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IISD RS - ENB Coverage of Second Session of the UNCSD PrepCom

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin summary and analysis of the second session of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom II) for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio 2012), which convened from 7-8 March 2011, at UN Headquarters in New York, is now available on our UNCSD PrepCom II site ( For your convenience, we have reproduced our analysis of the meeting below.

We also invite you to read our Earth Negotiations Bulletin summaries on the recently convened:

  • Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting for the 19th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (IPM) ( and
  • 26th session of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC-26/GMEF) (

IISD RS also maintains a calendar of UNCSD-related events, both on the Sustainable Development Policy & Practice knowledgebase ( and via the iCal feature ( Event organizers are invited to contact the content editor ( so we may add your UNCSD-related events to our calendar.



The road to Rio 2012 is getting shorter, but, after PrepCom II, the end is coming into view. As participants raised more questions about green economy and sustainable development governance and searched for elusive answers, after two days of meetings, some delegates conceded that “we are a bit behind, but nevertheless on track.” In the coming months, country-led initiatives and workshops hosted by the UN family of organizations will address specific topics related to the Rio 2012 themes and objectives. Research on the implications of governance options and employment implications of a shift to a green economy may help delegates identify preferred options. Then, as called for in the decision adopted at the end of PrepCom II, a draft outcome document will be prepared by January 2012 and a series of “informal informal” negotiations will hammer out the issues and determine the international community's approach to sustainable development for the next few decades. This brief analysis reflects on the progress made on the two themes of the Conference and the emerging issue of a “blue economy.”


Despite lingering worries about trade barriers and green protectionism, delegates at PrepCom II made some progress in developing and understanding the concept of a green economy. With help from the message that emerged from the February 2011 UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, there is a slowly emerging consensus that maybe a green economy can bring balance and better coherence to the three pillars of sustainable development. Many speakers focused on what elements a green economy policy should include, and formulated questions as they searched to learn how a green economy might affect growth and employment. While some degree of skepticism and concerns still remain, and some doubt that a green economy can stimulate environmentally- and socially-friendly growth and seek “guarantees” that it will not disguise protectionism, others recognize that there is a role for international agreement to develop a menu of options that will reflect the nuances and needs of individual countries.

“The greening of economies is not generally a drag on growth, but a new engine of growth,” concluded the recent UNEP report, Towards a Green Economy. While developed countries seem to fully support the green economy paradigm, there are examples of benefits of green growth from developing countries themselves, including China, Uganda and Rwanda. The key for winning the support of skeptical developing countries—and perhaps to put to rest the continuing call for a consensus definition—is to focus on practical actions going forward that ensure environmentally sustainable economic and social development.


The reality is quite grim: 60% of all coral reefs are at risk of destruction, populations of fish and freshwater vertebrates have declined by nearly 50%, and 40% of ocean fish stocks are over-exploited compared to 20% in 1992. These numbers more than anything else show that states have failed to live up to the provisions of 1992's Rio Declaration and Agenda 21.

At the first UNCSD Intersessional meeting in January 2011, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner spoke passionately about the role of subsidies in fisheries and how a green economy approach could help remove them and improve fisheries and the livelihoods that depend on them. The call for a green economy that is beneficial to oceans also echoed in the halls during the UNEP GC/GMEF in February, where the Solomon Islands, in closing remarks, called on delegates to “keep the green economy blue.”

Now, two weeks later at PrepCom II, oceans and ocean-related issues resonated strongly with many speakers, including several who stressed the importance of economic choices in protecting marine ecosystems, and particularly coalitions of small island developing states, who called for Rio 2012 to address the “blue economy.”

Just as economic incentives and trade are critical to finding ways to reduce pressures on marine resources, governance gaps also present a pressing issue for marine conservation. The high seas legal regime is complex and, according to some, fragmented and incomplete. In the corridors, several delegates suggested that discussions about international environmental governance reform are particularly relevant to oceans. They called for Rio 2012 to also address ocean governance gaps, institutional failures and problems in the implementation of global and regional conservation measures, as well as harness the expertise of scientific institutions in outlining options for solutions. For high seas fisheries, for example, one delegate recommended relying on best practices within successful Regional Fisheries Management Organizations in order to strengthen not only fisheries management practices, but also broader efforts towards biodiversity conservation.

To what extent Rio 2012 will provide a catalyst for renewing political commitment towards sweeping changes in the marine infrastructure is still uncertain, but these deliberations could send a strong message to ongoing processes, like the United Nations Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction, as well as encourage more stringent domestic enforcement measures to tackle illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.


At the first UNCSD Intersessional meeting, discussions on the international framework for sustainable development barely scratched the surface. Many questions remain unanswered at this PrepCom as the environmental pillar of sustainable development and the reform of IEG—just one facet of sustainable development governance reform—is receiving the most focus in the UNCSD process.

One of the explanations for the greater attention to IEG reform is that the UNEP Governing Council asked the UNCSD Bureau to carry out a deep analysis of all the implications of the various reform options from the Nairobi-Helsinki Consultative Group outcome, a decision that was welcomed by some delegates with mixed feelings. Those delegates suggested that it should be up to the GMEF to complete a full analysis, citing concerns about the resources potentially required and the fact that the political process exploring IEG reform originally was initiated by UNEP and should thus be completed there.

Another explanation is that strengthening the global environmental governance pillar is part of a comprehensive overhaul of the sustainable development framework. Citing increasing evidence that decisions about the environment affect people's livelihoods and income, many delegates noted the role of strengthened environmental governance in combating poverty.

But achieving consensus around these issues is still not within reach, as some argued that the impetus to reform and strengthen the environmental pillar may still lack the necessary leadership and political will. Between struggles to emerge from an economic recession and social and political unrest, which are changing the political makeup of many countries, the environment is taking a back seat to other domestic priorities. The challenge for policy makers is to show that a strengthened environmental governance framework is critical to economic growth and improving livelihoods.

Amidst statements on UNEP's “pivotal role in implementation” and calls to revisit the relationship between UNEP and ECOSOC as part of reforming UNEP in the context of the wider sustainable development architecture, delegates raised a number of other options. They expressed interest in the implications of an “umbrella” structure, proposed by Brazil. In articulating her “vision,” Brazil explained that such structure would build on existing institutions by providing political guidance, coherence and efficiency and increased ability to implement the Rio commitments and tackle emerging issues. Reforms to the Commission on Sustainable Development and ECOSOC were mentioned as well. Delegates also discussed the identification of best practices and national reporting options. These and other ideas will require further elaboration, as questions of duplication and lessons learned are explored in the coming months. Among the questions put forward outside the conference hall were how the peer review mechanism many speakers proposed would be different from ECOSOC's Annual Ministerial Review, and whether the multilateral environmental agreements' experience with national reporting and clearing-house mechanisms offer lessons for this discussion.


As delegates left UN Headquarters on Tuesday night, they expressed some optimism, including satisfaction that they reached agreement on a timetable for producing the outcome document and codifying the views of countries on the objectives and themes of the Conference. While not minimizing the significant differences that exist on the elements of the Conference themes, many expressed hope that the UN family of organizations would provide critical input and noted that the availability of a zero draft of the outcome document in January 2012 and the one week-long “informal informals” in each of the months of February, March and April would provide sufficient time to prepare for Rio 2012 and hammer out major differences. The road to Rio is still meandering, but the countries travelling on it now have a GPS to guide them.


This analysis, taken from the UNCSD PrepCom II issue of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin © <>, was written and edited by Jennifer Covert, Faye Leone, Tanya Rosen and Lynn Wagner, Ph.D. The Editor is Pamela S. Chasek, Ph.D. <>. The Director of IISD Reporting Services is Langston James “Kimo” Goree VI <>. The Sustaining Donors of the Bulletin are the Government of the United States of America (through the Department of State Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs), the Government of Canada (through CIDA), the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), the European Commission (DG-ENV), and the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea. General Support for the Bulletin during 2011 is provided by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Government of Australia, the Ministry of Environment of Sweden, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, SWAN International, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Japanese Ministry of Environment (through the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies - IGES), the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (through the Global Industrial and Social Progress Research Institute – GISPRI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Funding for translation of the Bulletin into French has been provided by the Government of France, the Belgium Walloon Region, the Province of Québec, and the International Organization of the Francophone (OIF and IEPF). The opinions expressed in the Bulletin are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IISD or other donors. Excerpts from the Bulletin may be used in non-commercial publications with appropriate academic citation. For information on the Bulletin, including requests to provide reporting services, contact the Director of IISD Reporting Services at <>, +1-646-536-7556 or 300 East 56th St., 11D, New York, NY 10022, United States of America.