By G. D. Zaney
The global community is due back in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the United Nations (UN) Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio 2012 or Rio + 20, is scheduled to take place from the 20th to the 22nd of June 2012.
The mandate of this conference, which is being organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, stems from the UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/64/236 of December 24, 2009.
UNCSD has the objective of securing renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assessing progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and addressing new and emerging challenges — in the attempt to provide the fundamentals for a future prosperity, peace and sustainability.
UNCSD is thus poised to consider how to design effective strategies aimed at implementing action plans that will lead to poverty reduction, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.
It is in this vein that the conference is being guided by two themes, namely “A green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction” and “The institutional framework for sustainable development”.
This conference is being held twenty years after the first global development and environmental summit, dubbed “The Earth Summit”, which took place in 1992 in the same city, Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil. At the Earth Summit in 1992, three major agreements, aimed at changing the traditional approach to development, were adopted.
These were Agenda 21 — a comprehensive programme of action for global action in all areas of sustainable development; the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development which is a series of principles defining the rights and responsibilities of states; and the Statement of Forest Principles which is also a set of principles that underlie the sustainable management of forests worldwide.
In addition to these three agreements, two legally-binding Conventions that aim to prevent global climate change and the eradication of the diversity of biological species were opened for signature.
These were the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity.Guided by the principles of sustainable development as enshrined in Agenda 21 as well as the other two agreements and Conventions, the global community has, since, spared no efforts at implementing the prescribed action plans required for reaching the targets for global growth and development.
Thus from 1992, Agenda 21 and the Rio Conventions on Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Desertification as well as the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have, in no small way, assisted in developing a global sustainable development agenda and formulated a number of initiatives and strategic partnerships, resulting in social and economic transformation across the world.
In consequence of the implementation of Agenda 21 and related agreements and Conventions, the number of people living below US$ 1 per day has reduced from 1.3 billion to below 900 million as at 2005 while the Montreal Protocol also succeeded in completely phasing out global chlorofluoro carbon production by 1996, thereby causing the ozone layer to recover.
Despite these successes, evidence on the ground indicates that success has not been total in relation to agreed objectives and in translating commitments into action and that at a pile of uncompleted work lies waiting for attention.Thus the world still experiences food insecurity, lack of access to modern emergency services along with variability in energy prices as well as new and emerging challenges of climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity and water storage which jeopardize prospects for long-term growth and sustainable livelihoods.
So that after two decades of efforts to promote economic growth and development, the task remains much more formidable that ever before.
It is against this background, therefore, that the need for another conference, where strategies and other robust and more aggressive policies and strategies will be devised to strengthen the implementation of the sustainable development agenda, becomes imperative.
Certainly, these strategies will include the mobilization of financial and technological resources, and capacity building programmes to assist countries in making the transition and delivering the much-needed jobs, investments, technologies, products and services for the green economy, so called.
As a member of the global community and, therefore, equally affected by the challenges of sustainable development, Ghana’s participation in Rio + 20 remains significant.
Ghana’s record of achieving sustainable development, which is defined as development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, is mixed. For, even though the country has become a middle-income economy, leading to overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth per capital, the structural fundamentals of the economy are not sound. The manufacturing sector with high potential to create employment has diminished, while agriculture with the potential to engage the majority of the people has been overtaken by the services sector.
Currently, the annual cost of environmental degradation in Ghana in relation to natural resource exploitation is equivalent to 9.6 per cent of GDP due to the unsustainable exploitation of the country’s natural resources, which is not without implications for health vis–a–vis water supply and sanitation as well as indoor and outdoor pollution.
Indeed, weakest in the link of factors adversely affecting sustainable development is the environmental situation, as the over-exploitation of the country’s forests, wildlife and fisheries persist with dire consequences for biodiversity and populations which are culturally and economically dependent on forest resources and ecosystem services.
Again, while success has been registered in the reduction of overall levels of poverty, especially in southern Ghana, the same cannot be said of the situation in the northern part of the country.Furthermore, even though the statistics indicate that primary school enrolment rate has increased, it is disappointing to note that an enrolment rate for females is still lower than for males.
In addition, as primary providers of fuel and water for most households, women are also more likely to be negatively affected by energy poverty and water scarcity. Overcoming these challenges would require the reinforcement of political commitment to the implementation of strategies and decisions emerging from Rio + 20.
And Ghana, with support from the UN System, should be able to draw up long-term national plans of action in line with conference agenda and agreements and be able to effectively implement them.
The UN, it is worthy of note, has always supported initiatives directed at strengthening co-ordination within the environment and natural resource sector — one of such supports being the establishment of the Ghana Environmental Convention Co-ordination Authority (GECCA).
With support from the UN, the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) was able to formulate and mobilize support for the Action Plan on Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, an initiative which represents a major departure from NADMO’S traditional approach of emergency response to disaster management.
The UN is also currently, in partnership with the Energy Commission to develop a Plan of Action to achieve universal energy access, increase the share of renewal energy as well as increase energy efficiency.
In addition, to help address the challenges of achieving MDG 7, in which Ghana is lagging behind, the 2012-2016 UN Development Assistance Framework for Ghana, has dedicated ‘Environment outcome’ which brings together 10 UN agencies to collectively work towards strengthening national systems and existing institutional arrangements for climate change mitigation, adaption and disaster risk reduction from national through to the district levels.
Ghana is thus more than prepared for Rio + 20, having finalized its National Assessment Report on her achievements on sustainable development.
Indeed, in preparation for the conference, Ghana’s delegates have received orientation which capacitates them not only for the conference but also after the conference when they would be required to implement follow-up actions.
The writer is an officer of the Information Services Department.
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