UN Taking First Steps Toward Implementing Johannesburg Outcome
New York, 23 September Back from the World Summit on Sustainable
Development, United Nations officials are preparing the groundwork for a
system-wide assault on the targets, timetables and commitments that were agreed
upon in Johannesburg.
Even before the General Assembly meets in mid-November to endorse the results
of the Summit and set a schedule for the newly recharged Commission on
Sustainable Development, UN agency heads have been meeting to coordinate an
action-oriented agenda for the UN system.
"There's just no excuse for not getting on with it now," according to
JoAnne DiSano, Director of the UN's Division for Sustainable Development.
"The Summit gave us a clear mandate for what we have to do, and there is
not one part of the UN that will not be affected by Johannesburg."
DiSano said discussions are now taking place to ensure that there is
consistency in delivering results on the ground. "There is a coming
together" within the UN, she said, but added that "the UN system has
got to have a bigger sense of ownership, responsibility and
implementation." She commented, "I think the UN will rise to the
The Summit resulted in major government commitments to expand access to safe
water, proper sanitation and modern, clean energy services, as well as to
reverse the decline of ecosystems by restoring fisheries, curtailing illegal
logging and limiting the harm caused by toxic chemicals. In addition to those
commitments, many voluntary partnerships were launched in Johannesburg by
governments, NGOs and businesses to tackle specific projects.
The UN alignment to implement Johannesburg comes at a time when results of the
Summit are also being discussed in countries around the world, to see how
implementation efforts will take shape domestically and through international
"Johannesburg clearly put sustainable development back on the global
agenda," DiSano said. "It dealt with sustainable development for what
it isthe integration of economic, social and environmental
considerationsnot for what it is not, or just one or two of these
factors." She added, "The Summit also sent a message to stop the
chatter and get on with implementation."
Revitalizing the CSD
The Commission on Sustainable Development, which was established to oversee
implementation efforts after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, is expected to see
the biggest changes. Rather than continue with the present pattern of
considering a few select issues each year, DiSano said the outcome of
Johannesburg could help make the body far more dynamic.
"Johannesburg lets us break out of the mould of the last five years,"
she said. "It will allow us to look at initiatives and partnerships, and
let us highlight the areas that need attention." It will also help, she
said, to improve consistency, coherence and cooperation towards achieving the
goals of Johannesburg while forging better linkages with the results of other
major global conferences, such as the Monterrey Financing for Development
Conference and the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Doha.
As agreed in Johannesburg, the Commission on Sustainable Development will
continue to meet every year, but hold negotiations on substantive matters every
other year. Although no new substantive negotiations are envisioned in the near
future, the General Assembly, in its deliberations this November, is expected
to take several procedural decisions that can help maintain the momentum from
Johannesburg, such as setting a date for an organizational session of the
The UN, DiSano said, would follow up on all aspects of the Johannesburg Plan of
Implementation. Although the Summit put special emphasis on five key areas for
action-water and sanitation, energy, health, agricultural productivity, and
biodiversity and ecosystem management-which have come to be known by the WEHAB
acronym, DiSano said much had also been accomplished in a wide range of other
areas as well. "WEHAB helped push some of the big issues," she said,
"but we don't want to fall into the trap of oversimplification."
The Johannesburg Summit, according to DiSano, can also have far reaching
effects in reinvigorating the dialogue between the various stakeholders, which
includes representatives from NGOs, women, youth, indigenous people, business,
local authorities, scientists, farmers and trade unions. Prior to the Summit,
she said, the dialogues held in the CSD had often degenerated into a series of
prepared statements, with little focus.
But she said that in Johannesburg, Jan Pronk, the Secretary-General's Special
Envoy for the Summit, demonstrated what a real dialogue-without a script-was
like. Calling the dialogues that he facilitated "a wonderful vehicle to
deal with the multidimensional aspects of the toughest ideas," DiSano said
it would be worthwhile to explore whether that sort of format could be extended
to the dialogue among the Member States.
The responsibility for tracking the partnerships-the more than 300 voluntary
initiatives by governments, NGOs, intergovernmental organizations and
business-that were launched during the Summit will also fall to the Commission
on Sustainable Development. While governments agreed the need to promote
partnerships, the initiativeswhich ultimately attracted significant
additional resources for implementationdrew some criticism from various
groups who complained that they would serve as a substitute for government
commitments and could open the door for privatizing basic government
responsibilities, such as providing safe drinking water.
But DiSano says the follow-up process should allay the concerns of the cynics
by supporting partnerships that genuinely promote sustainable development while
getting rid of "the phonies."
"What we have to do," she said, "is look at exactly what each
partnership said they will do, and link the outputs of the partnerships to the
work programme of the Commission on Sustainable Development. We have to serve
as the repository for the partnerships and track them. And we have to examine
their bona fides."
While the Commission has to nurture the partnerships, she said, it cannot hold
the initiatives accountable through the same formal process used to monitor
government action. Still, although the partnerships are voluntary, and while
there are fewer rules to choke creativity or incentive, there will be a measure
of accountability. DiSano said one option would have the partnerships report to
the Commission periodically and, if they wanted to showcase themselves, they
would have to demonstrate tangible results.
DiSano acknowledged that not all the partnerships may show results. "Some
may not go anywhere, but we want to see incremental progress. This could be a
very exciting process."
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Department of Economic and
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24 August 2006