by Kennedy Graham
Section 2 in the Document of All Time is titled ‘Renewing Political Commitment’. In this section, the whistling of the addict sets in.
Our departure point is effectively Rio ‘92, with a nod to Stockholm twenty years earlier
In this section, we recall Everything We Have Agreed on Since Then – Cairo and Beijing, Johannesburg, Barbados, Istanbul, Almaty, Monterrey and Doha, and New York (2000; 2005). Man, have we been busy.
And yet, we feel a need to ‘reinvigorate political will’ (paragraph 18).
This is because we recognize that the twenty years since the Earth Summit in 1992 have seen ‘uneven progress’. This is not good enough. “We emphasize the need to make progress in implementing previous commitments.” (19)
Indeed we even acknowledge that, since 1992, there have been “areas of insufficient progress and setbacks in the integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development, aggravated by multiple financial, economic, food and energy crises”. (20)
In this regard, we admonish ourselves, “it is critical that we do not backtrack from our commitment to the outcome of the  Earth Summit.” (20)
Yet we also reaffirm that, in accordance with the UN Charter, “this shall not be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.” (29).
This is dip-speak for summoning a new resolve of the international community of 193 states on the basis of mid-20th century principles that are inadequate to resolve 21st century global problems.
And so we enter little substance into the draft declaration that suggests that our ‘renewed political commitment’ will experience any better fate over the next 20 years than the past.
Is there any progress at all? Well, there is some. We are making progress on philosophical values and we might make some progress on institutional reform.
The Bolivians lead the way on values. And so:
“We recognize that the planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that Mother Earth is a common expression in a number of countries and regions and we note that some countries recognize the rights of nature in the context of the promotion of sustainable development. We are convinced that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environment needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature.” (39)
“We call for holistic and integrated approaches to sustainable development which will guide humanity to live in harmony with nature and lead to efforts to restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem. (40)
“We acknowledge the natural and cultural diversity of the world and recognize that all cultures and civilizations can contribute to sustainable development.” (41)
And the Bhutanese lead on methods of measuring holistic well-being. And so there is a reference to alternative indicators.
So the mind-set is changing – to some extent. But it remains left to national discretion whether to change the mind-set. Many won’t. That is the nature of the game, of the international community of states.
And on institutional reform. There is to be a high-level political forum, mandated to follow up on sustainable development commitment. The General Assembly will negotiate its form, participatory level, terms of reference and organizational aspects. Agreement must be reached before the end of the 68th UNGA session, so the new forum can convene its first meeting by then.
This reflects a proposal by some Latin American, Asian and Middle East countries. There was a specific proposal for a Sustainable Development Council. This would have comparable decision-making powers akin to the Security Council and ECOSOC. It did not get through.
And there was a proposal (by Liechtenstein) for a UN High-level Rep. for Sustainable Development and Intergenerational Justice. This was opposed by the global South, suspicious of anything that might hold ‘them’ back. So we will “consider the need for promoting intergenerational solidarity for the achievement of sustainable development, taking into account the needs of future generations.” The UNSG is invited to present a report on the issue.
So, by-and-large, no breakthroughs in institutional reform for global governance. This is 25 years since France and the USSR proposed an Environmental Council at the UN.
There is a bird outside my window, in Rio.
It gives a single note, over and over
And over again.
It resolves to be heard
And drowns in the traffic beneath.
The helicopters low and above
It falls silent.
It is intriguing that it is some very small states that lead the (r)evolution in global political thought. Norway leads in conflict resolution. Costa Rica leads in sustainable development and conservation. Liechtenstein leads in international criminal justice, and in nuclear disarmament.
I believe there are two reasons for this. Medium and large powers are, almost by definition, plugged into the global establishment. Secondly, small state has a smaller, and no doubt more efficient, government that allows creative individuals some oxygen to act at the global level. They are as rare as hen’s teeth.
New Zealand is of this size. But it appears not to be of the same nature. We have pioneered within our own nation, where we feel comfortable. Women’s enfranchisement. Social welfare. Nuclear-free (national territory). But we lack the global confidence to do more.