"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Meeting Report of the First High-level Panel on Global Sustainability

[Place] New York
[Date] September 19, 2012
[Source] High-level Panel on Global Sustainability
[Full text]


The first meeting of the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (GSP) was held at United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York on 19 September 2010.

The Secretary General opened the meeting and subsequently handed over to the two Co-Chairs, H.E. Ms. Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland and H.E. Mr. Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa. The latter participated by video-link from Durban, South Africa for only part of the meeting, and for the rest was represented by his Sherpa, Ambassador Lindiwe Zulu, present in New York.Two more Panel members were represented by their Sherpas, while the remaining 18 members were present and accompanied by their respective Sherpas or acting Sherpas.

This report was prepared by the secretariat of the Panel under the guidance of the two Co-Chairs. As the first meeting was not meant to be a decision-making meeting, the report on the meeting is intended to highlight the key issues and the flavour of the discussion.

I. Overall approach

The Panel noted that there is a huge body of conceptual work to draw from in implementing its terms of reference. Panel members agreed that it should build on the existing concept of sustainable development and its three pillars, and should refrain from “reinventing the wheel”. It would rather reassess the existing concept and provide action-oriented recommendations that could be implemented on the ground to cope with the urgent, interlinked challenges of climate change, poverty eradication, food, water and energy security etc. Members suggested that a key responsibility of the Panel will be to “connect the dots” between these challenges through the development of a new development paradigm. The Panel would engage in broad outreach activities to solicit the views of key constituencies.

II. Vision

The Panel members wanted to offer an optimistic vision of how to build a sustainable future on a planet under increasing stress resulting from human activities, not least climate change. Elements of that vision could include:

Defining the problem:

o Climate change,peak oil,food crisis,declining water resources,degrading ecosystems and loss of biodiversity are severely undermining efforts in developing countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

o The planet is reaching crucial limits that threaten people and their prosperity. Moreover, the financial crisis has weakened faith in laissez-faire economic approaches and has renewed interest in sustainable development.

o There is an urgent need for a new model and a new way forward.

Existing building blocks for a new model:

o The concept of sustainable development,with its economic,social and environmental pillars, is already well honed over more than twenty years through a series of international conferences and agreements.

o The MDG shave offered a concrete vision and measurable targets to aspire and work towards, even if the record of achievement is mixed.

o A number of other collective commitments and undertaking shave been agreed upon over time, but implementation is often lacking.

o Needs and rights of all people to decent economic and social and human rights standards, in particular, equality between women and men.

Additional elements that could be included:

o Dispel false dichotomies such as the economy vs. environment, economy vs.people,and environment vs. people.

o The need for a new approach to growth that takes into account human development and environmental constraints in their totality, rather than merely focusing on one narrow indicator – GDP.

o Resilience of communities and of economic systems, as well as a ‘life in dignity for all' may be a useful way to focus the ultimate objectives of sustainable development, beyond complicated terms and negotiated language; but such notions need to be clarified further. They should not be used to replace the agreed-upon concept of sustainable development.

o Global, national, and local public goods.

o South-South cooperation, as an increasingly important complement to North-South and trilateral cooperation.

o Strengthening the resilience of the vulnerable through efficient resource utilisation.

o Generational equity through a set of targets (inclusive of the MDGs), as well as institutional arrangements and means of implementation.

o No ‘one size fits all'. Sustainable development solutions need to be adapted to the specific circumstances of each society.

Prerequisites for achieving development in a carbon-constrained world:

o Political will and innovation to align collective commitments and assets towards addressing common challenges, including climate change.

o Openness and transparency of institutions, along with good governance,are key to development. This fosters trust, and is conducive to broad-based participation with particular emphasis on including women and youth.

o Equitable distribution of benefits and responsibilities.

o Fair access to knowledge and technology. Prevailing incentives prioritize short-term gains over long-term societal benefits.

o Use of market mechanisms, while being aware and addressing the failures of such mechanisms.

o Scaling up and replicating good practices in various areas.

III. Putting a new vision into practice

A low-carbon growth paradigm

o A narrative and blue print for a low-carbon inclusive growth future should be developed, which should offer positive incentives based on something people can aspire to.

o While not reinventing sustainable development, conceptual work should be done for the new low carbon growth paradigm, incorporating inputs from seasoned economists and taking into account economic realities and policy constraints.

o How to measure progress on sustainable development? One could draw upon some existing work on measuring human well-being beyond quantitative growth and GDP.

o IPCC has helped to quantify the climate impacts but other sustainable development parameters are not adequately monitored and assessed. This should be addressed.

o Need for new degrees of transparency and accountability.

o Mutual interdependence is a stronger and more powerful driver for action than the North-South divide.

o The need to build on the mobilization in the climate field,which has reinvigorated the development agenda. The view was expressed that climate change and low carbon (green) economy could be the overarching theme of the Panel's work. Food, energy, water, technology are important variables and could be addressed in this light.

o Explore new and innovative ways of shifting to an economic model in which environmental goals and practices, such as sustainable agriculture, serve as major engines for economic growth, job creation, production patterns and poverty reduction.

o Solutions should be tailored to local circumstances and national ownership.

Institutional architecture

o Global governance on sustainability is fragmented and the multilateral systemis under performing.

o Form should follow function when it comes to an analysis of institutional arrangements.

o Financing should be part of the debate. Using markets wisely can help to implement necessary changes.

o Include business sector in the quest for sustainability. Businesses should disclose environmental practices and risks.

Technology and innovation:

o Although not a panacea, technology is key. There is a need for a second industrial revolution, which, unlike the first one, will need to solve the global growth disparity rather than create or aggravate it.

o Information and communication technologies make a second industrial revolution a possibility.

o Need for technology cooperation, energy efficient technologies, renewable energy for the energy mix.

Lifestyle changes:

o Life style changes are also needed, starting from the developed world and the expanding middle classes of the developing world.

o Re-orientate consumption patterns. There is no lack of knowledge or technologies but lack in policy and implementation.

o The need to focus on Human well-being and quality of life as opposed to just wealth creation.

IV. The Panel's work programme

Guiding principles

o Guided by the Co-Chairs, the Panel should work as a whole, building on the collective knowledge and experience of its members. Any sub-division into working groups should be of limited duration for the purpose of examining in-depth one or more specific issues, but any partial conclusions should be returned to the whole Panel for consideration.

o The final out come of the Panel's work will be a joint product and will reflect the common views of the members of the Panel.

o The secretariat will support the Co-Chairs and the entire Panel in this effort and will provide background papers and drafts, in addition to organizational and logistical support.

o The Panel should be open, inclusive and interactive. It should actively engage key constituencies such as the UN system and other international organizations, civil society, think tanks, academia, the private sector and the broader public. Youth are a key constituency, and this report is about their future.

o The Panel discussed possible ways to engage governments. It was agreed that it should not engage in intergovernmental negotiations – neither among Panel members, nor with government representatives outside it. Possibility for regional consultations should be opened. It would be important to avoid duplication with other consultation processes.

o There can be a number of outputs in addition to the final report, including multimedia engagement through the Panel website and other such means.

Panel meetings

o It was generally agreed that requent interactions would be needed to ensure the best functioning of the Panel. A second Panel meeting was suggested to be held in New York in January/February 2011. At least two more meetings could then take place later in the year.

o A meeting of the Panel Sherpas would be held in mid-October 2010 in New York to elaborate a detailed work programme for the Panel based on what was discussed at the first Panel meeting, along with further guidance to be provided to the Sherpas by the Panel members.

o Panel or Sherpa meetings could also take place outside New York.

Working groups

o There was broad agreement that the work of the Panel would benefit from assignment of specific tasks to working groups that would report to the Panel, fully respecting the understanding that the Panel as a whole remained responsible for the totality of its work.

o Working groups could be set up for an initial phase of three months after the mid-October 2010 Sherpas' meeting and report back to the Panel at its next meeting in January 2011. After that new working groups could be established or the old ones reconfigured.

o Much attention should be brought to the interconnected ness of the issues and challenges that are to be addressed. The economic, social and environmental aspects should be treated in a holistic and integrated way.

Case studies, best practices, toolkits

o Case studies should build on positive experiences and take stock of what works and what does not work, providing honest assessments.

o Emphasis on good practices,what is replicable and scalable.

o There could be a toolkit on green economy promotion.

Communication and Outreach

o Average citizens should understand the risks and implications for humanity resulting from disrupting the Earth's ecosystems and climate.

o Messages need to focus on clear actions that are real,understandable and doable.

o The Panel could help by building scenarios with economic, social and environmental dimensions, including business-as-usual scenarios that could provide strong motivation for action – not just on climate change but also water scarcity etc.

o Engage civil society and private sector initiatives to promote the work of the Panel and solicit fresh ideas from outside.

o Ensure transparency and openness for ultimate legitimacy of the outcome.

o Use of modern technology to reach out to new audiences.

o Address the global public and particularly the younger generations.

o Modern means of communication – including real-time and social media–should be used to facilitate the work of the Panel and interactions between its members, as well as for outreach and input generation purposes.

o Find ways to deliver measurable, clearly identifiable steps towards achieving the goals laid out in the overall vision.