Basic Info
What's New

- Feature Story
- Other Stories
- News Archive

Preperatory Process
Major Groups
Media Info
Sustainable Development In Action
Conatact Us
Joahannesburg Summit 2002
What's New

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 occasion."

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 cooperation.

"Johannesburg clearly put sustainable development back on the global agenda," DiSano said. "It dealt with sustainable development for what it is—the integration of economic, social and environmental considerations—not 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 Commission.

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.

Tracking partnerships

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 initiatives—which ultimately attracted significant additional resources for implementation—drew 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."

{short description of image}

FAQs | Site Map| contact us

Copyright © United Nations
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Sustainable Development
Comments and suggestions
24 August 2006