Asia-Europe Strategies for the Earth Summit 2012: Global Architectures for Sustainable Development Delivery

Asia-Europe Foundation • 13-06-2012
Asia-Europe Foundation. 2012. Asia-Europe Strategies for the Earth Summit 2012: Global Architectures for Sustainable Development Delivery. Edited by Sol Iglesias and Grazyna Pulawska, with assistance from Simon Olsen and Ella Antonio
Asia-Europe Strategies for the Earth Summit 2012: Global Architectures for Sustainable Development Delivery

The 20th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), now called Rio+20, is just a few days away. To this day, there has been little clarity on the possible outcomes on the discussions of the two major themes of the Rio+20 conference, namely, 1) The green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and 2) the institutional framework for sustainable development (IFSD). 

The reform of the IFSD has received significant attention and inspired a wide range of proposals. However, the added value of incorporating bi-regional and national perspectives seems to have been overlooked. A closely related process is the proposed reform of the International Environmental Governance (IEG), which is often interpreted as the strengthening of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). After 20 years, it has become obvious that there is an urgent need to reform the IFSD which is seen as overly complicated and barely able to respond to sustainable development challenges. The lack of progress in sustainable development and failure to address emerging global environmental, social and economic issues, have been attributed, to a large extent, to the weaknesses of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development itself; its secretariat; the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA); and UNEP, which has embodied the environment dimension of sustainable development.

The Asia-Europe Environment Forum (ENVforum) contributed to the IFSD discourse by undertaking a series of consultations that gathered the opinions and contributions of 80 IFSD experts from diverse sectors in Asia and Europe. During these consultation meetings, it became clear that there is an urgent need for a resource that could help clarify and explain reform options and their implications, particularly to Asia and Europe. As a result, the ENVforum commissioned a team of experts from Asia and Europe to analyse the various IFSD and IEG options, with support of foresight methodology and field research, as well as assess the inter-regional synergies in the IFSD and IEG debate.

There have been many studies on the IFSD and the IEG but these have largely zeroed-in on global issues. Hence, this study has provided a strong focus on the multi-level components of the IFSD and the synergy between Asia and Europe. These could be valuable inputs for decision-making in Rio and the subsequent implementation of IFSD and IEG reforms.

The institutional framework reform cannot be detached from the substantive component of sustainable development since, as it is always said, form follows substance. The formulation of sustainable development strategies at all levels was thus reviewed in relation to the existing institutions, particularly at the national level. There was also consideration of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a tool to pull together the attention and activities of the international community into a limited number of subjects and aspirations. Regarded as one of the most desirable Rio+20 outcomes, SDGs are seen to be complementary to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and to be incorporated into the development plans post-2015 or the end of MDGs timeframe.

This document reports on the consultation process and results of this study. It has four main sections.

The first part explains the consultation process and findings resulting from it.

The second sets the framework for the study by presenting the context within which the IFSD was conceived under Agenda 21 and what it has evolved into - a labyrinth featuring global, regional and national institutions of varying strengths and authorities that have not maximised the synergies of working together. It argues that a cohesive governance and institutional framework within which co-ordination and information freely flow from side to side, top to bottom, and bottom to top could create these synergies to reinforce agenda-setting and the implementation of measures with regard to the environmental dimension of sustainable development.

The third section is dedicated to the global dimension of the IFSD, which is divided into global sustainable development institutional arrangements and the IEG. It reviewed and made recommendations on the creation of a Sustainable Development Council possibly headed by a High Level Representative for Future Generations and the reform of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). On the other hand, the IEG consultations addressed all options on the table, including the contentious question of whether UNEP should be turned into a specialised agency.

The fourth part of this publication deals with the bigger, multi-layered and crucial downstream dimensions of the IFSD, which could benefit from greater attention. It compares and contrasts the experiences of Asia and Europe with regard to designing and running mechanisms and institutions that promote the horizontal and vertical integration necessary to ensure sustainable development. The lessons learned could feed into the whole IFSD debate as well as the reforms or creation of regional, sub-regional and national mechanisms worldwide.

This publication is to serve as a reference for governments, non-state actors and other researchers in the many discussions during the Rio+20 Conference, as well as in the eventual implementation of the IFSD negotiation outcomes.  

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