45th Session Issues
How to fund, implement, and enforce Agenda 21.
The first U.N. Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm in 1972 and created the UN Environment Program. Twenty years later at Rio, the international community succeeded in reaching consensus on the need for sustainable development. However the issues of sustainable development, environmental preservation, equality and the balance of power between the Northern industrialized states and the Southern less-developed states continue to be important issues in desperate need of being addressed.
Rio marked one of the most important steps the international community has ever attempted to take on the road to establish, maintain, and enforce comprehensive sustainable development in the world. Great care must be taken by developing and developed nations to control and maintain the levels of consumption and depletion of natural resources so that future generations will have the benefits of the natural gifts our planet has to offer. It is the duty of not only world leaders to accept the responsibilities inherent to the nations of the world, but also the duty of all sectors of the international community to support, accept, and enhance the initial agreements set forth in Rio in 1992. Sustainable development programs must be on the forefront of international debate at all levels of government, starting within the United Nations. Agenda 21 is essentially a document for the implementation of sustainable development. According to Dr. Neil Harrison of the University of Wyoming,
Implementation of Agenda 21
At the Rio Conference agreement was reached on creating a high level U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development to monitor progress in completing Agenda 21. It is also within the United Nations' grasp to oversee and support nations currently not signatory to Agenda 21 and to motivate these nations to so. Agenda 21, a very important result of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio, is an action plan for the 1990's and part of the 21st Century, to put the world economy on a path to sustainable development. It is important to establish, as was done in Rio, the definition of sustainable development as development that meets the needs and wants of present generations, without jeopardizing the capability of other future generations to meet their own needs and wants.
Agenda 21 identifies needed priorities and programs for the enhancement of the environment and the reversal of its current level of degradation. Maurice Strong, the Secretary-General of UNCED, recognized that the Agenda addressed "the need to alter human behavior, and to shift priorities for government and people involving the full integration of the environmental dimension into economic policies and a major redeployment of human and financial resources at national and international levels."
To Pay or How to Pay
The price tag given by the UNCED secretariat in order to implement Agenda 21 was US $125 billion a year for the years 1993-2000. Although many international leaders agreed on the importance of the transition from the present levels and models of development to the establishment of a new sustainable world order, the response obtained in Rio for the overhaul of the world economic order did not come close to the most conservative estimates.
Since the Rio Summit, the United Nations and other environmental and economic international organizations have not been successful in the goal of raising and establishing new funds and budgets for the enforcement of Agenda 21, also known as Capacity 21. It is imperative, thus, for a new form of organization and participation from the world community to establish a comprehensive program that will enhance the chances for Capacity 21 to succeed.
While international organizations such as the United Nations play a crucial role in the monitoring and recognition of needed programs, budgets, and schedules, the commitment must be on an individual, local, national, regional, and global scale. The establishment of a new world order depends on the establishment of a new relationship between the developed and underdeveloped nations. Needed changes in areas such as trade, debt, and resources must be implemented between all the nations involved. As long as natural resources are directly associated with the payment of foreign debt beyond the true capabilities of developing countries, there will be limitations to the possibilities of successfully implementing any type of program focused on the preservation of the earth.
Investing on Agenda 21
The financing of Agenda 21 must be addressed as a true investment from the international community for the international community. The transition to sustainable development must be supported by all sectors of societies, starting at the local grass-roots level. While local preservation and conservation programs can be identified and established, an important issue is the financing of both the programs themselves, and the results or adjustments needed for a local society and economy that evolve from the establishment of those programs. A major question is the extent to which the power of generating income can be transferred to the local level.
Income generation and the establishment of new revenue is a key element in the success of Agenda 21. While it has been established that current diplomatic and economic trends are not sufficient for the full implementation of the sustainable development programs that UNCED called for, there have been many approaches to the generation of new alternative policies by scholars and economists. Although new revenues are usually centered on the perpetration of environmental degradation with resource depletion, emphasis must be given to other alternatives, such as the redeployment of existing financial resources, alleviation of resource requirements, and self-financing environmental investments.
The North and South continue to dispute how to implement Agenda 21. The industrialized nations favor financing it through bilateral, regional and multilateral mechanisms. The Group of 77 developing countries favor a separate, specific global fund, as well as commitments that financing will not be obtained through reallocation of existing development assistance.
At present the Commission on Sustainable Development does not have the power to make countries report their efforts to implement Agenda 21. The United Nations has not provided the Commission with the power, autonomy, nor authority to go substantially beyond a supportive role.