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Speech to UN General Assembly May 22nd 2012

The role of the General Assembly in supporting the objectives of the Conference Rio+20


I would like to start my presentation by reminding you of a speech by South Africa President Thabo Mbeki to the UN General Assembly in 2006 when he said:


“Precisely because of the absence of a global partnership for development, the Doha Development Round has almost collapsed. - we have not implemented the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development, thus making it difficult for the majority of the developing countries, especially those in Africa, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and have reduced the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation to an insignificant and perhaps forgotten piece of paper.”


President Lula of Brazil responded to this in his 2007 UN General Assembly speech, when he called for a new Earth Summit in 2012.


I mention this, because the UN GA was given in 2002 at WSSD the responsibility for overseeing the integration of sustainable development in the UN system.


I want to focus in my remaining minutes on the following the role of:

·       the UN GA

·       national implementation

·       Important SD Issue


Listening to this morning's conversation I want to just say that the establishment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) needs to be a clear outcome from Rio+20. We need 3-5 negotiated aspirational goals in areas such as water, food and nutrition, energy and oceans and seas. It should be relatively easy - after all the basic text already exists in Agenda 21 and the JPoI.  All that needs to be done is to reaffirm that within a set of clear SDGs which unlike MDGs should be directed universally.


New body for Sustainable Development


The Commission on Sustainable Development was a compromise in 1992 between those that wanted a high level body for sustainable development, a Forum in the GA similar to what is on the table today put forward in 1992 by Norway’s then Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and nothing, which was what the US and the UK wanted.


The CSD therefore was a compromise which was put forward by G77.


the first ten years of the CSD did have some success:


      1994 CSD: called for the development of an “effective legally binding instruments concerning the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure on the importation of chemicals”

      1995 CSD: established the United Nations Inter-government Panel on Forests

      1996 CSD: set out the requirements for the establishment of the institutional arrangements for the implementation of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities

      1997 UNGASS: called for by the year 2002, the formulation and elaboration of national strategies for sustainable development, the establishment of the UN Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) for three years (1997-2000), and the establishment of multi-stakeholder dialogues with governments within the UN CSD

      1998 CSD: called on UNCTAD, UNEP and UN DESA to help develop a vulnerability index for the quantitative and analytical work on the vulnerability of Small Island Developing States and the establishment of a review of voluntary initiatives within industry.

      1999 CSD: established an expansion of the United Nations guidelines on consumer protection to include sustainable consumption. It also established an open-ended informal consultation processes on oceans and seas under the UN General Assembly.

      2000 CSD: set out the terms of reference for a new permanent body – the United Nations Forum on Forests.


Ten years from Joberg and twenty years from Rio we return to the same question - how can the GA address sustainable development and what body is needed to do that.


Unlike 1992 countries are in near unanimous agreement that what is needed is to


"establish a high level political forum with intergovernmental character."


To address exactly where that should be in Ecosoc or the UN GA we need to look at what functions need to be undertaken by  such a body.


·       Ensuring implementation to be bolstered by a periodic review  mechanism for increased implementation and cooperation;

·       Monitor progress in promoting, facilitating and financing, as appropriate, access to and transfer of environmentally and sustainably sound technologies

·       To follow up commitments made in Agenda 21, JPOI, Rio+20, BPOA, MSI  and other relevant outcomes of major UN summits and Conferences

·       To review and monitor regularly progress towards the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of the gross national income (GNI) of developed countries for official development assistance (ODA).

·       To review new and emerging issues as well as monitor the implementation of sustainable development goals;

·       It should be universal, and ensure system-wide participation and coordination including of MEAs, UN Agencies funds and programmes, and other relevant multilateral financial and trade institutions, as appropriate, such as the IFIs and the WTO,


In April this year the World Bank held the first ever meeting of finance ministers, and Heads of the Bank, IMF and UN to look at issues of natural capital. They want to trial out a kind of GDP+ using natural capital in up to 50 countries post Rio. There will now be an annual meeting of finance Ministers at the World Bank each spring on sustainable development. Already the impacts of Rio+20 are being imbedded in the post 2012 agenda.


·       To enhance the science--‐policy interface and progress tracking – to be achieved by institutionalizing a regular sustainable development assessment on that global scale;

·       To strengthening inter--‐agency coordination through a sustainable development subcommittee of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) of UN bodies to follow--‐up and provide advice to the Secretary General on coordination;

·       A twenty first century governance structure utilizing some of the approaches in the Committee on Food Security and UN AIDs where stakeholders are part of the governance structure


National Level


National Councils of Sustainable Development/ Economic  and Social Councils


·       Report to the new UN high level body – with a day of debate on their reports

·       Parliaments should instigate an annual debate on implementation of Rio+20

·       Sub national and local government should set up equivalent councils on SD and report annually to their national bodies


Framework for Corporate Sustainability Reporting:


What is needed is smart regulation to ensure mistakes are not undertaken. If you talk to most companies individually you will find they support good regulation.


You may notice in this slide some companies who have had problems over the last few years.


I think some of you have heard me speak previously of the ‘missing or lost’ chapter of Agenda 21 - the one produced for the Rio Conference by the UN centre for Transnational Corporations which was called 'Transnational Corporations and Sustainable Development.' it had many good sections:


      Global Corporate Environmental Management

      Risk and Hazard Minimization

      Environmentally Sounder Consumer Patterns

      Full Cost Environmental Accounting

      Environmental Conventions, Standards and Guidelines


Twenty years on from Rio, at last the chance to address corporate responsibility is seriously on the table. Now it is backed by some big hitters from the insurance, pension and banking sector, including AVIVA, HSBC, the World Business Council for Sustainably Development, and most recently Dow Chemical.


Bloomberg estimates that currently around 1/16th of companies listed are actually reporting effectively on ESG. The requirement for the other 15/16 would have a significant impact and would ensure a coherent approach to reporting.


Small and Medium Sized Enterprises need support and that is why like the Global Sustainability Panel report recommendation the approach is for companies of over $100 million. There will still need to be support for companies that are under that to change and that is why ISO 26000 exists.


Report and Explain -- very simply it means that companies have to report their environment, social and governance issues or explain why they are not. Then leave the market to decide.


Who is doing it? South Africa, Brazil, Malaysia to name a few developing countries introducing legislation. The Summit has a great chance to ensure that before we get 130 different schemes. Para 24 is one of the most important governance issues for sustainable development that is in the text at this point.   



The world has changed in the last twenty years, but has this body and other intergovernmental institutions changed enough to reflect the world we now live in?


The United Nations offers us a place to be touched by the better angles of our nature. Rio, Beijing+20, the SIDs review, the MDG review and habitat 3 offer a coherent opportunity for the development of a new global narrative on how we might live together on this small planet - after all its 'Only One Earth' we have.


Implementation is the key to Rio+20 being seen as a success twenty years from now.


It should be remembered that indeed, what ‘Happens on Monday’ when people return to their capitals, to their communities, to their work places after Rio, is as important as what happens at the Summit. ‘The Future we want’ hangs in our hands and our decisions – let us work to make the legacy of Rio something we all can be proud of.

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