Johannesburg Summit Preparations Bog Down

NEW YORK, New York, April 8, 2002 (ENS) - World governments made little headway during two weeks of preparatory talks for this autumn's Johannesburg world sustainability summit that ended in New York on Friday, raising fears of damage to the whole process. Still, progress was made with the official launch of an international sustainability reporting system, the Global Reporting Initiative.

Known as PrepCom III, the meeting organized by the Commission on Sustainable Development at United Nations headquarters was supposed to negotiate the draft text of an action plan for the World Summit on Sustainable Development that aims to be an assessment and follow up 10 years after the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

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PrepCom III delegates debate a plan of action for sustainable development. (Photos courtesy ENB)
But starting from a succinct 21 page document forwarded from the previous session of preparatory talks, PrepCom III ended up with a "compilation text" of over 100 pages and little in the way of agreement.

Nearly 1,500 representatives of governments, UN agencies and convention Secretariats, international organizations, and major groups attended the meeting which was chaired by Professor Emil Salim of Indonesia.

Various parties are being blamed for the logjam, depending on the point of view of the accusers. Most publicly, environmental groups on Friday launched harsh attacks on the United States, Canada and the oil exporting nations, alleging they were out to "ruin" the summit by "blocking meaningful targets and timetables."

Poor management of the negotiating process by the United Nations bureau charged with running preparations for Johannesburg was a second main target for criticism. Government delegations were also accused of failing properly to prepare their positions in the run-up to the New York talks.

The "Earth Negotiations Bulletin," which specializes in covering UN negotiations, said today, "As participants departed, many reflected on persistent frustrations arising from what boiled down to insufficient guidance on the content, process and direction of the PrepCom. The situation was aggravated by UN budget cuts that stifled regional consultations, curtailed night sessions and prevented timely and adequate availability of documentation."

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Delegates discuss pros and cons of partnerships.
Aside from negotiating the Johannesburg action plan text, two main features of the talks were discussions on sustainable development governance and on partnerships. Both issues are to be subject to formal negotiations at the fourth and final session of preparatory talks for Johannesburg, due to be held in Bali, Indonesia from May 24 to June 7.

Partnerships, known in UN jargon as "Type 2 outcomes," are intended to complement "Type 1" intergovernmental agreements and strengthen implementation of Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development in the 21st Century agreed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

In his closing statement, Professor Salim said he will undertake informal consultation with interested delegations on possible elements of a political document to take to the final PrepCom at Bali. Delegates are invited to submit their views.

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PrepCom III Chair Emil Salim served as Indonesian Environment Minister from 1978 to 1993 and now chairs the Indonesian Foundation for Sustainable Development.
"I know it's a daunting task, that's why I rely on all of you to help me in this task," said Salim. "Realizing the heavy burden of it, the only reason why I am willing to accept this challenge is that back in my mind is the phrase of the poor Indonesians, the poor people of Asia, Latin America, Africa who have sent me letters begging me not to let the summit be a conference only of words. All of them ask me, 'please let the Summit be a summit of action.'"

"The second message I receive," Salim told the delegates, "is that the action must not only be by the governments, but by all, not only by business, but by all stakeholders, by all people of the world. It is this message that I like to accept as a challenge, and I ask for your help. Please make this World Summit not a summit of speeches and words, but a summit of action."

With hundreds of delegates from around the world, the New York talks attracted a host of side events and statements from a variety of stakeholders. One standout was the official launch of an international sustainability reporting institution, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

Formally inaugurated at a luncheon at UN headquarters Thursday attended by over 200 government, corporate, labor, NGO and investment leaders from around the world, the GRI was first convened in 1997 by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In her opening remarks at lunch, UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette praised the GRI organizers, "for successfully bringing together actors from all sectors of society in a coalition for change."

The GRI was established to develop, promote, and disseminate a generally accepted framework for sustainability reporting - voluntary reporting on the economic, environmental, and social performance of corporations and other organizations. The GRI Secretariat will operate from permanent headquarters location announced Thursday in Amsterdam, and regional offices will be opened in the United States, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Its mandate as an international standards body is to make sustainability reporting as routine as financial reporting while achieving the highest standards of consistency and rigor.

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Robert Kinloch Massie (Photo courtesy Harwood Foundation)
Robert Kinloch Massie, CERES executive director and GRI board member, told the inaugual luncheon audience, "Let us not underestimate the significance of the task or the opportunity. The GRI represents only one piece of what we must do to find our way to a healthy and sustainable future, but it is a necessary piece. Without it, we will never bring all the forms of capital - natural, human, and financial - into healthy alignment."

More than 110 companies have already undertaken sustainability reporting using the GRI Guidelines including BASF, British Telecom, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Canon, Co-operative Bank, Danone, Electrolux, Ford, GM, Interface, KLM Airlines, NEC, Nike, Novo Group, Nokia, Shell, and South African Breweries.

{ENDS Environment Daily contributed to this report. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London}