Analytical Feature CARICOM environment ministers meet tackle Rio + 20 agenda

(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana)     The 39th Special  meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED),  slated for Georgetown, Guyana on Friday, will provide the last ministerial platform for environment and sustainable development ministers to frame a regional strategic approach for the upcoming Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

Set for the Rio de Janeiro on 20-22 June, the Conference on Sustainable development hopes to “secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges.” The Conference will focus on two themes: a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

Sustainable development has been the overarching goal of the international community since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. It emphasizes a holistic, equitable and far-sighted approach to decision-making at all levels and “rests on integration and a balanced consideration of social, economic and environmental goals and objectives in both public and private decision-making.”  It also recognizes the special development challenges and concerns of small vulnerable developing states such as those in the Caribbean.

The Rio Conference has the potential to be transforming for its member states, but that depends largely on the political commitment of both developed and developing countries. Regrettably, such commitment may waver in the face of global economic and geopolitical realities:  Developed, rapidly developing and developing nations are now grappling with huge fiscal challenges and massive debt levels. Political elections in seven EU countries, including France with the second largest economy in Europe, will also usher in new political thinking that will definitely sway the dialogue on new avenues or envelopes of financing. Such dialogue may not necessarily be in favour of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as those which comprise CARICOM. Arriving at any consensus on new envelopes of financing will be a sticking point. 

It is against this background that the Special COTED on environment and sustainable development will have to shape its agenda for its Georgetown meeting on Friday. CARICOM ministers will need to establish and agree on clear regional priorities as well as a concrete approach on how they intend to engage their counterparts at the Rio+ 20 Conference.

The issue of our approach to developing the green economy has to be at the top of the agenda. The concept of green economy focuses primarily on the nexus between the environment, the economy and the social realities facing the Caribbean region. The underlying challenge for CARICOM is to determine how its focus on a green economy, in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, can foster regional development and a better quality of life for its peoples. In this regard, the 39th COTED will need to discuss and adopt an approach to developing a green economy and be ready to articulate what it considers the minimum architecture for the green economy framework to guide us in the next decade.  For it to do so however, all Member States have to be in the choir, singing from the same hymn sheet regarding a common understanding and approach to developing a green economy. This must be done before the Rio de Janeiro Conference where a cleaner definition will be established.

In preparing for Rio+20, CARICOM Environment Ministers will also need to address the structural issues that impact its poverty alleviation and eradication efforts within the Caribbean Region. The Region needs appropriate financing mechanisms, policies, regulations and governance framework to be able to implement any sustainable development strategy that it develops. We also need to address the challenging issue of escalating energy and labour costs as well as the cost of raw materials. In the absence of new financing mechanisms, as part of the Rio strategy, the COTED may need to look at how it can re-shape existing funds disbursement and present a plan of action to the conference.

Institutional reform of the global architecture for sustainable development is also a burning issue, as countries within the prevailing economic climate grapple to decide which or what form of intergovernmental system is best suited and equipped to take on sustainable development and to address the implementation deficit which has posed a challenge for CARICOM over the years. This deficit has become even more pronounced in light of the complex and defused issues surrounding sustainable development. The COTED will need to examine these carefully.

The anticipated outcome from the 39th Special COTED therefore cannot be any “urging,” it must be a decision for a clear regional agenda for sustainable development. If we fail to set our own agenda, then someone else will do so through their own country development assistance programs.  The region is only too familiar with the notion that “one size doesn’t fit all.”

For this COTED therefore, it cannot be business as usual; it must spawn a foolproof strategy on how CARICOM  is going to the Rio+20 to help shape the future we want for our children and their children.

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