Sustainable Development Governance and Rio+20, Side Event 19th May

This event, organised by the Northern Alliance for Sustainability (ANPED), gathered experts to discuss the options for Sustainable Development Governance on a global level – one of the thematic focus areas of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

The event was addressed by Richard Sherman, Governance Adviser to Stakeholder Forum; Dr Mquel Munoz Cabre from Boston University; and Felix Dodds, Executive Director of Stakeholder Forum.

Discussions focussed on possible outcomes from Rio+20 on an institutional framework for sustainable development, identifying the issues that need to be addressed to achieve greater coherence. The idea of a Sustainable Development Council under the UN General Assembly was promoted to replace the existing Trusteeship Council. The role of an International Environmental Court was also recognised in promoting universal environmental standards – the International Court for Environmental Arbitration was highlighted as an example of a potential model in this area.

It was widely recognised that there needs to be more coherence in the global system to advance the cause of sustainable development and that addressing international environmental governance alone will not be sufficient. There needs to be a framework that deals with all pillars of sustainable development – including the Bretton Woods Institutions and UNCTAD, as well as integrating the major Rio Conventions. The proposal of the Government of Brazil for an ‘Umbrella Institution’ could help to reconfigure the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development, ECOSOC and UNEP.

It was recognised as critical to both increase funding for sustainable development across UN agencies, but also enhance communication between agencies to ensure that they are delivering a common agenda to implement sustainable development – it will be important to follow closely the outcomes of the One UN pilot programmes in this regard. A mechanism for inter-agency co-ordination on sustainable development must also be established – the Environmental Management Group was abandoned but provided an important function for integration.

On a national level the age-old problem of lack of communication between finance and environment Ministries needs to be properly addressed, and the re-establishment or strengthening of National Councils for Sustainable Development could provide an important function for bringing together representatives from across government. The profile of sustainable development could also be enhanced through annual parliamentary debates on sustainable development.

Importantly, it was suggested that there needs to be a ‘leap of innovation’ when it comes to stakeholder engagement in Rio+20 and beyond. The Rio Earth Summit represented an unprecedented widening of global democracy through bringing stakeholders to the table as both participants and actors. The 9 Major Groups model has ensured far wider representation for many of the constituencies both affected by and responsible for implementing sustainable development. Yet the world has changed since 1992, new actors and constituencies have emerged, and it is also time for stakeholders themselves to review the success of their own engagement, and devise innovative proposals for change.

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