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Sustainability Panel Hears Input from UNGA

16 March 2011: An Interactive Dialogue between the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (GSP) took place on 16 March 2011, in New York, US.

UNGA President Joseph Deiss moderated the meeting, during which member States and NGOs said the problems were known and many solutions existed, and asked the Panel to provide concrete recommendations for putting the solutions into action. In his opening statement, Deiss called for a new development paradigm to reduce the impact of human activities, strengthen economies and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other goals. He said recent UNGA meetings on biodiversity, small island developing States (SIDS), the MDGs, forests, and disaster risk reduction (DRR) had revealed a common key message on the need for firm political commitment and resolute action on climate change and poverty eradication.

Asha-Rose Migiro, UN Deputy Secretary-General, said the Panel's recommendations would be fed into preparations for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio 2012), as well as various Conferences of the Parties (COPs), and discussions following the 2015 deadline for the MDGs.

Tarja Halonen, President of Finland and Co-Chair of the Global Sustainability Panel, said balancing the three pillars of sustainable development meant placing a greater emphasis on social development, including by enhancing social justice and the empowerment of women. Halonen reported that at the Panel's second meeting (GSP 2), which took place in Cape Town, South Africa, from 24-25 February 2011, it considered four broad goals: to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and enhance social justice; to shift to sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and inclusive growth, with job creation; to manage scarcity, common goods and ecosystems with respect to planetary boundaries; and to enhance security. The means to achieve these goals would include: markets and finance; governance; technology; and gender equality and empowerment of women. She added that the Panel agreed there was no need to define sustainable development, and that they should produce the most practical outcomes possible.

Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa and Co-Chair of the Global Sustainability Panel, participating by video, reported further on GSP 2. He said the Panel had agreed that: more needed to be done to create enabling environment for implementing decisions; combatting poverty and inequality would be at the core of its recommended actions; and its overall goal is to make a substantive contribution to “eradicating poverty and reducing inequality, making growth inclusive, and consumption and production more sustainable while combating climate change and respecting the range of other planetary boundaries.”

Panel member Cristina Narbona Ruiz, Spanish Ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and former Minister of Environment of Spain, said the current economic paradigm linking gross domestic product (GDP) to welfare and poverty eradication is connected to the lack of implementation and enforcement of commitments on sustainable development and poverty eradication. She noted that marine biodiversity is a prerequisite for many goals, called for economic mechanisms to recognize the value of ecosystems services, and stressed the potential of an international financial transactions tax.

Panel member Hajiya Amina Az-Zubair, Senior Special Assistant/Advisor to the President of Nigeria on MDGs, said Africa's actions would “make or break” global intentions on sustainable development. She noted the relevance of democratic goverance, which provides the environment for security and accountability.

Panel member James Laurence Balsillie, Co-CEO, Research in Motion, and Chair of the Board, Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Canada, called for major structural and systematic changes, including to the capital markets; said the unknown costs of unsustainable practices made solutions even more difficult to craft and implement; and assured States that the private sector would adapt to and work with a “reasonable framework of rules” given to them.

In response to the statements of several political groups, 22 individual States, and two NGOs, Halonen said the Panel shared the concern about implementation of existing, common views on sustainability, including that climate change is not the only concern and that a blue economy also must receive attention. She suggested that progress on the MDGs could help establish targets for sustainability, and said that the potential of women, youth, the private sector, and NGOs were untapped resources.

The GSP will hold its third meeting (GSP 3) in mid-May in Helsinki, Finland, followed by GSP 4 in September in New York, US and GSP 5 at the end of 2011. [UN Summary of Dialogue] [Webcast of Dialogue] [Statement of UNGA President] [Statement of UN Deputy Secretary-General] [UN News Center]