Outcomes of the 3rd Preparatory Committee to World Summit on Sustainable Development: briefing by DG


07 May 2002
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The aim of this report is to summarise the main events at the meeting and identify the key role players. This report is not a verbatim transcript of proceedings.


7 May 2002

Ms G. Mahlangu

Documents handed out:
Letter to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee from the Inter-Parliamentary Union Regarding Parliamentary Participation at the WSSD (Portfolio Committee Chairperson)
Chairman's Revised Text for Negotiation - WSSD (DEAT)
info@pmg.org.za for documents]


Dr C. Olver, Director General of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Forestry (DEAT) briefed the Portfolio Committee, in conjunction with members of the Select Committee on Land and Environmental Affairs, on the outcomes of the 3rd Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) to the WSSD held 25 March to 5 April. He spoke on aspects of negotiation, South Africa's positions, and issues of focus and of contention. He also discussed preparations and goals for the 4th Prep Com to be held in Bali. Members were given an opportunity to ask questions and comment. Another issue of focus was the role of parliamentarians in preparation for the WSSD and at the Summit itself as well as the need for empowering parliamentarians with more knowledge on the subject.

The Chairperson stated that the proposal by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) to set aside 29-30 August during the WSSD for parliamentary participation had been favourably received. The Secretary of Parliament had also shown excitement, and 29 members of South Africa's Parliament would be able to participate directly. It was not yet clear how participation would be broken down, but the delegation would have an opportunity to work with other parliamentary delegations to ensure implementation of the decisions taken at the Summit.

Outcomes of Prep Com 3

Dr Olver proceeded by presenting on the outcomes of the recent Prep Com. He stated that he would not be commenting on logistical issues of the WSSD but rather on substance and negotiations. He recapped the objectives for Prep Com 3. They included promoting NEPAD as the framework for sustainable development in Africa, achieving an action oriented program for the WSSD, asserting an economic platform to reposition the global environment and power arrangements, and keeping a balance of the three pillars of sustainable development (social, economic, and environmental). There was a strong push by developed countries to strengthen environmental issues, but South Africa hoped to correct the imbalance of the last decade by pushing social and economic issues. Dr Olver then discussed the organisation of the Prep Com. South Africa's views were negotiated within the G77, and the views that emerged there represented the mandate of the G77 countries. These negotiations took place in the weeks before the actual Prep Com. He added that South Africa had been very successful in planting its positions within the G77 positions, and about 50% of the G77 position was actually South African text.

Dr Olver stated that there was also a strong dialogue on partnerships, and he explained that these would play a strong role within Type 2 outcomes, those outcomes that were less formal and voluntary involving governments as well as other stakeholders. These could focus on particular sectors or regions and cover areas not governed by Type 1 outcomes. Type 1 outcomes would be the more formal negotiated texts with implied governmental processes. He continued by discussing constraints they faced at the Prep Com within the UN context. Much of the debate and negotiation was dominated by what happened after hours when the UN did not play a role, and this had negative political consequences on nations like South Africa. There was also a general lack of commitment and action orientation, and technical support from UN agencies was lacking. Developing countries opposed new targets and timeframes and focused on Type 2 outcomes that could not be enforced. The South African delegation actively opposed these constraints and unproductive tendencies.

Dr Olver continued by discussing goals and proposed outcomes for the WSSD as they were before and then after Prep Com 3. South Africa's view was that the framework was being misused and Type 1 outcomes were not being emphasized, and a bridge between the two types needed to be built. On a positive note, chapter 8 of the Chairman's text that was focused on Africa was redrafted with a more action-oriented nature. In the African process, draft implementation plans had been discussed in six priority areas, and further procedures for developing action plans before Prep Com 4 had been agreed upon. A mandate had also been produced for the Chairman to rewrite the text as more action-oriented and consensus seeking in time for the next negotiations. This was due to be released on 8 May. Concerning strategic issues, a balance needed to be found between regional and global initiatives and between the agendas of Africa and of the developing world. They also needed to prioritize around core programmes and issues in order to emerge with effective outcomes. Trade-offs in the economic agenda were also an issue. In preparation for the next Prep Com, they intended to draft global frameworks for implementation of priority programmes and prepare more detailed Africa plans to present.

Dr Olver said that links needed to be made between the WSSD, Millennium Declaration, Doha Development Round, and Financing for Development Conference (FFD). The role of the WSSD would be implementation. They sought Type 1 commitments with Type 2 partnerships to support these commitments. In closing, he reflected on the role of the Portfolio Committee and Select Committee in the run-up to the Summit as well as in participation there. The members had played an integral part in pushing the debate of sustainable development and in pushing the Global Parliamentary Event at the WSSD.
The Department would be calling on several members of Parliament to play vital roles as the representatives of South Africa at the many side events that would be going on during the Summit. Additionally, they were constrained to four South African representatives at the official Summit, but these delegates would need a broad support team for negotiations, and he might call on some of them for that part.

Questions and Discussion

With nearly every question or comment, each member thanked Dr Olver for his presentation and for empowering them with the knowledge of the actual substance behind the preparations for the WSSD.

Mr E. Moorcroft (DP) stated that they needed to be kept well informed along the way. He asked if, when they could not be briefed, they could be sent something in writing about what was going on and how they might get involved.

Mr J. Le Roux (NNP) asked how seriously Dr Olver believed the first world countries were avoiding Type 1 outcomes. He said it sounded as though they were suggesting a conspiracy to derail the process.

Dr Olver replied that they had been concerned that there was something political behind their difficulty with the UN, and they believed that those restrictions needed to be addressed at another level. He said that some countries indeed were not in favour of multi-lateral action and did not want the UN to work. The clamp-down on the UN seemed to have occurred just before the Prep com, and it made it difficult for things to work properly, but the countries that hoped to get away with only Type 2 outcomes were nonetheless surprised as that was not going to happen. They would have to continue fighting the constraints, but he believed they would succeed.

Ms C. Ramotsamai (ANC) asked what they were doing to ensure commitments made at the WSSD would be implemented since so many accusations were made that the Rio Summit did not produce results.

Dr Olver said that, concerning Rio, the means of implementation were not put on the table, and the social and economic agenda were not delivered. The unfinished business would be attended to at Johannesburg. Important agreements had since been made on many of the Millennium targets, and there was a consensus on financing development. Trade relations had opened up, and economic platform issues had been put in place. This summit would be set up differently. The debate on governance concerned ensuring implementation, and that was the challenge. Reports on delivery and monitoring progress would be necessary. He hoped that more definite plans for governing implementation would emerge from the upcoming Prep Com in Bali.

Ms J. Chalmers (ANC) asked if debate would continue at the WSSD or if the pre-WSSD negotiations would be sufficient to allow real action to emerge from the WSSD. She also asked about the prior tension within the civil society sector.

Dr Olver stated that priorities had not yet been finalised, and there was still much to be negotiated. Between Bali and the WSSD, they could hopefully tie down broad processes around action-orientation, but they did not have sufficient technical work happening for real business plans to emerge. Debate would continue in Johannesburg because the big political deals would occur there. The problem at Rio was that the high level deals did not occur. Concerning civil society tension, the concern had been that the plans were being overwhelmed by the NGO sector. Other groups (unions, youth, civic organisations, churches, women's groups) were not being represented. This problem had been largely resolved as a representative board was now in place and management had been somewhat restructured.

Ms L. Mbuyazi (IFP) asked how local councils and municipal authorities would be brought on board of the actions for sustainable development.

Dr Olver replied that the local councils were very much on board in South Africa, but there was some resistance within the G77 countries to the local Agenda 21 initiative. In South Africa, integrated plans had already been enshrined at a municipal level. The challenge now was to better showcase this involvement.

Rev P. Moatshe, the Chairperson of the Select Committee, asked whether they had succeeded in selling the idea of NEPAD within Africa and within the rest of the world. He also asked whether poverty eradication was being considered as one of the main issues.

Dr Olver said that most of the "selling" had already been done. NEPAD had emerged as a Heads of State initiative, but in the last six months they had been getting other levels on board. Some contention still existed, but NEPAD was strong, and it would be consolidated with the launch of the African Union. As for global acceptance of a poverty focus, this was still contested, but support was growing, and they were pushing it strongly.

Ms R. Ndzanaga (ANC) of the Select Committee asked about GMOs. She wanted to know what all of this action would mean to those in rural areas.

Ms Mbuyazi agreed that this was an important issue, and the Committee needed to take a position on GMOs.

The Chairperson said that she would not deny that it was an important issue, but the Committee now knew that this was an issue of the Land and Agriculture Portfolio Committee. She said, however, that they should consider inviting that committee to meet with them on the subject so that they might be more informed.

Dr Olver said that, regarding GMOs, they had adopted a cautionary approach. The contentious issue was whether they were a tool for liberating agricultural productivity or for supporting multinational business interests. Certain paragraphs in the Chairman's Text did allude strongly to the issues involved, but they had avoid direct mention of GMOs because there was still very little consensus on the issue, and they wanted to avoid a breakdown at the WSSD. In the Text, they referred to things such as the practice of transnational corporations and community access to resources rather than directly mentioning GMOs.

Mr R. September (ANC) said that certainly GMOs had advantages, but they were controlled by big industry, and South Africa did not have the capacity to control them, so he suggested that they err on the side of caution.

Another member of the Select Committee asked how decisions of the WSSD would relate to prior protocols such as Kyoto.

Dr Olver replied that they were lobbying for ratification of several agreements, including Kyoto. A big issue for many nations would be pushing ratification and effective implementation of the many agreements already in place. Other than the issue of forests, conventions were already available on most vital issues, so they would not be focusing on the creation of new agreements at the WSSD.

Ms Chalmers asked about business action regarding the WSSD. She wanted to know what South Africa was doing to get money interests on board.

Dr Olver stated that they believed the WSSD would go far concerning mobilising private investment to achieve social objectives. There was much business interest and involvement already in the WSSD, but some strong debates existed in this area. They were pushing for sustainable development practice as a responsibility, but most companies would not support this unless it was voluntary. They were debating a summit or UN initiative on corporate accountability or corporate reporting, but Johannesburg would at least put a lot of pressure on industry to toe the line. The South African delegation was also trying to encourage certain large corporations to set a benchmark. He suggested that the Portfolio Committee invite some South African business leaders to come to discuss these issues with them, and he added that many of the leaders were supporting their stance and pushing a progressive agenda in this regard.

The Chairperson agreed to look into that idea.

Rev Moatshe said that his main concern was that other committees in Parliament also wanted to be briefed on the WSSD. They needed to be able to answer questions from the public, and they also wanted to know how they could play a role.

The Chairperson added that she had requested that the Minister brief Parliament.

Ms Ramotsamai supported the idea. Publicity was coming along well, but parliamentarians were often not able to answer questions from the public.

The Chairperson said that they should invite any parliamentarians interested. She said that ETV had done a wonderful story on the WSSD including the history back to the Rio Summit, and they needed to share the information that provided with all of Parliament.

Ms Ndzanga said that some residents of her constituency came to her during recess wanting to know why new traffic lights were being put in Sandton and not in their area of Soweto where they had been requesting such for years and needed them more. She needed to be able to answer questions like that.

Dr Olver replied that he was not prepared to brief the Committee on those issues, but they should invite people from the province and the municipality to present to them in the next briefing. They would be more informed to tell them about the plans for ensuring a concrete legacy of the Summit is left to benefit the locals, including those in Soweto.

The Chairperson said that much was happening in Gauteng and the Gauteng legislature, and they needed more information on those actions. She mentioned that they would be having a regional conference in Namibia later this month, and they would start preparing for the IPU conference and the parliamentary days in Johannesburg. Because it was also important to spend some time with NGOs, she had spoken to Linden Booth of the Contact Trust about inviting NGOs forward to give their insight before the WSSD. On behalf of the Portfolio Committee, she thanked Dr Olver for bringing them up to date with the substance behind preparations for the WSSD.

Rev Moatshe also thanked him on behalf of the Select Committee and wished him well in the coming months of preparation.

The meeting was adjourned.

Should you wish to submit any comments regarding the content of this meeting to the members of the parliamentary committee, kindly email them to lizzy@contacttrust.org.za and we will ensure that they are hand delivered to the members.

The copyright in this material subsists with the Contact Trust. Further distribution or copying of this material is prohibited without the prior agreement of the Contact Trust.


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