A Council for Sustainable Development: A Possible Outcome of the Rio+20 Process (2-3)
A Possible Outcome of the Rio+20 Process was prepared by Jan-Gustav Strandaneas for Stakeholder Forum. It is important to compare the expected outcome from the Conference with the actual results that was agreed upon on Rio+20, so it is necessary to know what the expectation was as detailed in this report under review.
A polemic response to that argument would be to point to the fourth bullet point above, the bullet point explicitly referring to human rights and fundamental freedoms. A similar discussion to the one we are experiencing today on sustainable development vis-à-vis ECOSOC occurred in relationship to human rights issues when the council on human rights was established – i.e. would not a Human Rights Council deprive ECOSOC of some of its prestigious and important work and undermine its very raison d’être? Still, that council is now a fact, and ECOSOC’s workload and responsibility has not diminished. ECOSOC still has a role working on human rights issues, but the expert handling of these issues are dealt with by the new council. If anything, work on human rights has overall been strengthened without diminishing the importance of ECOSOC and without weakening ECOSOC in relationship to its Charter position. For polemic reasons one could also state that establishing the Peace Building Commission within the purview of ECOSOC has not diminished the role and importance of the Security Council whose primary work is with security and peace-building issues.
The new Council and ECOSOC
It is a fallacy to think that sustainable development will cover all present work areas of ECOSOC. Such an argument is based on an incomplete understanding of what sustainable development entails. As was the case with human rights issues, these needed to be more clearly understood and more clearly defined when the new council was established, so as not to complicate matters with this work-area in ECOSOC contexts. It is easy to envisage a similar development for the Council on Sustainable Development as well.
Delineating the responsibilities of a new council working with sustainable development will of necessity demand serious work to understand the interrelationship of the three pillars of sustainable development, how they should be integrated, how they influence each other, how they relate to and influence policy, how they should be implemented, reported on, monitored, which indicators should be used, which discarded, in short - use the best experience resulting from two decades of work with and around the present commission on sustainable development as the basis for the new council.
The new council needs a structure that reflects a deeper understanding of sustainable development, and it needs to have a flexible agenda reflecting whatever are and will be deemed as current and emerging issues of sustainable development. In the 1992 UNCED and the 2002 WSSD conferences, the so-called ‘emerging issues’ were discussed, and almost everybody seemed to agree on their importance. Yet in the final end, there was no place for emerging issues. And if nothing else, the stale and definite agenda of CSD from 2003 until 2017 did not allow for much flexibility and as such, by definition excluded emerging issues from its agenda. It would therefore be incumbent upon those working on developing the new Council to find a relevant and ample position for dealing with emerging issues.
There seems to be a concern that a new council will deprive ECOSOC of a number of central and important themes, in particular the social and economic issues. Such a statement also reflects a hurried and somewhat superficial understanding of sustainable development issues. To dive deeper into this realm of ideas and politics, a serious discussion to define purpose and mission of the new council must be had. A discussion evolving around the following axiom might be useful in that respect: Do all issues related to sustainable development contain economic and social issues, but perhaps not all economic and social issues contain elements of sustainable development. A view shared by many scientists, researchers, decision makers and representatives of civil society is however that all issues relating to sustainable development do also involve issues relating to the environment. A consequence of this discussion will of necessity touch upon the area which by definition has been given to UNEP, i.e. the environment. How will the environmental pillar and the economic and social pillar be dealt with by the new council? ECOSOC today has a role vis-à-vis the specialized agencies. Should the new council be given the same role?
Possible structure, position and work areas
As with the establishment of the Human Rights Council, a group of high level experts need to work out the councils future work structure, mandate, area and responsibilities, see how it should differ from ECOSOC, while at the same time strengthen the position of ECOSOC. The rational integration of the three pillars of sustainable development may still pose to be one of the biggest difficulties. Whether the discussion is on policy, politics, law making within soft law or hard law, implementation and reporting, sustainable development must be taken seriously at all these levels. One of the functions of the Council on Sustainable Development would be to work with specialized agencies within the UN system, and as is a normal activity within the UN, specialised agencies, committees and programmes would report back to the new council. How this should be carried out would be one of the tasks that needs to be studied and clarified. The expert group would have to identify and suggest which specialized agencies the new council would need to have an established relationship with, and suggestions on how to work with UNEP as the environmental organ of the UN must be prioritised. And to head the new council, perhaps the precedent set by the Human Rights Council should be followed, and the title of High Commissioner for Sustainable Development would be a pertinent title. Such an office should also be given the necessary resources.
As with the Human Rights Council, the membership and its structure must be discussed. A workable solution would of course be to have a system that is close to ECOSOC, in status, structure as well as geographic and time rotation.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 11/07/2012