(28 March 2012) "Rio+20 is an opportunity to redefine the vision of future development that countries want to achieve. The establishment of common objectives based on sustainable development indicators could accelerate the transition to the full incorporation of environmental and social costs in the economy and a shift to sustainable production and consumption patterns", claimed Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) at a debate at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
At the event chaired by the Deputy-Secretary-General of the United Nations Asha-Rose Migiro, UN high-level officials analyzed the progress achieved and deficiencies persisting since the Earth Summit in 1992 on the path towards sustainable development.
The debate took place a few months before the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development - also known as Rio+20 - to be held from 20-22 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Together with Bárcena, Nicky Fabiancic, Deputy Regional Director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Arab Hoballah, Head of the Sustainable Consumption and Production Branch of the Technology, Industry and Economics Division of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women took part in the dialogue.
At the event, the final version of the document Sustainable Development 20 years on from the Earth Summit: Progress, Gaps and Strategic Guidelines for Latin America and the Caribbean, was distributed, the draft version of which was presented to ministers and representatives of governments in the region in September 2011 for comments during the Regional Preparatory Meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean for Rio+20.
The document was created under the coordination of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in close cooperation with the regional offices of the following organizations of the UN System: UNEP, UNDP, UNFPA, FAO, UN-Habitat, UNESCO, UN WOMEN, UNICEF, OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNCRD, UN-WFP, PAHO, UNOPS, ILO, UNWTO, UNCTAD, World Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication, and ISDR.
During her intervention, the Executive Secretary of ECLAC stated that the current situation is very different from that in 1992, when Latin America was coming out from a "lost decade" of low growth, high inflation and balance-of-payments restrictions related to external indebtedness, compared to the present situation in which - despite the economic crisis - the whole region has shown a relatively high level of growth for almost a decade; inflation is controlled in almost all countries and, in general, there is an economic stability that allows to assimilate the shift towards sustainable development in a better way.
Among the developments since the Earth Summit, Bárcena emphasized that "legislations and institutions related to environmental issues have been refined, sustainable development has been enshrined as a concept in the context of public policies, and significant progress has been made in terms of regulations on industrial emissions into air and water, as well as on wastes".
"In almost all countries, programmes on energetic efficiency have been implemented and, as of year 2000, a deployment of policies aimed at promoting investments in renewable energy has been observed in most of them", added Bárcena.
Nonetheless, she warned that in spite of the valuable progress shown, Latin America and the Caribbean are facing great challenges in terms of social inclusion, equality, poverty eradication, deforestation and environmental protection, and it is increasingly evident that environmental degradation affects disadvantaged groups more severely.
Other areas requiring attention are environmental statistics and assessing the value of the environment, as well as the economic impact of its degradation on national assets.
In order to ensure sustainable development in the region, Bárcena suggested that synergies be created among social inclusion and protection, human security, disaster risk reduction and environmental protection; measuring development sustainability; incorporating economic costs and benefits deriving from environmental and social damage or improvement into standard economic decisions; and increasing coordination of public action on policies are further suggestions made by the Executive Secretary.
During the dialogue with the attendants to the presentation, the importance that countries be aware of sustainable development goals and their metrics was stressed, as well as the feasibility of reaching an agreement, accessing information and environmental justice, and sustainability indicators for urban areas in the region.
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