmetic among these variables (added or subtracted as convenient) but rather the algebra among them (how the variables relate and affect one another in context, how they might reinforce one another, how they combine towards the equation of Sustainable Development) that matters. 2.3 Consequently, we propose an approach to managing these variables as a package, recognizing: -
their indivisibility in the concept and practice of Sustainable Development, and the need to make them systemic and whole (“all for one and one for all”)
that Earth’s system boundaries and environmental impacts cannot indefinitely sustain the consequences of the present approach to economic growth
that the world cannot be indifferent to the need for more urgent and more equitable progress towards improvement in human well-‐being for all
that the nature, pathway and characteristics of economic growth should be predicated on the desired environmental and social outcomes
that the social and ecological dimensions simply cannot continue absorbing the ‘cost’ of the repercussions of economic growth without more, and that retrofitted solutions to diminish/recover/compensate for that cost will not be effective
the need to bring these dimensions into harmony in the policy and decision-‐making processes.
2.4 We describe this conceptual approach to understanding and practice as a triple helix approach (in contradistinction to a three pillar approach) to the dimensions of
Sustainable Development. This is not just a recognition of the need to break down silos, it signals a new dynamic relationship among the economic, ecological and social dimensions of Sustainable Development that is more integrated, that reflects a composite that is mutually reinforcing, mutually dependent, and in which all three variables are equally important. This was the model of development which UNCED 1992 was meant to usher in; twenty years later the world is still largely on the same course as it was then, and the fundamental issues remain the same, while the evidence of continuing deterioration in environmental and human well-‐being concerns accumulates. 3. SOME GENERIC AND CROSS CUTTING IDEAS FOR OUTCOMES OF THE RIO + 20 CONFERENCE The ideas for Conference outcomes made under this heading transcend the individual agenda items for the Conference. They also go beyond a sectoral approach. We are of the view that on a sectoral or issue-‐specific basis much of what needs to be done to move towards Sustainable Development is known and well outlined from several dedicated processes; and that what is required now is to identify and unblock some of the obstacles to effective implementation. Therefore we see the following needs: 3.1 Need to bring the three dimensions of Sustainable Development into a better balance: In its outcome document, the Conference might support a triple helix approach to Sustainable Development, as reasoned above. We consequently advocate that the Rio + 20 Conference could signal that the world needs to move to such an approach if it is to find more direct and assured pathways to poverty eradication and Sustainable Development, and if it is to recover from some of the limitations of the approach taken over the last twenty years. We are of the view that the concept of a triple helix approach lies at the heart of what the Conference needs to address. This does not require any change to the definition of Sustainable Development as accepted from the work of the Brundtland Commission and reflected in Agenda 21. Nor does it seek to substitute the three dimensions. It will however require attention to the way in which the world conceptualises their inter-‐ relationship, and to the ways in which decisions about policy, investment and development activities are made, so that environmental and human well-‐being outcomes are not sacrificed in the preoccupation with and pursuit of economic growth. Economic growth is essential, but so are environmental objectives and human well-‐being. The Green Economy Report tabled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for the Conference preparatory process already reflects an attempt to cater for achievement of economic growth, while contributing
simultaneously to environmental and social outcomes (though the clarity of this concept and communication of it may need some improvement). 3.2 Need for urgent and explicit attention to Equity: In its outcome document, the Conference might draw attention to the way in which the present economic model generates persistent poverty and increasing inequity. It might recognize that the peripheral means by which the world tries to alleviate that poverty and inequity do not allow it to catch up. The Conference might propose that closing the contemporaneous equity gap should be urgently and consciously sought as an outcome at global and national levels. This is in addition to the notion of inter-‐ generational equity as included in the Brundtland definition of Sustainable Development. The Conference might recognize that without achieving more equity within the present generation, it may not be possible to satisfy that requirement in inter-‐generational terms. To contribute to realizing this objective through an operational mechanism, the Conference might propose establishment of an independent entity at the global level that would function as a ‘watchdog’ for Equity. This might be replicated nationally. Both would contribute to the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development at global and national levels. 3.3 Need for New Metrics for Sustainable Development: The Conference might recognize that continuing reliance on Gross Domestic Product as the measure of Development is misleading, given the goal of Sustainable Development. The Conference might acknowledge the limitations of this measure, especially given a triple helix approach. The Conference might call for urgent and accelerated work, in a specified time frame, towards a new set of metrics that reflect the three dimensions of Sustainable Development as being equally important. Such a call would be the signal to bring together all the related pieces of technical work that are in process (such as the foundation laid by the study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity -‐ TEEB, the partnership being led by the World Bank building on TEEB, work by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, work by the Stiglitz Commission, many other pieces of work, etc.). In order to make alternative or supplementary measures to GDP possible, it will be necessary for National Income Accounting Systems to reflect the same characteristics. Pilot work on this in a small number of countries is in process (being led by the World Bank) but the urgency for new metrics and within a specified time frame could be given momentum by such a Conference outcome. 3.4 Need to Develop a Global Partnership for Development: This is Millennium Development Goal 8. The Conference might recognize that international trade, overseas development assistance, foreign direct investment, technology cooperation, capacity building should all be configured to leave targeted countries
on a higher threshold for designing and sustaining their own development, compatible with a model that integrates the economic/environmental/social dimensions of Sustainable Development. In order to make this operational, the Conference might direct that such international relationships be reviewed and revised as appropriate towards this objective, within the related oversight processes that now exist, including attention in the Doha Round. This would contribute to attention to Millennium Development Goal 8 for progress in the global partnership for development, which has shown no signs of transformation since year 2000 when the Millennium Development Goals were adopted. 3.5 Need for Enhanced Investment and Arrangements for Public Involvement: The Conference might recognize that moving towards Sustainable Development cannot be done by governments alone, but that they must guide and enable societies along the pathway. Sustainable Development requires that societies understand the nature of the changes required and are prepared to support political will in that direction, with mechanisms established to systematically permit increase in citizen understanding and involvement. Country ownership of the approaches and measures to be taken needs to be cultivated and secured, and this needs to be distinguished from government ownership. Three aspects of this warrant more emphasis, investment and systematic attention: 3.5.1 Education programmes that build understanding and that could lead to the changes in values and behaviour (as consumers and as polity) that are conducive to moving towards sustainability 3.5.2 Access to information that enables and empowers citizens to make choices and to make inputs that are consistent with the overall direction of sustainable development and the specific measures to be taken 3.5.3 Mechanisms for public involvement and consultation that are not ad hoc but are part of national governance arrangements and that are part of the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development at the national level. 3.6 Need for affirmative interventions for relating to the economic interests of Youth throughout the world: The Conference might recognize the scale of youth unemployment and the societal tensions to which that leads, that the phenomenon exists in societies in industrialized as well as developing economies, that in general youth appear not to be benefitting proportionately from economic growth. The Conference might accordingly decide to establish a global programme for training and employment of young people to respond in a targeted way to their needs to be equipped with the skills and opportunities to enable them to share more equitably in
the development process. Such an approach could be especially useful if it is linked to the nature and range of skills and investment decisions required by a ‘Green Economy’ approach to sustainable development. 3.7 Need for corporate reporting on integrated sustainability parameters to be mandatory: The Conference might decide that the ways in which corporate economic activities affect the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development and contribute to their related outcomes is urgent to understand and assess in a country context. The Conference might accordingly conclude that such reporting in an integrated manner will be made mandatory for firms at the national level, in order to permit oversight of corporate practice and to enable related policies to be established and implemented. There is much available technical guidance on how such sustainability reporting can be done, and some countries have already moved to legislatively require this. This is an important aspect of the accountability framework for managing the movement towards sustainable development. The above ideas transcend a sectoral or issue specific programmatic approach to the deliberations and possible outcomes of the Conference. They are proposed as overarching ideas and thus supplementary to the agreed formal agenda items. These ideas however flow from ‘taking stock’ in broad global terms of current economic/environmental/social trends and seek to respond by identifying decisions that could trigger appropriate responses. We are of the view that what needs to be done in a programmatic way on a sectoral or issue-‐specific basis is well known and well outlined from various dedicated and related global processes. And therefore the Conference need not pursue its work on a sectoral or thematic basis. Therefore, we have chosen to focus on a set of ideas that have the potential to be transformative and to be systemic in their impacts. A whole hierarchy of secondary strategic and programmatic objectives and targets and action can flow from these. However, there are some complex and composite issues that are not of the same order as those ideas above, but which also require far more multivariate approaches than sectoral or specific issues, and which require far more consolidated and collaborate approaches among the various UN entities whose work is relevant. We propose the following ones as urgent for specific attention of the Conference: 3.8 Need to Recover the Marine Commons of the World: The Science relating to the degradation of the various assets of the marine commons is unambiguous; the policy actions required are clear; but the political decision-‐making lags behind. Globally, there is a laissez-‐faire approach to the issues which present here. Should countries continue to maximize their harvests from these common resources at the expense of
the common resource base? With present practice and approaches the assets of the marine commons will continue to degrade, perhaps irretrievably. The world keeps coming up with ‘soft’ solutions such as the decision of the recent global conference on marine debris to share technical, legal and market-‐based solutions to reduce marine debris. While such international cooperation might help in this dimension of the problem, it does not go to the core of the problem. The Conference might seek to elevate the situation of the marine commons for urgent and systematic attention, including attention to ocean areas not covered by present governance arrangements, with the objective of unifying the many pieces of policy and programme and instruments that are in place at global and sub-‐regional and national levels, and of filling the gaps as required, in order to recover the marine commons. The Conference might mandate systemic action that would bring all these parts together to work in a concerted way and to work to the purpose of recovery, within a specified time frame. The Conference could set this as a goal for the first half of the twenty-‐first century. Such an outcome would galvanise identification and filling of governance, policy and programme gaps, and lead to the range of further technical, policy and political actions and decisions that are required to secure this objective. The Conference could signal its sense of urgency about this problem. 3.9 Need to Rationalize and Manage Use of Scarce ‘Rare Earth’ Materials: Of concern here are those materials that are vital to sustaining the Communications industry that is itself so vital to supporting a globalised world. This concern is based on the authoritative reports of the International Resource Panel managed by UNEP on Priority Products and Materials, and Metal Stocks in Society: Scientific Synthesis. In the first instance it is imperative that such materials be conserved/salvaged/and recycled. Ultimately their use and allocations may have to be rationed and rationalized in ways that maximize global benefits. The Conference might mandate attention to these. 3.10 Need to transform land management and food production and consumption systems to ensure food security: This is essential for avoiding a new wave of land conversion from forests and wetlands in response to the pressures for world food security, for ensuring that existing land in agriculture is used sustainably, for addressing the multiple pressures (patterns of use, erosion of biodiversity, climate change) that lead to processes of land degradation and desertification, and for addressing the needs of the estimated two billion people who subsist in such threatened ecological systems and who are at the bottom of the human well-‐being ladder. The entry point here should be national and global food security. The Conference might call for increased attention to and investment in alleviating such processes with a view to contributing to global and national food security, enhanced human well-‐being, conservation of biodiversity, and adaptation to climate change.
3.11 Need to Enable Least Developed Countries onto a ‘Fast Runway’ for Sustainable Development: The Conference might recognize the need for global affirmative action in respect of these 48 countries, especially in the wake of the outcome of the recent Fourth Global Summit on Least Developed Countries. Such action should be oriented to helping them overcome the dysfunctionalities that they currently experience in relation to domestic investible resources, access to modern technologies on affordable terms, technical capacity for designing accelerated economic transformation and for designing the institutional framework of policies, legislation, regulation, fiscal measures that will be required in such a process of transformation. Such action would include establishing and harmonizing a public/private investment and financing platform. The Conference has the opportunity to exercise global leadership responsibilities on behalf of the most disadvantaged countries in the world, and set the stage for a transformative moment in the Global Partnership for Development. The objectives of such affirmative action would be: -
to enable these countries to tunnel under the normal Development curve and to emerge at a higher status in terms of Human Well Being in an accelerated time frame, in contrast to the progress that they will be able to make if their development pathways proceed in an evolutionary way rather than in a propelled way
to assist them in avoiding the impediments of past approaches to Development by other countries
to harvest the potential of LDCs for nature based economies that are sustainable, and to pilot the realization of ‘green’ economies in immediately conducive contexts
to create space for the private sector to contribute to creating economies of the future, by providing and focusing financial, technological, technical, management and entrepreneurial assets; this is made more feasible by virtue of these countries being currently low on the Development curve
to attract back their citizen diaspora with capacities to contribute to such transformation
to redress the equity gap which these countries experience in the ways in which they intersect with the global order.
United Nations Environment Programme 30 May 2011