Preparatory Committee for 2012 Sustainable Development Conference Concludes Three-Day Headquarters Session

19 May 2010
General AssemblyENV/DEV/1142
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Preparatory Committee for UN Conference

on Sustainable Development

5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)

Preparatory Committee for 2012 Sustainable Development Conference


Concludes Three-Day Headquarters Session


Conference Secretary-General Says Common Vision Had Emerged,

Intensive Consultations under Way on How to Best Support Committee

The first in a series of preparatory sessions leading to a follow-up in 2012 to the historic Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992 concluded today, following three days in which delegations strove to rekindle the spirit of Rio and shore up the foundation on which sustainable development had gained traction around the world.

As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in his report before the session (document A/CONF.216/PC/2), “Development is the midwife of sustainability, just as sustainability is the life support system for development”.  And that idea, at its advent more than two decades ago, had offered “tremendous excitement and hope”, he said.

Indeed, throughout the session, broad agreement had emerged that the time was ripe to look closely at what had been achieved of that vision and to build upon it, which the 2012 Conference would seek to do through its two themes — the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

However, lengthy consultations that lasted through the afternoon delayed the start of the closing meeting until nearly 8 p.m.  When the meeting resumed, co-facilitator Paolo Soprano of Italy of contact group 1, tasked with addressing the preparatory process, said the group had elaborated several recommendations to the plenary for adoption, aimed at giving the preparatory process sufficient clarity and to establish a calendar, in order to make the process as effective as possible.  Also envisaged in the group’s text was the organization of intersessional activities, as requested by many delegations and representatives of different regional groups.

He highlighted a footnote to paragraph 3 of the document, which was before delegations, made at the request of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, which said that the invitation to governing bodies of relevant United Nations system organizations to transmit outcomes emanating from their meetings relevant to the objective and themes of the 2012 Conference “does not imply an invitation to convene additional meetings, on the programme of work”.

Co-facilitator John M. Matuszak of the United States, of contact group 2, addressing the rules of procedure for the Conference, reported that there had been no answer to a question put forward by the Group of 77 and China concerning the legal status and subsequent participation of the European Union in the Conference and related questions (prior decisions had been based on the participation of the European Community in the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development); that the question had to be submitted in writing to the United Nations Legal Affairs Office by the Preparatory Meeting as a whole.  Discussions had continued in the fourth meeting of the contact group this morning, the co-facilitator said, but it had been impossible to make progress on the text, and, in fact, there was no agreement among the group that the annotated text could go forward.

The European Union, he said, had in response to those questions cited a document denoting the change and had mentioned, for example, their recent participation in the just-concluded eighteenth Commission on Sustainable Development session.  Since there was no agreement, the text on which discussion would resume would be the original document that had been put forward and to which he had referred earlier in his intervention.  Governments had also indicated that, as on many of those legal issues, they needed to go back to their capitals for further clarity.

He added that, since those legal issues only applied to the upcoming Conference in 2012 and not to the preparatory process, inability to complete the contact group’s work and finalize draft rules should not be impeded, and he hoped those rules could be concluded at the next preparatory session.  He recommended that the current report be attached to the co-Chairs’ summary for inclusion in the final report of the meeting.

Egypt’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China on the matter, said he was deeply disappointed with the manner in which the Group’s concerns had been addressed during discussions of the contact group in the morning session.  In that exercise, the entire membership should be guided by Article 2.1 of the United Nations Charter concerning the principle of sovereign equality of Members.

The Group, he continued, had approached the discussion in an open, constructive and transparent manner guided by resolution 64/236, which states that the Preparatory Committee should discuss procedural matters.  The Group had come prepared and willing to speed discussions on those matters with proposals on the whole document and legal question, to which it needed a clear answer.  That question was not reflected in the document, nor had it been responded to.

Recapping, he said that the Group had inquired as to the legal status of the European Union within the United Nations.  The group had expressed its willingness to proceed with discussions so as to report on the status of the debate at the next session of the Preparatory Committee.  The group now called for the bracketing of the entire document and the resumption of the discussions during the next session.  It expected that its concern be duly reflected in the present session’s final report.  While the group reaffirmed its commitment to the success of the 2012 Conference, it stressed that at no stage of the negotiations would it be in a position to accept anything that derailed the process of building consensus.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Spain’s representative said he regretted it had not been possible to move forward on the discussion on the rules of procedure, due to an analysis of the nature of the participation of the European Union in this Conference.

In support of the statement by the Group of 77 and China, the representative of Cuba, said it was impossible to accept the imposition of rules of procedure which held serious doubts for an important group of delegations — doubts that had not been properly clarified during consultations.  The role played by the representative of the Legal Affairs Office had been regrettable, since he had not fulfilled his responsibility on the matter.  It was a matter of principle that, in all conferences and summits under United Nations auspices, all delegations had the same duties and prerogatives in line with the Charter principles and purposes.  Therefore, Cuba fully supported the Group of 77’s request to bracket the whole text (document A/CONF.216/PC/4) to be transmitted to the next meeting of the Preparatory Committee.  She expressed discomfort at the manner in which the Group of 77 Chair had been treated during the last meeting of the contact group and expected that that situation would be avoided in future.

The co-Chair, Park In-kook of the Republic of Korea, said the report of the contact group would be included in the report of the preparatory meeting.

Next, the following delegations intervened with specific comments and requests with respect to the co-Chairs’ summary:  Yemen (on behalf of the G-77); Spain (on behalf of the European Union); Cuba; Australia; Egypt; United States; Japan; Guatemala; Grenada; Switzerland; Brazil; Norway; and the Russian Federation.

A representative of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) also spoke, and a statement was made as well by a representative of the major groups.

The Preparatory Committee’s Rapporteur, Tania Raguz of Croatia, presented the report of the Committee (document A/CONF.216/PC/1/L.1), with some oral revisions.

In closing remarks, Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, who is serving as Secretary-General of the Conference, said he was delighted to hear about the process and the clarification of several questions.  A common vision had emerged, as well as hopes and differences.  Delegations had listened to each other and articulated several concrete challenges, setting out the most urgent items on the agenda for the coming period and elaborating the themes of the Conference.  On the institutional framework for sustainable development, he had been pleased to learn of the balance that had been maintained at local, national, regional and global levels.  At the end of the day, the local level was where the actions would take place.

He said that more intensive consultations had also begun with United Nations colleagues on how best to support the Preparatory Committee in its work.  The heads and senior staff of United Nations entities, including from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), regional commissions, UN-Habitat, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and others had all indicated a strong willingness to secund their staff, and tripartite meetings were being set up with UNDP,UNEP and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Similar mechanisms for consultation and review would be set up with agency heads as well.  Collaboration with the major groups had been among the strongest features of the meeting and he hoped to take that to a higher level in the run-up to the Conference.

On Monday, he recalled that he had promised transparency.  One of the simplest tools was information and communications technology.  Earnest efforts had been made to make the website more informative; “it is your website with links to your sites”, and he would ensure that all in the United Nations system came together to give delegations the “sum total of advice that will be far greater than its parts”.

To donor countries, he asked that they contribute generously to the “CSD” trust fund.  “I’m talking like a beggar, you know, begging for money, but I’m a little shy to do it,” he said.  But, he urged contributions, so as to allow for the broader participation of representatives from developing countries and representatives from the major groups in the preparatory process.

Wrapping up the three-day session, co-Chair John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda said that, while the session had laid a positive foundation for the Conference, significant challenges remained.  The Bureau would chart an operational plan to guide the work until the second Preparatory Committee meeting, and between now and then, there would be some intersessional “get-togethers” and Bureau meetings.  And, in an effort to enhance transparency, “we will make our deliberations known to you”, he promised.

Earlier today, the Committee concluded its consideration for the first session of the topic “Institutional framework for sustainable development”, begun yesterday.  Agreement coalesced around the need for active involvement in improving environmental governance, including through UNEP, leading to greater coherence and synergies among the relevant bodies.

However, a slightly different call to action was heard by a representative of business and industry, who said that institutional frameworks should foster sustainable development and not limit themselves solely to environmental institutions.  Ensuring substantial business engagement and strengthening effective sustainable development implementation required Governments to strengthen their institutional frameworks, including through reinforced public-private partnerships.

Session 3 (continued)

The last day of the first Preparatory Committee began with a continuation of yesterday’s segment on the topic, “Institutional framework for sustainable development”.

Moderated once again by John Ashe ( Antigua and Barbuda), the discussion heard speakers take up a common theme around which agreement was coalescing about the need for active involvement in environmental governance processes through the United Nations Environment Programme, leading to greater coherence and synergies among related bodies.  One speaker was concerned with addressing threats to the ocean and marine resources, and sought development of related capacity building and technical cooperation within existing organizations and arrangements to promote migratory fish stocks and curb the impact of fishing on the global marine environment.  He urged everyone to consider what had worked and had not worked since the introduction of Agenda 21, and why.

Another speaker emphasized the imperative of adequate resources for implementation and the need to allocate those “without any fixed conditions”, and to enable the participation of all developing countries in related processes.  Still another felt that what was missing in rethinking today’s global system was the question of sufficient national institutional frameworks.  This delegate sought a bolder Commission on Sustainable Development, one that asserted its role among other United Nations agencies and in international processes.  But, for it to truly make an impact, it must have reliable partners, or individual countries with internal institutional processes strong enough for them to be held accountable to their international commitments.

A slightly different call to action was heard by a representative of business and industry, who said that institutional frameworks should foster sustainable development and not limit themselves solely to environmental institutions.  The “major group component” of the Commission was extremely valuable, and often, the nine participating major groups were greater than the sum of their parts.  Clustering various processes made good sense; bringing global financial and commercial institutions to the table, for example, also supported consideration of a green economy.  Ensuring substantial business engagement and strengthening effective implementation of sustainable development required Governments to strengthen their institutional frameworks, including through reinforced public-private partnerships.  Multilateral cooperation should be encouraged in marketing, science and risk-based approaches.  Rio + 20 should encourage good governance, carefully applied science and technology, and expansion of the global trading system, he added.

The scientific and technological communities shared the view that an enhanced institutional framework was key to implementing the outcomes of previous summits and to meeting emerging sustainable development challenges, its speaker said.  And improving such a framework could not be achieved without better international environmental governance.  In that respect, he followed with interest the work of the high-level governmental group engaged in the so-called “ Belgrade process” and hoped their position would evolve prior to Rio.  Enhanced institutional frameworks required access to the best scientific knowledge, and the focus should be on improving related mechanisms and providing support for scientific investment, leading to a strong science policy dialogue.

Clear accountability and compliance were the focus of remarks by the children and youth representative, who felt that there was no need to reinvent the wheel.  Institutional arrangements were already in place, he said.  What was lacking was an institutional structure that brought them all together in a single, coherent framework.

Participating in the discussion were the representatives of the United States, Cuba, Montenegro, Mexico and India, as well as the representatives of three of the major groups cited above.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.