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The Lost Sandy speech to UN Committee 2 side event

Sustainable Development in the twenty first century

On the 29th of October i was due to fly to New York and give a speech at a UN Committee Two side event organised by the EU and UN DESA. As all of you will know that was the day that Sandy struck.

The 'lost speech' as i now refer to it was on a project that Stakeholder Forum and a number of other organisations had been involved with in the run up to Rio+20. The concept was put together by David LeBlanc of UNDESA and the UN Rio+20 Secretariat.

The objective of  'SustainableDevelopment in the 21st century' (SD21) was to construct a coherent vision of sustainable development in the 21st century.

It took stock of the changes having occurred since the Earth Summit in 1992, and provides a vision and way forward for the international community, national governments and other stakeholders in advancing the sustainable development agenda in an integrated manner.  SD21 had a number of studies that were brought together.

The study was a collaboration between 49 global modellers and scenario analysts. It draws lessons from the last forty years It looks at ultimate goals, visions, strategy and targets, policies and actions as well as investment needs.

It looked at past trends against sustainable development compared with baseline scenarios for the future and 
contrasted them with sustainable development scenarios.   The study called for renewed efforts to create global sustainable development scenarios.

The reports on:
·         Food and Agriculture: sustainability for the twenty first century;
·         challenges and ways forward for the urban sector,
·         Sustainable energy systems;
·         Sustainable Land management for the 21st century

On food and agriculture the study had more than 70 global agri-food leaders and looked at concrete steps for sustainable and resilient food and agriculture systems

On the urban area the study highlights the challenges for the next 30-50 years and focuses on the increasing importance of cities for sustainable development. It underlines the need for much better vertical relationships between cities and higher levels of government.

In the area of sustainable energy systems the study documents the main views and suggests that what we need is a no regrets direction to achieve sustainably in the energy sector - enabling universal access to modern energy.

In the area of sustainable land management the  study looks at the competing claims to land use in the 21st century. The report offers possible options to improve the sustainability of land management for the next decades.

This part of the report is a synthesis of ideas about what a new economy in nature might look like and how we might get there.  It looks at ecological economics including sustainable scale equitable distribution and efficient allocation - a model that doesn't have GDP as its ultimate goal. It looks at social and natural capital as important part of any new inclusive, green and fair economy.

The final study was the one I was involved with a twenty year assessment of Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration.

Agenda 21 - Successes
       Arguably the biggest success has come through driving ambition on what sustainable outcomes are achievable on a sector by sector basis, e.g. biodiversity.
       Engendered a much stronger notion of participation in decision-making, e.g. Major Groups.
       Local Agenda 21 has been one of the most extensive follow-up programmes.

Agenda 21 - Challenges
       Sectors-basis may have contributed to defeating the concept of integration that is at the heart of sustainable development.
       Globally, consumption and production patterns remain unsustainable.
       Some sectors were not included in Agenda 21, e.g. energy and mining.
       Other sectors today may be prominent than their space in Agenda 21, for example transport and waste flows.
       Lost Chapter 41 - Transnational Corporations.

Agenda 21 Conclusions
       Agenda 21 retains strong relevance, and remains the most comprehensive undertaking by the UN system to promote sustainable development.
       While there are some gaps in coverage, the issues that humanity is struggling with now are more or less similar those covered by the chapters of Agenda 21.
       Agenda 21 has acquired considerable coverage amongst nation states, its implementation remains far from universal or effective.
       And progress has been patchy, and despite some elements of good practice most Agenda 21 outcomes have still not been realized.

Rio Declaration - Successes
       As a soft law instrument, successful implementation of the Rio Declaration takes many shapes and can be loosely understood through analyzing the various ‘offspring’ agreements or national laws.
       Principle 5 – eradicating poverty and raising the standards of living for all, e.g. MDGs.
       Principle 10 – access to justice, information and public participation – is the foundation of the successful regional instrument that enshrines the principle in the Aarhus Convention.
       Principle 15 – the precautionary principle – is widely accepted as a foundation of environmental law at both the national and international levels.

Rio Declaration - Challenges
       Principle 5 - “reducing disparities in standards of living”, has been relatively forgotten.
       Principle 10 - Additionally access to justice remains a barrier for many who seek legal redress for environmental damages or concerns.
       Around the polluter pays principle (Principle 16) there remain ideological differences to its practical application.
       Principle 8 – sustainable production and consumption and the promotion of appropriate demographic policies – is deemed to have been unsuccessful in achieving its intended goal.

Rio Declaration - Conclusions
       The Rio Principles are the heir to the Stockholm principles agreed in 1972, and both have a primary focus on environment and development.
       This framework left largely open interpretations about was how to achieve sustainable development in practice.
       Overall, the gaps remain because of the difficulty faced with transposing soft law principles into implementable law.

       Stronger implementation strategy e.g. guidelines for implementation. What was missing in Rio was the section that was in Agenda 21 called activities. This could be drawn up as a set of guidelines by UNDESA with other relevant UN Agencies and Programmes focused on section 5.
       Lost chapter -> Convention on CSRA. This became para 47 in Rio - guidlines for corporate sustainability reporting. This has spawned the Friends of para 47 under the ample leadership of Brazil, South Africa, Denmark and France
       Long term thinking in institutions e.g. UN High Commissioner for Future Generations. Governments were not ready in Rio for this but they should relook at it in light of 2015. A study into what the possible role could be should be set up by governments with stakeholders.
       Long term thinking in global economy e.g. sustainability in sovereign wealth funds, credit rating agencies, pension funds. These ideas should be picked up by the Resource Mobilization Committee which will be set up shortly buy governments with 30 members. It offers a chance to bring a matrix of possible funding for sustainable development to the 2015 development goals Summit.

I would add that your deliberations on the High Level Political Forum will be critical to the future of sustainable development. This forum as Maurice Strong has said needs teeth.

We know that the current economic model, which has brought unprecedented prosperity to the more developed countries and to particular people in those countries, has only deepened the disparity between them and most developing countries. The parallels of the ecological problems with the financial crisis are clear. The banks and financial institutions privatized the gains and socialized the losses. We are doing the same with the planet’s natural capital.

Our present lifestyles are drawing down the ecological capital from other parts of the world and from future generations. We are increasingly becoming the most irresponsible generation our planet has seen. The past 30 years have been characterized by irresponsible capitalism, pursuing limitless economic growth at the expense of both society and environment, with little or no regard for the natural resource base upon which such wealth is built.

The future can either be a me future or a we future. If we stand any chance of creating a planet that we can live on sustainably then it has to be a we future. This will require a different politics than we are seeing here in New York, in our capitals in our companies. Sustainable Development in the 21st century is a contribution to the path we could take. I ask you to read it and act on it.

 How to Lobby at Intergovernmental Meetings by Felix Dodds and Michael Strauss. A great Xmas present for someone who wants to learn how to lobby.

My new web site is now up please let me know what you think 


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