Multi-Stakeholder Participation in Sustainable Development Efforts Discussed, as Johannesburg Summit Preparatory Committee Holds Dialogue
NEW YORK, 30 January (UN Headquarters) -- Multi-stakeholder participation in sustainable development implementation efforts was explored by the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit on Sustainable Development today, as it held a day-long discussion with governments and major groups.
[In a parallel dialogue session, the Committee discussed progress achieved in applying integrated approaches to sectoral objectives of sustainable development.]
The Commission on Sustainable Development is acting as the preparatory committee for the Summit, to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September. During the Summit, leaders are expected to identify concrete steps to further implement Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Today’s dialogue brought together representatives of governments and the nine major groups identified in Agenda 21 -- youth, women, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations (NGO), local authorities, trade unions, business and industry, science and technology, and farmers. Together, they considered how to turn the lessons learned and barriers identified into tangible actions through partnerships in future sustainable development work.
During the discussion, representatives highlighted a number of key lessons learned during the last 10 years. First, when sustainable development projects and programmes were done in a participatory manner, they had longer lasting results. A related lesson was that multi-stakeholder participation increased the ownership of an implementation effort, thereby, increasing the effort’s potential for success.
There was general agreement that the way forward in achieving sustainable development was through building trust and through a process that was open and transparent. A business representative emphasized the need to ensure that all stakeholders at all levels were given an equal opportunity to participate in such processes.
The crucial role that local authorities -- as the level of government closest to the people -- could play in sustainable development efforts was stressed by both stakeholders and governments alike. Among its achievements, noted a representative of that group, was the implementation and expansion of local Agenda 21 initiatives. For local governments to be effective, they must be provided adequate institutional means, resources and public support, he emphasized. Local governments, added Denmark’s representative, were an important entry point for participation, and strengthening them would increase the participation of major groups.
Stressing the importance of networking among the major groups to enhance their participation in decision-making, Japan’s representative announced that his Government was organizing an international symposium on local authorities’ initiatives in Yokohama on 27 and 28 April. Its purpose was to provide a forum for local authorities to exchange experiences since Rio and to discuss future strategies.
While several groups reiterated the importance of having dialogue, they stressed that, for dialogue to be meaningful, it must be followed through to the decision-making process. An NGO representative said that it was not enough to have consultations with various groups and then carry on with the work as usual. No longer could governments alone achieve the goals of sustainable development. Many World Bank and International Monetary Fund projects, the representative said, had failed due to a lack of multi-stakeholder participation. It was essential that civil society take its rightful place in the decision-making process.
Multi-stakeholder dialogues, said the representative of indigenous peoples, were among the initiatives introduced in Rio that continued to bear fruit. Effective multi-stakeholder processes were those which enabled the different groups to actually be a part of decision-making. Two examples of successful collaboration between indigenous groups and other stakeholders in sustainable development efforts were the World Commission on Dams and the Arctic Council.
Among the other concerns expressed during the discussion was that youth were not really recognized as full partners and they were thus confined to the periphery of participation and decision-making. A youth representative requested that a Youth Summit be held in Johannesburg prior to the World Summit. Also, multilateral financial institutions should finance sustainable development projects led by young people. The inclusion of youth was essential to the successful implementation of Agenda 21, and they must be given the tools to participate.
Those governments, such as Turkey, which had established local and national youth councils, were applauded, and those who had not were challenged to do so. Governments were reminded of their commitment under Chapter 25 of Agenda 21 to include a youth delegate on their national delegations at national and international meetings. Also, non-governmental entities, including international financial institutions, were challenged to include dialogue with youth at all levels of negotiations.
In terms of multi-stakeholder participation and local Agenda 21 initiatives, women’s overall participation was very low, remarked a representative of that group. She challenged other major groups, governments and the United Nations to adopt the principle of gender balance as well as strategies to implement it. In that connection, it was noted that quotas or targets could assist in increasing the number of women in decision-making processes, as it had in India, where about 1 million grass-roots women had been brought into the decision-making process with the application of a government quota.
Today’s discussion also heard calls for efforts at harmonizing the visions of major groups, the involvement of major groups in decision-making at all levels, regional approaches to promote multi-stakeholder participation, and mechanisms to support capacity-building for major groups and the dissemination of best practices.
In addition, there were proposals to add other groups to the multi-stakeholder process, such as educators, the media, the advertising industry and consumers. Also, several speakers cited the importance of peace and stability as prerequisites for achieving sustainable development.
Also participating in the dialogue were the representatives of the Czech Republic, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Turkey, Indonesia, Sweden, Brazil, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Israel, Belgium, China, Bangladesh and the Netherlands.
The Committee will hold its final multi-stakeholder dialogue at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 31 January.
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