rio+20 towards and beyond
Discussing ways to achieve the new normal
30 November 2012
IGES is currently involved in the processes related to the determination of the sustainable development agenda such as a project focusing on multilevel governance in a post 2015 context, as well as being involved in the emerging Independent Research Forum (IRF), and other initiatives. IGES will focus innovative research on informing processes relating to the SDGs and the Post2015 Development Agenda. Policy Researcher of the Governance and Capacity Group, Simon Hoiberg Olsen, attended the International Workshop on Strengthening Planning and Implementation Capacities for Sustainable Development in a Post Rio+20 Context, which was held in Incheon from the 14-16 November 2012.
Governance and Capacity Group
Incheon, Republic of Korea -- The meeting took place in the United Nations Office for Sustainable Development (UNOSD), a new office established by the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs with essential support from the Government of the Republic of Korea. Here governments and civil society representatives from more than 30 different countries got together with sustainable development planning experts and practitioners to discuss and exchange views on strategising, planning and implementing sustainable development primarily at national and local levels. The 3-day workshop focused on (i) innovations, challenges, opportunities; (ii) existing planning processes to facilitate Rio+20 outcomes at national and local levels; and (iii) accelerating outcome and impact of future development priorities and goals. The outcome document "Incheon Communique" is available here.

The following are among the main points raised and discussed at the meeting: Sustainable Development (SD) strategies must anchor solidly in implementation plans and roadmaps, to include specific measures, targets, and sectoral indicators. Many national and local development plans and charters have similar focus areas as those seen in SD-strategies (SDS) and in the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This match should be taken into account when studying the options for transposing global goals post 2015 to national and local levels.

District and local authorities need to agree and have autonomy to determine their own goals and targets congruent with those of the overarching strategy. Decentralised budgeting will aid such an objective. In this context, mayor and municipal administrations need to be involved to translate objectives into locally relevant and concrete action. Moreover, embedding SDS at city and district levels can help ensure their longevity, as local governments may remain in charge even when national governments change.

Linking the SD vision to the national budgeting process ensures that regular governmental budgeting decisions are influenced by SD criteria. Countries have successfully translated the lofty notions of SD into nationally workable concepts. Examples highlighted include Barbados’ "Unleashing the Spirit of the Nation"; Bhutan’s "Gross National Happiness", and Thailand’s "Sufficiency Economy" philosophy. It was realised that branding is an increasingly important consideration for a country’s national level interpretation of SD. Good branding can increase a country’s international competitive advantage or encourage others to join the narrative.

Forging partnerships for implementation of sustainable development plans and strategies is necessary for offsetting negative trade-offs. This relates not only to partnerships between public and private sectors but also for partnerships between governmental ministries. Private sector action is important for implementing the components of SD strategies, particularly those related to employment and income generation, with incentives to reward good practices being essential.  The private sector does not change leaders as often as national governments do. This longevity makes private sector leadership an important agent for the continuity of SD goals and strategies beyond governmental legislative periods.

The education sector is another important long-term agent for SD. If SD is reflected and internalised in education, it remains stable despite governmental changes. Civil society partnerships with the press are important and it is essential to communicate SD commitments to the public via the media. Once messages are part of the public domain they become difficult to change, and it may be easier to hold the government accountable to their SD commitments.

Critical capacity gaps between strategy formulation and implementation remain and must be better understood. Abilities and experiences from across sectors and localities must be exchanged and shared. In my view, it is timely now to create platforms with such mandate across all regions and sub-regions. In this regard, the newly established UNOSD clearly fills a niche, in that it can act as a global platform for sharing knowledge and capacity, crucially needed for better implementation of SD policies at national and local levels. This demand is expected to increase further, with a new development agenda from 2015.

I also think that the UNOSD should identify and forge institutional linkages with regional and global SD knowledge networks, both sectoral ones as well as those dealing with overarching planning and strategising for sustainable development. The UNOSD can act as node linking various regional, national and local networks with the global and UN level. The other networks can collect and disseminate synergised information needed for the better planning and implementation of SD downstream. Furthermore, the current reform of the intergovernmental Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD) will likely result in a UN level forum which will act as a country reporting platform on progress made towards meeting development goals. For this, the UNOSD and related entities have to form an open network of information and capacity exchange platforms, collecting and synergizing the needed reports for intergovernmental reviews of future progress.

*** The contents of this commentary are the opinions of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of IGES.

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