UNITED NATIONS - When world leaders at the
Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable
Development in Brazil next week endorse the final
plan of action, titled "The Future We Want", a
lingering question may remain unanswered: how best
can the United Nations transform political
platitudes into economic realities?
193-member Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for
Rio+20 (so called as it is being held two decades
after the original UN "Earth Summit" in Rio de
Janeiro in 1992) continues its final round of
negotiations through Friday in the same Brazilian
city this week, and perhaps beyond if the current
deadlock between leaders and various involved
organizations continues, there are several
proposals already on the table for institutional
reform or the creation of new bodies.
These proposals include strengthening of
the existing UN
(UNEP) by upgrading it to a full-fledged UN
agency; establishing a Global Economic
Coordination Council; creating a Global
Sustainable Development Council and the granddaddy
of all, the establishment of a mega World
Environment Organization (WEO).
The WEO, a
proposal that has been kicked around the UN system
for over two decades, was resurrected last week by
French President Francois Hollande.
said a WEO, "like the World Trade Organization or
the International Labour Organization", would
contribute to the success of Rio+20.
president of the UN General Assembly, Nassir
Abdulaziz al-Nasser, said the Rio+20 summit needs
to produce "a strong institutional architecture
... This architecture must promote a better
integration of the three dimensions of sustainable
development: economic, social and environment
It must also address new and
emerging issues, review the sustainability of
progress achieved, and monitor the implementation
of the commitment, he said.
Last week, UN
secretary-general Ban Ki-moon also reiterated the
"need for a new institutional framework to support
our shared sustainable development goals (SDGs) -
an effective body that can track their progress".
This body, he said, should have both
high-level political engagement, and space for
civil society, local authorities and the private
sector to contribute their knowledge and
The United Nations has already
begun to organize for the post-2015 challenge,
which that will closely follow the targeted date,
2015, for the achievement of the Millennium
Development Goals and the beginning of SDGs.
"I have asked the heads of the UN
Development Group and the executive committee on
economic and social affairs to mobilize the entire
UN system behind this effort," he said.
For starters, he announced last week the
creation of a new post of assistant secretary
general to oversee the post-2015 implementation of
SDGs: Amina J Mohammed of Nigeria will be Ban's
special adviser on post-2015 development planning.
An adjunct professor at Columbia
University, New York, she has also served as the
senior special assistant to the president of
Nigeria on the MDGs.
Ban also announced a
"High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons" to advise on
a post-2015 way forward: President Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono of Indonesia, President Ellen Johnson
Sirleaf of Liberia, and British Prime Minister
David Cameron, with further appointments to
In his detailed proposals for a
sustainable global society, Daisaku Ikeda,
president of the Tokyo-based Soka Gakkai
International, has called for the establishment of
a new international organization through the
merger of UN agencies in the fields of the
environment and development.
organization for sustainable development should be
the outcome of a bold, qualitative transformation
of the current system along the following lines:
the consolidation of relevant sections and
agencies, including the UN Development Programme
(UNDP) and UNEP.
"We need to develop the
institutional capacity to implement comprehensive
responses that prioritize the actual and expressed
needs of people and build the foundation for lives
of dignity," he added.
At present, he
pointed out, both UNDP and UNEP are structured so
that only those states that are members of the
respective governing councils can have a final say
"In light of the importance
of sustainable development and the wide range of
issues and sectors involved, we must ensure that
all states that wish to may participate in full,"
Chakravarthy Raghavan, a
journalist who has covered the UN both in New York
and Geneva, told IPS the idea of WEO, or UNEP
becoming a separate agency, has been around since
A new agency, of course, means more
posts, and if funded like the UNDP, means more
control from the North, and more money spent. And
once any agency is created, the fundamental law of
politics kicks in: governments decide on policies,
and create institutions to carry them out, he
"Very soon, those in the
institutions attempt to change the policies to
suit their interests and needs," said Raghavan,
who covered the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de
Janeiro. "But it is not clear what is the value
added; the UN charter envisaged the Economic and
Social Council (ECOSOC) to undertake a supervisory
and coordinating role."
That has long
fallen into disuse, and its meetings now only
enable agency heads to come and deliver long
perorations, and "questions" from the floor, that
more often than not get no answers, he said.
Raghavan said that Agenda 21, which was
adopted at the Earth Summit, also referred to
institutional arrangements for a follow-up.
"The idea of a WEO, with an overarching
coordinating and institutional role had come up
even then," he said.
However, at PrepCom
meetings during the 1992 summit, the idea met with
resistance from the developed countries, and
various specialized agencies. In fact, in terms of
the UN Charter, the ECOSOC was given this role
(along the lines of the Security Council on
security issues), but ECOSOC gradually eroded into
a talk shop, said Raghavan.
a follow-up to the Earth Summit post-1992, there
were several institutions, funds and/or
commissions and conventions that were set up to
deal with environment and development.
These include the Global Environment
Facility (GEF) run jointly by the World Bank, the
UNDP and UNEP; the UN Commission on Sustainable
Development; the UN Framework Convention on
Climate Change and the UN Convention to Combat