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On 7-9 September, more than 250 participants including representatives of governments, the United Nations, intergovernmental organizations and Major Groups, met in Santiago, Chile, for Latin America and the Caribbean’s first preparatory meeting for Rio+20. Hosted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the meeting discussed progress made to date on the implementation of Agenda 21 , as well as the two themes of the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD): the “green economy” and the ”institutional framework for sustainable development.” The meeting allowed representatives of Major Groups to actively participate and release statements during the opening plenary, which was seen as an unprecedented event in the context of Rio+20 preparations.
Introducing the “green economy” concept, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, Chief of the Department of the Environment and Social Issues of Brazil, stressed that Rio+20 should not be perceived as an environmental conference but rather one on sustainable development. He further emphasized the importance of retaining focus on poverty eradication. His position seemed to be supported by those participants that expressed concern over the lack of consensus on the meaning of a “green economy.” The Major Group representing NGOs voiced the need for Rio+20 to concentrate on the implementation of prior commitments, rather than debating definitions and terminology. Elizabeth Thompson, UNCSD Co-Executive Coordinator responded by urging countries to move beyond narrowly defining the theme at hand and rather join efforts to formulate policies, stressing that the “green economy” should not be viewed as an end in itself, but rather as a means to poverty eradication and sustainable development.
The approach to be adopted, in terms of which solutions should be discussed at Rio, was also a source of debate. Jose Antonio Ocampo, Columbia University, noted that the weak connection between the economic and environmental pillars constituted the biggest challenge for sustainable development, and suggested improving the situation by the adoption of market correcting instruments, such as the setting of appropriate discount rates for future generations. Mr. Ocampo nevertheless, warned against the improper use of the term “green economy” as this could lead to unwanted protectionism.
In the context of the discussion panel on the progress made to date in the implementation of Agenda 21, Joseluis Samaniego of ECLAC and Niky Fabiancic of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), jointly presented an inter-agency paper on the topic of “Sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean 20 years on from the Earth Summit: progress, gaps and strategic guidelines.” The paper emphasizes the need to internalize and properly account for the environmental and social costs of economic decisions, a view shared, amongst others, by Nicaragua. An economic solution to the problem of sustainable development though, was not supported by all participants. The representative of Bolivia stated that market-based solutions to the problem of sustainable development are bound to fall short, describing the latter approach as one “trying to put out fire with gasoline.” Instead, she called for the regeneration and rebalancing of the Earth’s ecosystem and the recognition of the rights of Mother Earth (in line with Bolivia’s proposal on the Rights of Nature). The representative of Cuba issued a similar statement.
Inclusion was also a topic discussed at large. The Local Authorities Major Group called for the recognition of sub-national and local governments’ role in implementation, and Brice Lalonde, UNCSD Co-Executive Coordinator, echoed this call by urging greater inclusion of “those who will implement (…) outcomes,” citing business, civil society and local authorities as examples. The Women’s and Youth and Children’s Major Groups also expressed concern about the inclusion of their constituencies in the processes and outcomes of Rio+ 20.
In the context of the panel on the “institutional framework for sustainable development,” various solutions were cited. ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena endorsed the strengthening and renewal of ECOSOC into a “Council for Sustainable Development,” and called for increased regional integration to effectively complement the council’s work. Elliott Harris, Vice-Chair of the UN High-Level Committee on Programmes, put forward the advantages and disadvantages of creating an appropriate international governance system that would act as a “global umbrella organization,” providing, amongst other things, a platform for shared analysis of problems and for integration of policies across the three pillars, as well as for the monitoring of progress through agreed indicators. Numerous participants agreed that Rio+20 provides a unique opportunity to scrutinize and assess existing institutions, and the representative of Venezuela suggested the setting of concrete criteria for the evaluation of institutional experiences. Cuba presented a proposal for the strengthening of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) which would substitute the UN Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD), and would work in collaboration with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).
Another significant topic of discussion was provided by the tabling of a proposal by Colombia and Guatemala (LC/L.3366/Rev.1), in which the creation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is discussed. The proposal elucidates how these goals would provide benchmarks for progress based on indicators that could be adjusted to varying national realities and priorities. It suggests that the SDGs would complement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but recognizes the need to define in a clearer manner how these would relate to each other. The representative of Colombia called for Rio+20 to provide an agreement and an appropriate mandate for the SDGs. Many countries, including Mexico, Jamaica, Uruguay, Cuba and Venezuela supported the proposal in principle.
Finally, the need for a strengthened political commitment in order to ensure success at Rio was stated by many participants including the representatives of Venezuela and Mexico. The meeting drew to an end with the adoption of the “Conclusions of the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Meeting Preparatory to the UNCSD.”
To access reference documents and statements made at the meeting, click here.
For coverage of the meeting by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) Reporting Services, click here.
Photo credits: © Carlos Vera / ECLAC