European Committee of the Regions (CoR)
Information
  • Date submitted: 26 Oct 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: European Committee of the Regions (CoR)
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: World Environment Organization (0 hits), WEO (0 hits), World Environment Organisation (2 hits),

Full Submission

93rd plenary session
14 - 15 December 2011

DRAFT OPINION

of the
Committee of the Regions

CONTRIBUTION OF THE EU'S LOCAL AND REGIONAL AUTHORITIES
TO THE UN CONFERENCE ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 2012 (RIO+20)
_____________

Rapporteur: Ilmar Reepalu (SE/PES)
Member of Malmö Municipal Council
_____________

Reference document
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions Rio+20: Towards the green economy and better governance COM(2011) 363 final

I. POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

A. General remarks

1. welcomes the decision of the UN General Assembly to convene a United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development at the highest possible level in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro (UNCSD or "Rio+20" Summit), with the objective of securing renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assessing the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major previous summits on sustainable development, and addressing new and emerging challenges. It will do so in the context of two specific themes: a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development;

2. calls on all those involved in the Rio +20 conference and its follow-up to ensure the success of the conference and achieve real progress for sustainable development;

3. has emphasised on different occasions the importance of measures and changes to support and develop the work on sustainable development. The CoR is of the opinion that all players ? global, within the European Union as well as national, subnational and local governments ? have a shared responsibility in creating a sustainable society that is responsive to the natural resources available. The CoR's members, cities and regions, have an important role to play in this and are to a large extent the driving forces in the work devoted to bringing about sustainable development, not least due to their proximity to EU citizens;

4. therefore calls for explicit reference to and empowerment of subnational governments and local authorities1 in all Rio+20 deliberations. Subnational governments and local authorities need to be actively involved in both in the preparation of, during the Summit and in its follow-up and implementation. Member States are encouraged to establish forums with subnational governments and local authorities for preparing for Rio+20;

5. calls upon the European Council and the European Commission to work out a clear and unified EU position for the UN conference and ensure that the political agreements reached in Rio de Janeiro will also lead to concrete action; declares, in this connection that public involvement, competence and power on a local and regional level is a basic precondition for a sustainable society. In order to support this, the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality must be respected and developed between all layers of governance, from the global via the European Union's planning and decision-making process to the national and sub-national levels. Subnational governments and local authorities must be recognised fully adequate partners in the efforts for a sustainable development, both when preparing for the UN conference and when implementing its results;

6. calls for explicit recognition by the Rio+20 Summit of urbanisation as one key emerging challenge the world needs to address. Urbanisation is of particular relevance to subnational governments and local authorities, as they are at the forefront of dealing with the challenges and opportunities it poses. Since the beginning of this century the majority of the world's 6 billion people live in cities. World population may rise from the current 6 to 9 billion people by 2050 and some scenarios predict that 60 per cent of this population will live in cities by 2030. This trend is especially apparent in developing countries or countries in rapid transition. Sustainable urban development requires a holistic and integrated approach to managing economic, environmental and socio-cultural dimensions of development within a spatial and physical framework. The CoR recommends stronger efforts to develop and support sustainable urban development;

7. emphasises that 'sustainable development' is based on social, environmental and economic factors being in harmony and that combating poverty and social exclusion must be just as much a key concern of the Rio+20 conference as conserving resources, combating climate change and other goals of environmental policy;

8. would like to see greater efforts to produce, evaluate, present and disseminate good examples of sustainable urban development. There is a substantial demand for the exchange of experience and a transfer of knowledge, concerning both institutional factors and a holistic and integrated system approach in the planning and decision-making processes. Good urban governance, spatial planning, systems for land management, legislation and policies, financing, public and private cooperation, public participation, education, training and information are all areas in which there is a significant need for the exchange of experience and transfer of knowledge between cities and regions on a global scale;

9. wishes to emphasise how important it is to focus on and develop the connections and the interaction between cities and their surroundings. A growing population in cities results in heavy demands on production and supply of goods, for example foodstuffs, as well as the accompanying management of waste products and refuse. A concrete example of the need for greater cooperation between cities and their surroundings is the management of biological waste, where functioning systems are needed for the return of plant nutrients to agricultural land in order for the biological ecocycle to work within a closed loop;

10. believes that education, training and dissemination of information are of crucial importance to increase public awareness. The development of learning programmes is especially important for the transition that is needed, including not only technical knowledge on specific aspects, but also on a holistic and integrated system approach;

11. wishes to point out that many of the challenges and concrete measures facing the international community in its work on creating sustainable development cannot solely be solved by new technology and increased financial investment. Measures are also needed to build knowledge in order to adapt and change people's behaviour, consumption patterns, etc.;

12. stresses that both traditional and social media are particularly important in this regard. Measures should be taken to support the development of these media as tools for exchanging information, mobilising people, linking up initiatives and creating critical public groups, thus promoting a sustainable society;

13. underlines that one of the tools used in the efforts to achieve a sustainable society is the town twinning. Many twinning projects are already in place or are being established on local and regional level. A number of players are involved in this processes on both a national scale, within the European Union and internationally. Twinning is an especially effective tool when it has tangible content, aims to be sustainable and involves national governments and local authorities in a north ? south perspective. The CoR believes that further efforts are required, to coordinate existing efforts and to improve the evaluation and dissemination of experience;

B. Enabling the transition to a green economy

14. wishes to point out that sustainable development with the three dimensions economy, ecology and social constitutes the basis for growth, more job opportunities, a green economy, greater prosperity and a cleaner and healthier environment; 15. notes that the current economic system is outstripping the planet's capacities when it comes to the sustainable use of resources and that, increasingly, the European Union is becoming an importer of fossil fuels and raw materials. So me of these are of strategic importance for the present and future of the EU but may run short in future decades. This makes an economic shift towards a mode of development that is more sustainable and more responsive to these resources imperative;

16. expressly stresses that the transition to a more sustainable pattern of development does not only represent a problem but, on the contrary, offers a whole series of opportunities particularly when environmental improvement and the generation of economic and social value added are considered in terms of potential synergy. The opportunities must be made use of through appropriate measures in the fields of economic policy, education and social change;

17. concludes that under the current financial conditions in the European Union and internationally, efforts should be made to achieve a sustainable economy and create sustainable employment conditions;

18. recommends that the Rio+20 Summit delivers a new alternative model to measure growth and welfare beyond GDP. This is necessary in order to re-orient the debates on policies and achieve fundamental change in the way 'progress' is understood. Indicators are needed that take into account climate change, biodiversity, resource efficiency and social inclusion;

19. is convinced that the EU in particular can play an important role at the UN conference if it can go there itself with a good example: its bargaining position would be strengthened if it set itself ambitious goals on the road towards a 'green economy', for example in the areas covered by the Europe 2020 Strategy Flagship Initiative "A resource-efficient Europe";

20. supports the proposal of the European Commission that the Rio+20 Summit should adopt a green economy roadmap that sets targets and appropriate indicators, formulates both direct international action and a clear framework for global, EU level, national and local initiatives, and includes as well as a timeline for their implementation;

21. believes that the roadmap should include a specific section on Green Local Economy, which recognises the key role played by subnational governments and local authorities in the transition to a green economy. This section should in particular address the major challenges of urbanisation and green urban economy, promote an international Covenant of Mayors and Regions, and support decentralised cooperation for development by subnational governments and local authorities;

22. requests that the many successful cases of subnational governments and local governments promoting a green economy should be included in the Rio+20 green economy toolbox that is proposed by the European Commission;

23. recalls the important role and many activities of the local and regional tiers in the area of development aid and decentralised cooperation in close cooperation between the CoR, its members and the EU Commission, such as the CoR's "Atlas", the web portal and the so-called "Assises of decentralised cooperation";

24. would like to see measures on a global level to support the development of an environmentdriven business sector, which could be brought about by:
- supporting the development of green technology and green solutions, among other ways through increased investments in R&D, including investment that, by applying the ecosystem service approach, aims to contribute towards protecting biodiversity and (re)developing ecosystems while simultaneously generating new economic opportunities,
- implementing measures to facilitate the export and import of green products and services on a global level and promoting smart work,
- imposing environmental, climate and ethical demands in connection with public
− encouraging the development of industrial ecology and the circular economy (from cradle to cradle), which aims to close production and consumption cycles, thus placing the materials necessary for these processes within a closed loop, in order to minimise the extraction of natural non-renewable resources,
− developing and implementing methods for functional procurement,
− coordinating and developing models for the environmental certification of goods and services produced by companies by means of comparative life-cycle analyses for goods and services, etc.,
− coordinating and developing models for environmental management systems for companies and organisations, by means of environmental accounting for instance, and
− producing new models for the financing of green solutions and green companies;

25. reiterates that one of the key challenges today is to radically reduce our climate impact, both at global and local level, while at the same time securing energy supplies and ensuring prosperity. Municipalities and regions have major roles in this process. Cities and regions in the European Union are assuming responsibility for a broad range of initiatives aimed at reducing climate impact, securing energy supplies and adapting to climate changes. The Cancun agreements, adopted in December 2010, recognise local governments as governmental stakeholders and open access to international financing mechanisms for cities. Subnational and local governments need to be actively involved in national climate action plans and expect access to financial support;

26. emphasises that measures must be taken to protect, secure and redevelop key resources, materials and natural capital. In particular, the CoR would like the Rio+20 Summit to place a special focus on water. Access to water is a rapidly growing problem and a major challenge, especially for big cities. The CoR therefore supports the establishment of an international partnership on water to tackle this problem and refers in this connection to its recommendations on the role of local and regional authorities in promoting sustainable water management (Opinion CdR 5/2011 fin);

27. emphasises the need to improve the governance and the protection of the marine environment and oceans and consider that it becomes one of the key pillars of the Rio Framework, aside climate and biodiversity;

28. highlights the European Commission's comment that "the sustainable use of land and agriculture will be a cornerstone of the green economy", and therefore takes the view that sustainable urban development and spatial planning mean minimising the extent to which productive agricultural land is built on in such a way that it cannot be used for farming in the future;

29. believes that to enable the transition to a global green economy, large-scale financial resources have to be mobilised. Taxation and pricing should better reflect environmental costs and benefits. The CoR reiterates its calls for mainstreaming the polluter pays principle for a series of specific and tightly scheduled steps for eliminating all environmentally harmful subsidies by 2020. This would free up extra funds for other activities. In addition, reduction targets and efficiency standards like those which have been developed in the EU for a range of products and processes should be applied at international level;

C. The institutional framework ? towards better governance

31. recommends a transformation of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) into a World Environment Organisation (WEO). Transforming UNEP into a UN Specialised Agency would create a global multilateral environmental organisation, as the most promising way forward to improve international environmental governance. It should have a revised and strengthened mandate and operate on an equal footing with other UN specialised agencies. Moreover, it should include an implementation arm, decentralised at regional or national level, and aimed at providing countries, subnational governments and local authorities with more direct support on effective implementation of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, such as on climate change or biodiversity;

32. also recommends the creation of a Sustainable Development Council (SDC) instead of the existing Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD). The aim of this proposal is to achieve better governance, a common view and coordination in the work on sustainable development on all levels;

33. supports the development of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in particular those with a long-term perspective, following the example of the Millennium Development Goals. A broad political commitment based on common goals should be then broken down into a set of specific and concrete targets and ways of measuring them;

34. insists that the Rio+20 Summit recognises that governance needs to include all government levels, from the local and the subnational, via the national and regional, to the global. Rio+20 should subscribe to a consequent multilevel governance approach, based on interaction, synergy and complementarities between all governance levels;

35. draws attention to the fact that within the Rio Conventions, subnational governments and local authorities have recently been given increased recognition of their special status as governmental institutions, including for example their recognition as "governmental stakeholders" in the Cancun Agreement, and Decision X/22 of COP 10 CBD "Plan of Action for Subnational Governments, Cities and Other Local Authorities". The CoR was an active supporter of these developments;

36. requests that subnational governments and local authorities need to have a place in the institutional framework for sustainable development alongside national governments and UN entities. The CoR deplores that in the current international governance architecture, despite their specific role in governance, their representation at UN bodies is often putting them on the same level as civil society and business as other major groups;

37. suggests in this regard that the Rio+20 Summit mandates UNEP (or the future World Environment Organisation), or the Sustainable Development Council (SDS) to create a standing committee for subnational and local governments as a new structure that adequately reflects multilevel governance and offers a permanent mechanism of consultation of and cooperation with subnational governments and local authorities across the world. The Committee of the Regions could serve as a model in this respect;

38. recognises that responsibilities and roles of the subnational and local levels differs widely, both within the European Union and globally and local and regional self-governance is constantly developing. It is therefore necessary to bear these differences in mind when trying to involve local and regional governments as closely as possible in the processes of developing sustainable societies;

39. wishes to stress the importance of common views and coordination to be developed in the work for sustainable development on a global level. In this process, cities and regions are principal players. An important platform for coordination and exchanging experience is the Covenant of Mayors;

40. stresses that the emphasis of the European Commission on the private sector should not divert attention from the need for the Rio+20 Summit, the EU and Member States to promote sustainable development governance at the level of subnational and local public authorities, including the empowerment of citizens;

41. wishes to emphasise the importance of making citizens the focal point in working towards a sustainable society. Therefore the goals and measures of this process need to be adapted to different regional and local situations. The dialogue concerning both physical and financial measures as well as changes in consumption and behaviour must be based on the existing conditions at regional and local levels. Action is required to support the direct participation of citizens in working for a sustainable society, such as
? developing consultative processes and creating meeting places for dialogue and the exchange of experience,
? supporting regional and local development projects, both nationally and internationally, and
? raising the level of knowledge and insight concerning the need for joint efforts to achieve a sustainable society; 42. would like to see the Rio+20 Summit to support the promotion of environmental democracy globally. This could be done by the Aarhus Parties reiterating at Rio+20 their willingness to open the Convention to the whole world, but also in other ways ? for example by supporting the introduction of other regional conventions like the Aarhus one, or initiating negotiations on a global Convention on Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration;

43. would like to see a development and revival of the Agenda 21 work. Rio+20 should define the future governance frameworks necessary to further develop Local Agenda 21 in this respect. The local Agenda 21, which was initiated after the Rio Summit in 1992, is a good example of a grass-roots process that has produced good and lasting results in the form of both concrete measures and greater insight into, and increased involvement in, sustainability issues among society's players. The insight and participation of citizens is the basis of the local Agenda 21. In many cases local Agenda 21 work has lead to new green jobs;

44. would like to see in particular better knowledge support to the regional and local levels. In order for the work for a sustainable society to be effective, all players need an accessible planning and decision-making basis. This is also important in connection with follow-up, evaluation and feed-back of the results and experience gained in the work for a sustainable society;

45. expects that the Commission in its continued work in preparation for the Rio+20 Summit will develop and strengthen the dialogue with the CoR and its members. The CoR hopes that the EU delegation to the Rio+20 Summit will include an appropriate number of delegates from the CoR.

II. PROCEDURE

Title Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Commmittee adn the Committee of the Regions Rio+20: Towards the green economy and better governance
Reference(s) COM(2011) 363 final
Legal basis Optional referral, Art. 307(1)
Procedural basis
Date of Commission letter 20 June 2011
President's decision 11 July 2011
Commission responsible Commission for the Environment, Climate Change and Energy (ENVE)
Rapporteur Rapporteur: Ilmar Reepalu (SE/PES)

Member of Malmo Municipal Council
Analysis 26 August 2011
Discussed in Commission October 2011
Date adopted by Commission October 2011
Result of voting in the Commission Unanimously
Date adopted in plenary scheduled for 14 and 15 December 2011
Previous Committee opinions Draft Opinion on "A resource-efficient Europe - Flagship initiative under the Europe 2020 Strategy", CdR 140/2011 rev. 1

Opinion on "EU development policy in support of inclusive growth and sustainable development - Increasing the impact of EU development policy", CdR 408/2010 fin3 Opinion on International climate policy post-Copenhagen, CdR 245/2010 fin

Opinion on "Measuring progress: GDP and beyond", CdR 163/2010 fin

Opinion on EU and international biodiversity policy beyond 2010, COM(2010) 4 final - CdR 112/2010 fin6 Opinion on "Local Authorities: Actors for Development", CdR 312/2008 fin

Outlook Opinion on The Contribution of Local and Regional Authorities to the European Union's Sustainable Development Strategy, CdR 85/2007 fin

Opinion on "Ten years after Rio: Preparing for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002"; CdR 37/2001 fin
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