North American UNEP Consultation on Rio+20

As a member of the Major Group for Children and Youth, the Human Impacts Institute and our representative Mariana Orozco reports on global environmental policy gearing up for Rio+20.

The Human Impacts Institute was invited to participate in the United Nation’s Environment Programme’s October 2011 consultation in preparation for UNEP’S Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environmental Forum that will be held in February 2012. HII representatives worked with over 30 North American civil society representatives to develop recommendations to UNEP for the Rio+20 Earth Summit to be held in June of 2012.  In their final document, invited North American representatives of civil society organizations compiled their own thoughts on what needs to be done in Rio+20, which are summarized below:

Green Economy:
With yet another focus on the urgency of implementation, which resonates with many other groups, they call for a reaffirmation of the commitment that has already been achieved, including  Agenda 21. Rio+20 is an opportunity for concrete goals, and governments should leave with concrete to-do lists of steps that prioritize Sustainable Development, establishing goals with clear timelines, measurements and assessment process.

The North American Group also feel that there is a greater need for civil society to participate with input and expertise, with a strong voice for all stakeholders. They call for a review and expansion of the current major groups. They emphasize the vital role of women on the road to sustainable development, as well as support for young people to gain skills that will drive a transition to a Green Economy, with an emphasis on an integrated environmental education.

Sustainable Consumption and Production is highlighted as an essential transition that must be achieved, as well as the elimination perverse subsidies across all sectors of the economy, and instead incentivize sustainable behaviors by rewarding private sector efforts. Specific to the Region, US and Canada call for a North American Sustainable Consumption and Production Framework, which includes a review process and support mechanisms for implementation, as well as a Regional Framework on Sustainable Development.

They also echo the message that GDP is not an accurate measurement of well being, and must be replaced. They support the Financial Transaction Tax to help build a protection system for the most vulnerable.  In terms of sharing know-how, the North American region advocated a clearinghouse of best practices, to ensure the transfer of knowledge about sustainable development, and would help all countries to implement such programs at all levels without being undermined by property rights or patent laws.

Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD):
Accountability emerges as the underlying theme of the message to Rio+20, including:

  • Environmental tribunals,
  • Freedom of information acts,
  • Pollution release inventories,
  • Enforcement mechanism,
  • Comprehensive metrics to track implementation,
  • Auditor Generals who help in defining an international framework,
  • A strengthened UNEP, in charge of tracking implementation of  environmental commitments,
  • An in-depth analysis of barriers and promising practices in implementing existing sustainable development commitments,
  • Upgrading the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development to a permanent Council status.
At the Regional level, they also call on their governments to launch negotiations for the establishment of a regional convention on Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration that deals with access to information, public participation and environmental justice.

As a final message, the North American group emphasizes, as others have also done, that it is not only necessary for Environmental Ministers to be present, but also Heads of State and Ministers of Finance, those who have more immediate decision-making power. As many others have remarked, “Rio+20 should not be just another conference,” but one that effectively activates change, in an open and transparent manner.

The North American message is that Rio+20 can inspire the enthusiasm of the environmentalist leadership of 20 years ago, and promote a new generation of people who, in equity and solidarity, unite to protect the planet.  The full consultation report can be read here: UNEP RONA Consultation Oct 2011_Key Messages.

For questions regarding the consultation please contact Emily Werner and emily.werner@unep.org

By Mariana Orozco, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern

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