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Bali PrepCom Highlights Need for Stronger Political Leadership to Put Sustainable Development into Action

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The Bali Rice Terraces
  15 June, New York— Round-the-clock negotiations during the Bali PrepCom produced agreement on three quarters of the final implementation document for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, yet special efforts will be needed to bridge the remaining differences to make the Summit a success.

Speaking at the closing plenary session, representatives from developing and developed countries vowed to continue to work toward a satisfactory outcome at the Summit, which will be held in Johannesburg from 26 August-4 September.

Calling the negotiations a complex, difficult, and stressful process, Venezuelan Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Ana Elisa Osario, said the Group of 77—which represents more than 130 developing countries—had made significant compromises and concessions in order to reach agreement in Bali, but in the end, felt there was a lack of reciprocity from its negotiating partners. In particular, she said the G-77 would not allow a rollback of earlier commitments, had not lost hope for the Summit. "We still have the willingness to work toward Johannesburg."

The European Union also said it would remain engaged in the Summit process. Spanish Environment Minister Jaume Matas said the European Union was prepared to table new proposals to break the remaining impasse. "We are committed to moving from words to action."

Although Matas said there were significant agreements that were already reached, and the number of disputed provisions had been reduced, the talks in Bali had not met expectations. "We have come to Bali to seek concrete agreements with targets and timetables that could save lives and guarantee sustainable development. We have not achieved that, or as much as we wished."

United States Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, Paula Dobriansky, said the difficulties of the deliberations should not be a surprise, considering the task at hand. "Even though we have not been able to agree on every part of the text, I welcome the fact that we have not tried to paper over differences of opinion or avoid tough issues by adopting vague and what could constitute "diplomatic" language."

Planned as an "implementation Summit," the Johannesburg Summit is intended to find ways to generate actions that bring about real improvement in peoples lives and the natural ecosystems that support them. The plan of action under negotiation in Bali will be only one of the Summit's outcomes, and will be accompanied by a political declaration that will be adopted by world leaders, and by partnership initiatives by and between governments, citizen groups, and the private sector to carry out the commitments that governments agree upon.

It was a bittersweet ending for the Bali PrepCom, where countries had already agreed on a host of actions needed improve living conditions for billions of people and to protect the environment, but could not agree on a range of provisions concerning time-bound targets and the means of implementation for the programme of action, which include contentious trade and finance issues.

Johannesburg Summit Secretary-General Nitin Desai said the Bali PrepCom had actually achieved a great deal, pointing out that far more of the outcome document for the Summit has been agreed upon that ten years ago at this stage for the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. But he said the negotiations has gone as far as they could in Bali, and that the remaining differences were over difficult issues that required political solutions at a higher level. He urged countries to work, between Bali and Johannesburg, to create "the political space" that is needed in order to resolve the outstanding issues.

PrepCom Chairman Emil Salim, who tried to forge a completed consensus in Bali, said he was disappointed that agreement on a finalized text could not be reached, but noted that significant agreements had been reached in Bali.

"This is not the end of the road," Salim said. "It is the beginning." He noted that negotiations for most major international conferences, with the exception of the International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrery, Mexico, are almost never completed before the event.

In the Bali negotiations, countries agreed to "strongly reaffirm" their commitment to the Rio Principles and the implementation of Agenda 21, the results of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Countries also committed themselves to achieving the goals of the United Nations Millennium Summit, which include, among others, a commitment to halve the proportion of people living on an income of less than $1 a day by 2015.

But there are still many areas of disagreement. While most countries have called for the establishment of new targets and timetables for a host of issues, such as for providing proper sanitation, increasing the share of renewable energy, reducing the use of toxic chemicals, and restoring fish stocks, other countries maintain that present efforts should be geared to meeting the targets and timetables that are presently outstanding. There are also disagreements over the use of the phrase "common but differentiated responsibilities," a term adopted in Rio to delineate the idea that although all countries shared the same goals and objectives, they had vastly differing capabilities and resources to achieve them.

Resolution of the outstanding issues including official development assistance, the elimination of subsidies, follow-up of Monterrey and Doha, and further replenishment of the Global Environment Facility have been left for Johannesburg.

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24 August 2006