Intervention: Remarks by Jeffery Huffines of CIVICUS on behalf of CIVICUS, Climate Action Network and Beyond 2015 at Environmental Sustainability Briefing, 19 April 2013


Remarks by Jeffery Huffines of CIVICUS on behalf of CIVICUS, Climate Action Network and Beyond 2015

Briefing on Environmental Sustainability in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

19 April 2013


Jeffery Huffines is Main Representative of CIVICUS: World Alliance For Citizen Participation at UN Headquarters in here in New York and has served as Rio+20 NGO Major Group Organizing Partner since October 2011. Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, CIVICUS is a global alliance of citizens and civil society groups striving to protect, enable and enhance civic action and civil society around the world. Moreover, as a member of the Beyond 2015/GCAP UN Working Group and the UNDG Post-2015 Outreach Strategy Planning Group set up for the purpose of facilitating the participation of key stakeholders in the post-2015 global conversation, CIVICUS was invited to participate in two of the eleven thematic consultations on governance in Johannesburg and on environmental sustainability last month in San Jose, Costa Rica.


I am here to represent Wael Hmaidan, Director of CAN International, Climate Action Network, which is the world’s largest network of civil society organizations working together to promote government action to address the climate crisis, with more than 700 member organizations in over 90 countries. Together with Beyond 2015 representing more than 570 organizations from 95 countries, CAN International helped organize civil society participation in the thematic consultation on environmental sustainability. To kick off preparations for this thematic consultation, CAN International and Beyond 2015 produced a paper that served as a basis for civil society participation in 4 weeks of online e-consultations that took place immediately beforehand.

In contrast to the preparations of the MDGs where neither Member States nor civil society or the private sector had an opportunity to provide advance input into the formulation of the goals, UNDP and the UN Environment Programme, together with the co-hosts of the Governments of France and Costa Rica, are to be commended for organizing a comprehensive series of consultations on the theme of environmental sustainability, the seventh Millennium Development Goal. With over 30 leading and emerging thinkers from civil society representing both grassroots movements and international networks from regions around the world, the consultations in Costa Rica represented the culmination of the first phase of a continuing conversation.

The diverse participation of leading civil society representatives, UN officials, government officials and business leaders, brought to the fore the complex trade-offs among growth, poverty and the environment that confront policy decision makers.  Civil society representatives were unanimous that there needs to be a fundamental paradigm shift in the current economic model if the three dimensions of sustainable development are to be effectively rebalanced and integrated. Radical changes in consumption patterns where the wealthiest 20% account for 80% of global consumption must be complemented by the use of more holistic criteria than GDP for measuring success. A central challenge, therefore, is to reduce the impacts of consumption and production to maintain human wellbeing, while operating within the limits of sustainability set by the planetary boundaries, and redistribute consumption towards the poorest and most marginalized.

A number of innovative ideas were considered. To overcome the myth that environmental protection means the loss of economic prosperity, the question of putting into place proper price incentives was discussed that would change consumer and business behavior by such means as eliminating perverse subsidies and enforcing carbon taxes. One participant proposed making natural resources cheap or free for those that use very little, and expensive for those that use excessive amounts, thus respecting planetary boundaries without affecting the poor. Another pointed out that sustainable companies are outperforming their unsustainable peers. Common support was expressed for the role of diverse local economies; respect for the global commons, the importance of changing attitudes, behaviors and consumption patterns; the shift towards an equitable green or “smart” economy, and taking an ecosystem approach. 

With regard to MDG 7, the consensus was that the design of this goal was fundamentally flawed as it was not integrated with other goals, lacked environmental measurements and data, and was narrowly focused on conservation to the exclusion of other core issues, such as climate change, natural capital, SCP and oceans. On barriers to the implementation of MDG 7, participants cited the “silo syndrome”; the lack of integration of global targets into domestic policies, and the need for an accountability framework.

Participants recognized that if sustainable development is to be realized, than all stakeholders must challenge their preconceived notions of “business as usual.” Members of the environmental and development sectors must go beyond their own set of biases if they are to bring they are to more effectively integrate their respective agendas. For example, one participant suggested that labeling goals as “environmental” automatically flags them as a “last priority” for many governments, particularly from developing countries, while another person pointed out that some in the development arena will not accept that limits on consumption exist. The new goals must highlight links with environmental sustainability, economics and poverty.

With the national and thematic consultations now concluding and with the HLP report being prepared for release next month, our attention turns to the intergovernmental negotiations now taking place by the Open Working Group on the SDGs, on the high level political forum for sustainable development, and the formation of the Expert Committee on a Sustainable Development Strategy. A strong institutional framework and means of implementation are critical for the success of any SDGs. If the high level political forum is going to serve as the cornerstone of the post-2015 development agenda, Member States must ensure the equal participation of ministers of finance, development and environment at its meetings, and integrate decision-making across ministries at home to reduce separation of thematic goals in “silos”.

Any plans for SDGs coming out of Rio+20 must be fully integrated into the global overarching post-2015 development framework. Civil society demands that the new post-2015 framework must recognize shared global challenges and include the obligations, ownership and accountability of every country to respond to the needs of all. Contextualized national targets are needed for different countries, reflecting challenges and strengths, and inspired by the principle of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities. The framework must have human rights at it center, be coherent overall, with goals and targets promoting synergies between sectors which contribute to a holistic and collective approach to achieving our purpose.

To conclude, we will continue to urge civil society to engage in these consultations and use their results to hold their own governments accountable to the promises they will make and therefore keep on behalf of their citizens.


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