South Africa
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Member State
  • Name: South Africa
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: General Assembly (1 hits), UNGA (0 hits),

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On 24th December 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Resolution (A/RES/64/236) agreeing to hold the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in 2012 also refers to as Rio+20, in Brazil. The conference will aim at securing renewed political commitment to sustainable development, assessing the progress and implementation gaps in meeting already agreed commitments, and addressing new and emerging challenges. The conference will be convened under the following themes; a green economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction and institutional framework for sustainable development. Rio+20 will mark the 40 anniversary of Stockholm United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Convention), 25th anniversary of the Brutland report, 20th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) which adopted Agenda 21 as a blue print for sustainable development and the 10th anniversary of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) referred to as the Johannesburg Summit. It was during the Johannesburg Summit that South Africa pushed for an action oriented outcome with a set of targets for sustainable development. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) which is a detailed course of action for the implementation of Agenda 21 was thus adopted at the WSSD. Therefore, Rio+20 is thus seen as a much needed platform to address in a coherent and coordinated manner the new and emerging challenges associated with the implementation of sustainable development.

The Government of South Africa considers the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to be a critical meeting that should agree on how to fast-track implementation the sustainable development agenda. The conference should build on the concrete and practical experience of approximately twenty years of implementation of the sustainable development agenda as outlined in Agenda 21 and Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI).


Rio+20 is convened against the backdrop of the new and emerging sustainable development challenges associated with the multiple global crises such as the food crises, climate change and current challenges within the international financial systems. These emerging challenges have adverse impact on the ability of developing nations to achieve their developmental priorities. Furthermore, the combination of the aforementioned crisis increased the intensity of water scarcity, biodiversity and ecosystem loss as well as desertification. Hazardous and electronic waste, are some of the emerging challenges that most developing countries are grabbling with. These challenges have led to the spread of new diseases, worsening poverty, and unemployment, especially of the youth.

These multiple current challenges have reversed some of the gains made by the countries in efforts to achieve sustainable development. Africa lags behind in the implementation of the Millennium Development

Goals (MDGs) and international agreed sustainable development commitments. Therefore, the conference should reinvigorate political commitment towards the implementation of the global sustainable development agenda and work towards assisting developing countries in their efforts to achieve already agreed international developmental goals.

The inadequate support provided by the international community to the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is of great concern, despite its potential in preventing and reversing desertification and land degradation with positive impacts on poverty eradication, preservation of the resource base for food security, building adaptation and resilience of affected ecosystems and populations to climatic shock. Therefore, investing in sustainable land management, as a cornerstone of building ?green economies? critical for developing counties. The UNCCD should be adequately resourced and be positioned as a tool towards achieving food security. This can be achieved by among other processes, setting a net land degradation rate as sustainable development targets as well as using UNCCD as a monitoring framework to address the issues of soils and land degradation in all ecosystems.


The negotiations on ??green economy? should be rooted within the context of sustainable development guided by the spirit, objectives, and principles agreed at Rio in 1992. Therefore, the negotiations about the ?green economy? agenda should aim to reinforce integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development, namely economic growth, social development and ecological sustainability, integrated through the governance system that holds all the other systems together within a legitimate regulatory framework.


In order to operationalise the concept of a ?green economy? at an international level, it is imperative to identify the key element/features that should form the cornerstone of the concept. These key elements should inform the primary objective of the concept of ?green economy? to avoid its misuse. Therefore, the government of South Africa is proposing that the concept of ?green economy? should be premised on the following elements: resource efficiency, decarbonisation, sustaining the natural resource base, promotion of sustainable consumption and production patterns, recognition economic and fiscal of the value of natural resources, equitable economy, project and programme based approach to policy implementation proemployment and poverty eradication. Therefore, the definition and objective of green economy is proposed as follows;

Proposed definition: ?system of economic activities related to the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services that result in improved human well-being over the long term, while not exposing future generations to significant environmental risks or ecological scarcities?

Proposed overall objective: Green economy should promote sustainable development by decoupling economic growth rates from environmental degradation while improving the quality of life of all, with particular reference to the poorer groups. A green economy strategy will ensure that the natural resource base is enhanced by promoting resource efficiency while securing the well-being of humanity.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) of 1992 agreed on Agenda 21 which is a blue print for sustainable development while the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) of 2002 agreed on the course of action for the implementation of Agenda 21 known as the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI). In order for Rio+20 - which will also marks the ?Johannesburg +10? commitment to reinvigorate political will, it will be critical for the international community to agree on ?shared vision? which reaffirms the Rio spirit, objectives and principles.

Proposed vision: A world order/system will be more sustainable and economically prosperous if fundamental human needs of its people have been met, limited ecological resources are sustainably managed for the benefit of current and future generations, and efficient and effective integrated planning and governance through global, regional and national collaboration has been achieved.


Rio+20 should reaffirm the Rio principles and establish focus principles for the operationalization of the green economy concept. Firstly, principle seven of common but differentiated responsibility should form the corner stone of the implementation of the green economy concept. This will ensure that countries will design their transition within their policy spaces and take into account their developmental imperatives.

Furthermore, the following principles are proposed for consideration;

All States should be allowed a policy space to define their own strategies towards a transition to a green economy as per their national priorities and respective stages of development;

In order to maintain the balance of addressing poverty while securing natural resource base, a green economy should be people-centred and inclusive, taking into account the needs of the most vulnerable (women, disabled and youth);

Recognizing that there are special capacity needs in developing countries for managing the transition to a green economy, what is needed is promotion of development finance, science and technology oriented, research, development and innovation and capacity building measures to developing countries should be up scaled;

Promote access to green technologies at affordable cost and work to ensure that the green economy perspective creates new market opportunities, notably for developing countries;

All states should establish sustainability-oriented innovation systems that will promote cooperation between the public, private and non-profit sectors;

All states should build on existing programmes indigenous knowledge, initiatives in key sectors and promote information sharing of best practices on policies and programmes that contribute towards the attainment of inclusive green economy;

All states should recognize the green economy approach as a means to achieve sustainable development agenda and integrate its dimensions;



Chapter XI of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) and Chapter 38 of Agenda 21 recognize the importance of having an effective institutional framework for sustainable development at all levels as key towards full implementation of Agenda 21. It further calls for measures to strengthen institutional frameworks to be responsive to the needs of all countries, taking into account specific needs of developing countries including the means of implementation.

The JPOI stipulates that Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD) should be built progress made since United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and lead to the achievement of, inter alia, the following objectives: strengthening commitments to sustainable development; integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in a balanced manner; strengthening of the implementation of Agenda 21, including through the mobilization of financial and technological resources as well as capacity building programmes particularly for developing countries; strengthen coherence, coordination and monitoring; promoting the rule of law and strengthening of governmental institutions; and increased effectiveness and efficiency through limiting overlap and duplication of activities of international organizations within and outside the United

Nations system, based on their mandates and comparative advantage. Therefore, negotiations on the institutional framework should be premised on the chapter XI of JPOI and chapter 38 of Agenda 21. The negotiations are required to be covering comprehensively the role of the

Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as well as that of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). The ECOSOC is regarded as the central mechanism for the coordination of the United Nations system and its functional commissions, and to promote the implementation of Agenda 21 by strengthening system-wide coordination. The JPOI indicates that the role of the commission should include reviewing and monitoring progress in the implementation of Agenda 21 and fostering coherence of implementation, initiatives and partnership.


The spirit of reform and revitalization of the United Nations system should be based on an action and result oriented approach and consistent with the principles of democracy, universality, transparency, costeffectiveness and accountability. A key consideration for South Africa therefore, is that reform of the current international governance system, far from just addressing the mechanical problems associated with poor management and coordination, should be considered in the broader context of socio-economic development.

In effect, South Africa views the lack of systemic monitoring and evaluation mechanism as well as the voluntary nature of reporting process as an impediment towards achieving sustainable development. South

Africa will support enhanced coordination, alignment and collaboration among the UN agencies as critical in accelerating the achievement of the goals and targets contained in the JPOI.

It is imperative that institutional reform not be reduced solely to the simplistic notion of replacing old intuitions with new ones. Reform should be about resolving the challenges in a practical and lasting manner that exist with the current system for the purpose of delivering on the objectives of development. Reform should be system-wide and incorporate the reform of financial institutions to ensure, in broad terms, a more just and equitable global economic system.

It will be critical for Rio+20 to review the mandate of CSD and its programme of work to ensure that it takes into consideration current challenges associated with implementation. Therefore, CSD in any form post

Rio+20 should be provided with the mandate to facilitate implementation of sustainable development agenda. This should be accompanied by necessary resources (financial, technological etc).

Establishment of a High-Level Ministerial Committee focusing on implementation of sustainable development under the auspices of the CSD and ECOSOC will be central to garner political will for the implementation of sustainable development agenda. This committee should be represented by Ministers other than Environmental Ministers to mobilise political will for the implementation of sustainable development agenda.

Further, options are to reform the commission on sustainable development thereby ensuring that it become an authoritative voice for policy advocacy and implementation of sustainable development agenda. The voluntary basis in which countries participate within the CSD should be reviewed to ensure that CSD decisions are binding.

On the International Environmental Governance (IEG), South Africa?s view is that reform should be premised on fundamental principles that will ensure the redress of the current challenges that continue to hamper delivery within the system. Some fundamental principles that should underpin IEG reform therefore should be:

The organization should play a key role in addressing the coherence of environmentaldevelopment policies.

Delivery on objectives of any organization is highly contingent on a predictable availability of financial resources. UNEP?s progress has been greatly hampered by the limitations of predictable financial resources. At the heart of institutional reform therefore should be the notion of an organisation that has a strong finance mechanism and funds that would provide power and means of implementation;

For the environment leg, there would be a need for an effective and authoritative permanent science-policy interface would provide the substantive basis for decision making and provide the cross-cutting science to address multiple MEAs and science for policy needs;

The organization should be particularly sensitive to the needs and developing countries

The institution should adhere strongly to principle of equity and ensure that the transfer of technology is an important element in supporting and equipping developing countries.


South Africa is concerned of the inadequacy of the relevant means of implementation which continue to hamper effective implementation of sustainable development agenda in Africa. Rio+20 must focus on delivering on the means of implementation in order to expedite the implementation of sustainable development agenda. There are several critical gaps undermining the fulfillment of international commitments on the achievement of sustainable development in Africa, especially in the areas of finance, external debt, trade investment, capacity-building, and technology transfer.

Therefore, in light of the themes of the conference, Rio+20 outcomes should advance the development, deployment and transfer of sustainable-environmentally sound technologies in developing areas and ensure easy access by developing countries. It should further, unlock the provision of new and additional financial resources to developing countries.
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