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Unfolding Local Authorities Role and Contribution to the Rio+20 Process

November 12, 2012

Introduction

The UN General Assembly pursuant to its Resolution 64/236 (24 December 2009) organized in June 2012 the United Nation Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio+20)[1] which was focused on two themes: (i) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and, (ii) institutional framework for sustainable development (IFSD). In an effort to highlight the importance of stakeholders for the promotion of sustainable development, the UNGA encouraged the active participation of all nine Major Groups (MGs), as defined by Agenda 21[2], at all stages of Rio+20 preparatory process.[3]

Each of the nine Major Groups designated its own Organizing Partners (OPs)[4]. The Organizing Partners of Local Authorities Major Group (LAMG) included the International Council for Local Environmental Initiative (ICLEI) – Local Governments for Sustainability, the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), and the Network for Regional Governments for Sustainable Development (nrg4SD).

During the Second Preparatory Committee (Rio2012 PrepCom II) that took place in New York from 7 to 8 March 2011 a statement was delivered on behalf of LAMG by Susanne Salz, Head of Secretary General’s office of ICLEI. In her speech, Ms. Salz placed emphasis on the projection that, by 2050, two-third of the world’s population will be living in cities. Based on this prediction, she urged that the outcome of the discussions on the issue of Green Economy should incorporate a section on Green Urban Economy underlying that local and subnational governments could be a crucial part of the global transition to a Green Economy.[5] The PrepCom II concluded its work by adopting a decision regarding the preparation of the draft outcome document of the UNCSD in consistency with the General Assembly’s Resolution 64/236[6]. Within this framework, the Preparatory Committee invited all States, relevant United Nations specialized agencies and stakeholders to “provide written inputs by 1 November 2011 for inclusion in a document that would serve as the basis for preparing the “zero draft” of the outcome document”[7].

The following sections outline the key elements of the LAMG’s contributions to the Zero Draft and highlight the main points raised by the Organizing Partners during their interventions at the Preparatory Committee Meetings, the Interssesional Meetings, and the informal consultations (‘informal-informal’ negotiations) on the road to Rio+20.

Contributions to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document 

Each of the Organizing Partners of the LAMG (ICLEI, UCLG, and nrg4SD) provided written contributions to the preparation of the Rio+20 Outcome Document. The written inputs included recommendations regarding the role and status of Local Authorities in the architecture of the UN System per se as well as their potential functions in the decision-making processes leading to the development of green economy and IFSD respectively.

More specifically, nrg4SD called for a new category of stakeholders to be introduced among the accredited observers to UN processes in order to recognize the notion of “governmental stakeholders”, thus acknowledging the governmental nature of Federated States, Regions, Cities and Local Authorities.[8] Similarly, ICLEI proposed the replacement of the nine Major Groups with three new Stakeholders Groups namely the “Governmental Stakeholders” (local and regional governments), the “Business and Trade Unions” and “Civil Society” (including indigenous people, women, scientists, farmers, youth and NGOs).[9] It was considered that, local and regional governments “should be given responsibility and be involved in decision-making” in regard to sustainable development and the greening of the economies.[10] Finally, UCLG suggested that a “specific Charter devoted to local and regional authorities” should be included in the outcome document, thus recognizing their key role in achieving sustainable development objectives.[11]

Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication

Within the framework of Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, the LAMG provided inputs on a series of issues, including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a green and sustainable economy and urban economies in the transition to a global green economy. With regard to SDGs, ICLEI supported the idea of setting SDGs to be achieved by 2050. It was also noted that SDGs should be based on quantifiable, measurable and verifiable scientific evidence and expertise.[12] Furthermore, it was pointed out that implementing successfully SDGs, requires the active participation of Local Governments Organizations (LGOs) and their inclusion in relevant global decisions on the definition of SDGs.[13] Likewise, UCLG advocated the need for the elaboration of SDGs, noting that they should not be limited only to environmental goals but also to social and economic considerations integrated into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).[14]

In regard to the issue of a transition to a green and sustainable economy, ICLEI proposed the development of a more comprehensive indicator, other than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) indicator, that “would allow for more nuanced performance measurement”.[15] According to ICLEI, although GDP is the most widely used metric of economic performance, it is now widely recognized that it is an inadequate measure of social progress.[16] In parallel, nrg4SD suggested the introduction to the draft outcome document of “innovative and integrated parameters of a sustainable development tool” that go beyond GDP indicator, capable of securing sustainable development and eradicating poverty.[17] ICLEI also requested the full implementation of the “polluter pays” principle as well as the enhancement of policies aimed at internalizing environmental externalities.[18] In addition, it proposed that the draft document should also incorporate a new interesting principle, the so-called “Beneficiary pays” principle, for the sake of intergenerational justice.[19] Finally, UCLG did not seem to share the idea that “green economy” is the appropriate tool for the enhancement of sustainable development. Instead, it called for the establishment of a “green society” that integrates all aspects of sustainable development (economic, social, environmental, and cultural).[20] Nonetheless, UCLG suggested that “green economy” should function in accordance with the principle of “shared but differentiated responsibility”, recognizing that developed and developing countries do not have the same pace to evolve towards such an economy.[21]

Regarding urban economies, ICLEI underlined the key role played by cities towards the development of green economy. This is exemplified by the fact that in terms of human resources, infrastructure, economic activity and resources, cities are able to turn density and urban systems into eco-efficiency.[22] Moreover, according to ICLEI, the greening of urban economies will result in a series of positive local effects related to human well-being, prevention of future scarcities in natural resources and reduced consequential costs to future generations for dealing with impacts of today’s economy.[23]

Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development

In the context of IFSD, the Organizing Partners of Local Authorities Major Group provided important inputs into the draft outcome text. Their contribution focused on a wide range of issues related to the establishment of a Sustainable Development Council and a UN or a World Environment Organization as well as on the formulation of a new Intergovernmental Panel on Sustainable Development. Initially, all three OPs stressed the importance of involving all relevant stakeholders, especially local authorities, in all levels of the institutional framework. In this connection, UCLG noted that the new governance framework should include the local and regional authorities as full-fledged partner in the decision making bodies.[24]

Concerning the establishment of a Sustainable Development Council, ICLEI stated that this is a “worthwhile option to be considered”.[25] It could serve to increase coherence and coordination among the relevant actors providing at the same time a forum for dialogue among them.[26] Nrg4SD proposed that the UN Commission for Sustainable Development (UNCSD) should be upgraded into a Council with a stronger monitoring and control mandate, including the elaboration of recommendations to UN members and the scrutiny of the initiatives of any UN body related to Sustainable Development.[27]

ICLEI supported the need for the establishment of UN or World Environmental Organization which should work on all environmental issues in a comprehensive and coherent manner.[28] Likewise, UCLG agreed on the need to set-up a strong voice that would ensure the implementation of the existing international environmental agreements[29], while nrg4SD advocated that UNEP should be strengthened and upgraded to a fully resourced Specialized Agency vested with a comprehensive mandate and a strong monitoring and control system[30].

Finally, ICLEI called for the creation of an Intergovernmental Panel on Sustainable Development (IPSD). The IPSD could provide solid scientific base while at the same time it would be the overarching body for IPCC and any other relevant science/policy bodies.[31] Similarly, nrg4SD pointed at the same direction proposing the establishment of an Independent Intergovernmental Group of Sustainability Experts in order to further enhance research, development and innovation in the field of Sustainable Development.[32]

Negotiations on the Zero Draft of Outcome Document

The initial discussions on the Zero Draft of the Outcome Document were held in New York from 25 to 27 January 2012. The LAMG intervention was delivered by Susanne Salz, Head of Secretary General’s office of ICLEI. MS. Salz expressed, on behalf of the LAMG, her satisfaction for the inclusion of the urban dimension of sustainable development and the SDGs in the Zero Draft. However, she stressed that, in relation to Green Economy for Action (Section III.C.), the vital role of cities and local governments should be further acknowledged and urban communities need to be empowered and appropriately supported to take action.[33] With respect to the IFSD, she added that the role of Local Governments should also be highlighted and Governmental stakeholders should be integrated into the future IFSD. This could be happen either within an overall reform and improvement of the modalities of participation for all Major Groups or by committing to full participation in global sustainable development policy-shaping as well as implementation.[34]

Following the initial discussions on the Zero Draft of Outcome document, the second round of ‘informal-informal’ negotiations took place in New York from 23 April 2012 to 4 May 2012. During the negotiations, LAMG circulated a document in which it stressed the significance of ‘good urban development’ in implementing sustainable development.[35] The document contained the following eight recommendations:

  1. Recommendation 1: A new multi-level governance architecture is needed.
  2. Recommendation 2: Sustainable Cities should be a crosscutting issue in the Sustainable Development Agenda. Potential Sustainable Development Goals should include at least one Goal on “Sustainable Cities for All” and make reference to access to quality basic services, social inclusion and equity, and the environment.
  3. Recommendation 3: Cohesion among territories in development policies should be fostered.
  4. Recommendation 4: Culture should be acknowledged as an important dimension of sustainable development.
  5. Recommendation 5: Legal mechanisms for local and sub-national governments should be developed in order to establish good governance and management systems.
  6. Recommendation 6: Development of financial mechanisms for local and sub-national governments should be enhanced.
  7. Recommendation 7: Global Green Economy should comprise local and sub-national governments as hubs of green growth.
  8. Recommendation 8: The Rio+20 Conference should be considered as the first step towards Habitat III[36] which focus will be on the global commitment to reinvigorate the urban agenda.

The second round of ‘informal-informal’ negotiations convened at New York from 29 May 2012 to 2 June 2012. During the meeting, an intervention was made on behalf of LAMG by Ms. Maruxa Cardama, Secretary General of nrg4SD. In her speech, Ms. Cardama’s focused on those paragraphs of the negotiating text which refer to the role played by local authorities and subnational governments towards the promotion of sustainable development. She also reiterated the commitment of LAMG to a multi-level governance and a multi-stakeholder approach in the interest of clear commitments and actions that can make sustainable development happen on the ground.[37]

Outcomes of Rio+20

The Third Preparatory Committee Meeting (Rio2012 PrepCom III) and the UNCSD were held back to back in Rio de Janeiro from 13 to 22 June 2012. The outcome of the Conference was reflected in a political document entitled “The Future We Want”.[38] In the context of Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD), it called UNGA to decide on the establishment of a universal intergovernmental high-level political forum to eventually replace the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and on the strengthening of UNEP. On the issue of Green economy in the context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication, a decision was made on designating a body to operationalise the ten year framework programmes on sustainable consumption and production patterns. Finally, the most important political decision of the Summit concerns the process that should be followed towards the development of Sustainable Development Goals.[39]

For the local authorities, the outcome of RIO+20 failed, to a certain extent, to deliver concrete results. More specifically, in relation to the overall objectives, UCLG referred to the absence of concrete multilateral agreements and commitments as well as to the lack of clear inclusive governance mechanisms for future development policy.[40] Similarly, ICLEI noted that the Summit failed to decide on the establishment of a global institutional architecture endowed with competencies and powers that would ensure the safeguarding of the human living conditions and ecosystems services.[41] Furthermore, it failed to establish an accountability framework with a performance reporting mechanism.[42]

From a local authorities’ perspective, the Summit reaffirmed and strengthened their key role in the Sustainable Development process. The Rio+20 document contains unprecedented references to cities and local governments.[43] In the text, the States acknowledge the efforts and progress made at the subnational and local levels as well as the role that local authorities play in the implementation of sustainable development policies and the engagement of stakeholders.[44] Moreover, the text includes a specific sub-heading on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements.[45] Finally, it calls for supporting local authorities to develop sustainability policies as well as strengthening financial mechanisms accessible to them.[46] As is evident from the written inputs  to the zero draft and the key points of the LAMG’s interventions presented above, Local Authorities responded positively to the call of the UNGA for the active participation of stakeholders at all stages of the preparatory process on the way to Rio+20. What remains to be seen is whether they will adequately meet the sustainable development challenges identified in the outcome document of the Summit.

* This Ph.D. research has been co-financed by the European Union (European Social Fund – ESF) and Greek national funds through the Operational Program “Education and Lifelong Learning” of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) – Research Funding Program: Heracleitus II.

Endnotes

  1. UNGA Resolution A/RES/64/236, 24 December 2009, para 20. Available online at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/475/99/IMG/N0947599.pdf?OpenElement.
  2. The nine Major Groups are Women, Children and Youth, Farmers, Indigenous Peoples, NGOs, Trade Unions, Local Authorities, Science and Technology, and Business and Industry, Agenda 21 (Chapter 23). Available online at http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/res_agenda21_23.shtml.
  3. UNGA Resolution A/RES/64/236, 24 December 2009, para 21. Available online at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/475/99/IMG/N0947599.pdf?OpenElement.
  4. The role of Organized Partners is to support a fluid communication with the UN Secretariat as well as to facilitate the engagement of the Major Groups in the Rio+20 preparatory process. Available on line http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/majorgroups_faq.html#1.
  5. LAMG, “Local Authority Statement during the Rio2012 PrepCom II”. Available online at http://www.uncsd2012.org/content/documents/localauthority-green-economy.pdf.
  6. UNGA Resolution A/RES/64/236, 24 December 2009, para 20(b).
  7. Preparatory Committee for UNCSD, “Decision Outline Contents, Format of Outcome Document”, 8 March 2011. Available online at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/envdev1201.doc.htm.
  8. ngr4SD, “Subnational Governments: Key Actors in the Rio+20 Process. nrg4SD Input to the Compilation Document”, October 2011, p.1. Available online at http://www.nrg4sd.org/sites/default/files/default/files/content/public/32-sustdev/rio/nrg4sd_contributions_to_rio_20_compilation_document_final_4.pdf.
  9. ICLEI, “ICLEI Submission for Rio+20: Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, October 2011, p.6. Available online at http://local2012.iclei.org/fileadmin/files/ICLEI_Submission_for_Rio_20_Zero_Draft_20111031_01.pdf.
  10. Ibid.
  11. UCLG, “Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, November 1st, 2011. p.8. Available online at http://www.uncsd2012.org/content/documents/270UCLG_contribution_to_zero_draft_outcome_document_Rio20Oct31.pdf.
  12. ICLEI, “ICLEI Submission for Rio+20: Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, October 2011, p.2.
  13. Ibid.
  14. UCLG, “Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, November 1st, 2011. p.2.
  15. ICLEI, “ICLEI Submission for Rio+20: Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, October 2011, p.4.
  16. Ibid.
  17. ngr4SD, “Subnational Governments: Key Actors in the Rio+20 Process. nrg4SD Input to the Compilation Document”, October 2011, p.3.
  18. ICLEI, “ICLEI Submission for Rio+20: Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, October 2011, p.4.
  19. Ibid.
  20. UCLG, “Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, November 1st, 2011. pp.2-3.
  21. Ibid. p.8.
  22. ICLEI, “ICLEI Submission for Rio+20: Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, October 2011, p.4.
  23. Ibid.
  24. UCLG, “Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, November 1st, 2011. p.8.
  25. ICLEI, “ICLEI submission for Rio+20: Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, October 2011, p.7.
  26. Ibid.
  27. ngr4SD, “Subnational Governments: Key Actors in the Rio+20 Process. nrg4SD Input to the Compilation Document”, October 2011, p.2.
  28. ICLEI, “ICLEI submission for Rio+20: Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, October 2011, p.7.
  29. UCLG, “Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, November 1st, 2011. p.9.
  30. ngr4SD, “Subnational Governments: Key Actors in the Rio+20 Process. nrg4SD Input to the Compilation Document”, October 2011, p.2.
  31. ICLEI, “ICLEI submission for Rio+20: Contribution to the Zero Draft of the Rio+20 Outcome Document”, October 2011, p.7.
  32. ngr4SD, “Subnational Governments: Key Actors in the Rio+20 Process. nrg4SD Input to the Compilation Document”, October 2011, p.2.
  33. LAMG, “LAMG Intervention at the Initial Consultations on the Zero Draft of the Outcome Document”, 26 January 2012. Available online at http://www.uncsd2012.org/content/documents/681local.pdf.
  34. Ibid.
  35. LAMG, “Local Authority Major Group Intervention for Monday 30 April Meeting with the Bureau”. Available online at http://www.nrg4sd.org/sites/default/files/default/files/content/public/32-sustdev/rio/lamg_intervention_for_monday_30_april_2012.pdf.
  36. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) decided to convene a third UN conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in 2016, UNGA Resolution A/C.2/66/L.75. For further information http://www.unhabitat.org/categories.asp?catid=9.
  37. Intervention of the LAMG, Working Group 2, at the Third Round of informal-informal’ negotiations on the Zero Draft.  Available online at http://www.uncsd2012.org/content/documents/838LAMG%20Intervention%20Working%20Group%202%20Tuesday%2029.pdf.
  38. General Assembly, Resolution adopted by the GA “The future we Want” (A/RES/66/288) Available online at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/476/10/PDF/N1147610.pdf?OpenElement.
  39. See also MEPIELAN E-Bulletin: http://goo.gl/veEz4.
  40. UCLG, “Summary of key policy related to local and regional authorities in the Rio Outcome Document”. Available online at  http://www.uclg.org/en/issues/rio20.
  41. ICLEI, “ICLEI’s Evaluation of the Outcomes of Rio+20”. Available online at http://local2012.iclei.org/fileadmin/files/ICLEI_at_Rio_20.pdf.
  42. Ibid.
  43. Ibid.
  44. UCLG, “Summary of key policy related to local and regional authorities in the Rio Outcome Document”.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid.

About the author

Socrates G. Zachos

Ph.D. Candidate, Researcher, MEPIELAN Centre, Panteion University of Athens, Greece