1997 Special General Assembly Review of Agenda 21 Should 'Revitalize' International Commitment to Sustainable Development

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Calling for a re-energizing of commitments and a focus on practical decisions, the Commission on Sustainable Development concluded its fourth session on 3 May by issuing several recommendations to guide the June 1997 special session of the General Assembly, which will review five years of progress in implementing Agenda 21-the global action plan that emerged from the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).

The Assembly's special session should "work to revitalize the international commitment to the concept of sustainable development and boost the momentum for concrete proposals of action", said Commission Chairman Rumen Gechev of Bulgaria. It should recognize the "unmet objectives" of Agenda 21--a global blueprint for achieving 'sustainable development--and assess the reasons for that failure. It should also focus on raising the profile of issues which had not been sufficiently addressed at UNCED, including urban issues, transportation, renewable energy and risk management, and define priorities for the years after 1997.

Cross-sectoral issues

The Commission, which is charged with monitoring progress made by Governments and the international community in implementing Agenda 21, also reviewed for the first time implementation of the action plan related to oceans and seas. Other Commission discussions focused on cross-sectoral issues such as the need to change production and consumption patterns, improve the use of renewable energy sources, and raise levels of financial assistance and technology cooperation to achieve sustainable development, as well as sectoral concerns like forests and the atmosphere.

In all, the Commission adopted 24 decisions on wide-ranging issues during its two-week session (18 April-3 May, New York).

Recommendations for the special Assembly review in 1997 emanated from the Commission's two-day high-level segment, which brought together Government ministers, as well as all past chairmen of the Commission, the UNCED Secretary-General and a variety of other high-level officials with diverse areas of expertise. The session also featured a special panel on youth, in which young people from around the world shared their concerns and offered policy recommendations to Government ministers.

The Commission recommended that the 1997 review give special attention to post-UNCED institutional arrangements, in order to ensure their continued relevance and increased effectiveness in the years to come. It also requested intergovernmental bodies to take into account the outcome of the 1997 review and the decisions of the Commission, and decided to keep the issue of identifying generally recognized principles of international law as they pertained to sustainable development under review for further consideration at the special Assembly session.

Preparatory work for the special session should examine the institutional implications for forging new alliances for sustainable development between the UN and other major relevant organizations, including the Global Environmental Facility, the Bretton Woods institutions, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as well as between Governments and civil society, the Commission said. Governments and international organizations were encouraged to involve major groups' representatives in the preparations for the 1997 review process at the national level. The Assembly was invited to make arrangements for their active involvement in the special session.

Marine environment

In its first review of follow-up related to oceans and seas, the Commission recommended that the Economc and Social Council approve a periodic review of all aspects of the marine environment and related issues. The Commission also emphasized the need for the development and implementation of integrated coastal and marine area management plans to deal with issues related to the coastal marine environment. …