Sustainable Development 20 Years on from the Earth Summit: Progress, gaps and strategic guidelines for Latin America and the Caribbean
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In December 2009 the General Assembly adopted resolution 64/236 and agreed to convene the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in June 2012. This Conference, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro 20 years after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or the Earth Summit, represents a historic opportunity to take stock of developments over the past two decades, assess the progress made and the difficulties encountered and explore new forms of cooperation capable of expediting the transition towards sustainable development. The Member States have also agreed to analyse two main themes at the Conference: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development.
The present document is divided into two parts: an analysis of progress made and difficulties encountered in Latin America and the Caribbean in implementing global commitments on sustainable development since 1992, and proposed guidelines for moving towards sustainable development in the region.
One of the milestone achievements of the Earth Summit in 1992 was the international community's acceptance of the concept of sustainable development, which was broadly disseminated in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Yet, twenty years later -and despite significant advances- the development model is still unable to bring about simultaneous and synergic progress on the social, economic and environmental fronts.
The world now faces an imperative for change: to move towards a new model of development with the value of equality at the core of its actions, one which is capable of carrying forward simultaneous social development, economic growth and environmental sustainability. Development cannot continue to perpetuate poverty and inequality and to deplete natural resources and ecosystems. Undeniable evidence now exists that protecting ecosystems and ecosystem services improves health, physical integrity, food security and other basic aspects of human security and of individual and community well-being.
A recurrent, cross-cutting problem is resistance to fully considering all the costs of economic activity in investment policies, standards and decisions -or, indeed, the inability to do so. Hence the multiple negative environmental and health externalities which lie at the root of almost the entire array of environmental issues. And, by exacerbating these externalities, the high discount rates employed in investments lay a disproportionate share of the costs of economic activity on the present generation's most disadvantaged members and on future generations.
The proposal by the United Nations to reflect upon a "green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication" aspires to catalyse the changes needed in the region. Under the principle of shared but differentiated responsibilities, the green economy is understood in opposition to a brown economy, which compartmentalizes, pollutes, excludes and destroys. A green economy is one which augments and affords priority to human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.
This proposal advocates the redesign of specific public policies that promote a low-carbon development pattern resistant to disasters and climate change, create green jobs and factor into decision-making the economic costs and benefits associated with the use of ecosystem services and materials. An economy for sustainable development reduces negative environmental impacts, such as carbon emissions and pollution, promotes efficient use of energy and resources and avoids the loss of biological diversity and ecosystem services, thus improving well-being now and in the future.
International agreements, at both the global and regional levels, can and must contribute to these objectives, by fostering an environment and incentives to guarantee greater social inclusion, access to fair and sustainable exchanges of ecosystem goods and services and sound stewardship of global environmental public goods. The preparation of this report was coordinated by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in its capacity as Coordinator of the Regional Coordination Mechanism, in close collaboration with the regional offices of other bodies in the United Nations system, in particular the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women(UN-Women), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD), World Food Programme (WFP), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), International Labour Organization (ILO), World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication and International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR).
We hope that this document will stimulate and inform discussions on development in Latin America and the Caribbean and play a part in garnering renewed political commitment to sustainable development and to the establishment of equitable and sustainable development goals towards which the region can progress as a whole.
Alicia Bárcena Executive Secretary Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Coordinator of the Regional Coordination Mechanism
Heraldo Muñoz Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Coordinator of the Regional Development Group