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"Voluntary Commitments" and "Action Networks": Part of a New Architecture for a New World

John Romano

Posted July 23, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming

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The United Nations has just released a promising progress report on the hundreds of “voluntary commitments” made at the Rio+20 Conference last year. Rather than relying solely on negotiated outcomes, Rio+20 broke new ground for a different approach to taking action at UN conferences with hundreds of new initiatives voluntarily made by a wide range of actors – including governments at all levels, the private sector, and civil society.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon perhaps put it best,

“If the outcome document is the foundation for the next stage of our journey to sustainable development, the commitments are the bricks and cement. They will be a concrete and lasting legacy of Rio+20. They will help us to implement our vision in all regions.”

This UN report is a critical first step in creating a structure to follow up on these commitments – part of the “new architecture for a new world” that Hilary Clinton called for in her farewell speech as Secretary of State. 

gehry.jpg

"We do need a new architecture for this new world; more Frank Gehry than formal Greek." - Hilary Clinton (Photo Credit: Paolo Margari/Flickr)

This new UN report highlights that the initial 730 voluntary commitments from Rio+20 have now blossomed into 1,382 with a total worth over $637 billion. The scale of these commitments is not inconsequential. The UN report states that the monetary value of these commitments now amount to nearly 1% of yearly global GDP in total.  We are encouraged at the report’s findings that there has been significant progress made in implementing these commitments. For example, it notes that the recently released progress report by the SLoCaT network reported that eight multilateral development banks are taking action and are on track to fulfill their game-changing $175 billion commitment to sustainable transport from Rio+20.

The report also outlines a new concept: Sustainable Development Action Networks,” which are action-oriented clusters that bring together stakeholders around specific thematic areas in an effort to drive actions and commitments and to promote partnerships.”  There are now seven action networks, including the UN Global Compact, Sustainable Energy for All, Every Woman Every Child and Sustainable Transport networks.

One of the key themes of the report is ensuring sufficient “follow up” of these commitments. The report stresses the need for commitments to be “SMART” (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Resource-based, and Time-bound) at the outset. The report shows that 716 of the 1,382 total commitments (52%) have deliverables targeted at 2015 or earlier, reflecting a strong focus on achieving the Millennium Development Goals. An additional 222 commitments (16%) have deliverables targeted at 2022 or earlier – ten years beyond Rio+20.

The report also briefly discusses accountability for these commitments and describes it as “an integral part of ensuring long-term value to all stakeholders.” It outlines their vision for an effective accountability framework, centered around three pillars:

  1. A regular report from the UN secretariat which takes input from all of the “Action Networks”
  2. Ongoing follow up of the commitments through a consolidated and public platform maintained by the UN
  3. Third party independent reviews of these commitments, which is where the work of NRDC and our Cloud of Commitments initiative will play an important role.

We agree with the UN report’s view that this wide variety of commitments – which we refer to as PINCs (Partnerships, Initiatives, Networks, Clubs and Coalitions) – should be seen as the critical “means of implementation” for globally-negotiated goals. 

How to integrate these commitments into the two major UN processes culminating in 2015 the agreement of a new climate change treaty and the Sustainable Development Goals will be the one of the main focuses of a high-level conference we are co-organizing at Yale in November 2013 entitled “Rio+20 to 2015: A New Architecture for a Sustainable New World.”

Please visit the Cloud of Commitments website and like us on Facebook to follow our advocacy for action and accountability at Rio+20 and beyond.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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