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Partnerships for everyone.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg was the product of more than a year of preparatory meetings, tens of thousands of participants, millions of words and dollars. Was it all worth it?

I do not think anyone expected a very spectacular outcome. Given the fact that some of the targets set at Rio have not been met and given the timescale for the goals set at the Millennium Summit in 2000, to set new and more ambitious targets would have lacked credibility. What was always needed was reinforcement of the targets and a focus on how we are going to achieve them. And that there is in the summit agreement.

A lot was said about partnerships. While some people remain sceptical, there is general acceptance of the fact that we will only achieve sustainable development if all sections of society work in partnership. Business certainly accepts that, and governments and many civil society organizations also accept that business is an essential part of the solution.

ROLE OF BUSINESS

Economic development on its own will not lead to sustainable development, but if we do not get the economic aspects right development will not be sustainable. More development aid is an essential component, but cannot be a permanent solution. For me the acknowledgement of the need for partnerships and of the essential role of business, with clear conditions attached, is one of the great changes apparent at Johannesburg.

Some non-governmental organizations, led by Friends of the Earth, pressed hard for a global convention to control international business. There was never much chance of this being taken up by governments, but the convention's proponents should be encouraged by another trend which was very evident at Johannesburg. This was the development of flourishing partnerships between business, civil society organizations, labour organizations, UN agencies and others to define what represents best practice for business.

The Global Mining Initiative is one such approach, but there are many others addressing sustainability in different sectors--the chemical industry, the forestry industry, fisheries, agriculture, health, mining and energy. These coalitions define the standards by which the performance of international business will be judged. Because they bring together different viewpoints, they lead to practical solutions which take economic realities into account and yet address environmental and social consequences.

The agreements which stem from these partnerships will inform national legislation and where appropriate international agreements. Those businesses not involved ignore them at their peril.

Overarching all this is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), launched in 1997, which is defining common indicators for reporting on the economic, environmental and social performance of businesses and organizations. The 2002 Reporting Guidelines were launched at the summit. The GRI was recognized in many speeches by heads of governments as well as in the agreement itself.

The success of smaller local partnership projects was demonstrated by the innovative www.virtualexhibit.net, which was developed through a partnership of business and the United Nations Development Programme. This used internet technology to showcase sustainable development partnership projects--not just to people at the summit but to millions with internet access anywhere in the world. Thousands who were never in Johannesburg were able to see more than a hundred live link-ups from the summit.

Some 60 per cent of these link-ups have been to projects in the field. One, for example, brought women from a village in Rajasthan in India to the summit to discuss the success of the microcredit project in which they participate. Bringing them there physically would have expended more fuel than their villages could use in a hundred years. Some 20 heads of state or government and senior ministers participated in live link-ups from the summit, many to projects in their own country or region.

The UN and governments should consider using this technology for future meetings. It radically widened access to the summit, enabling experience from around the world to be shared, and at the same time conserved resources by avoiding travel.

FAIR OUTCOMES

Lastly, there was an acknowledgement that sound local governance is essential to sustainable development. This means that all sectors of society--north or south, urban or rural, young or old, female or male, rich or poor, indigenous people or people of whatever ethnic group--should feel that their views have been taken into account by institutions and that the outcomes delivered are fair.

This naturally includes the sound governance of business and the equitable sharing of economic development in the interests of society. This sound governance creates the environment in which businesses large and small, international or domestic, can flourish.

In their New Plan for African Development (NEPAD), African governments set an example by acknowledging their responsibility to deliver frameworks for sound governance, including a process of peer review. To achieve this, they called for development aid and for the involvement of business of all sorts.

International agreements and targets can only be delivered at the national and local level. We need sound governance, including sound governance of business, to achieve this. This is perhaps the most important task we have to work on in the coming years. And we have to do it in partnership.
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Author:Moody-Stuart, Mark
Publication:For A Change
Date:Dec 1, 2002
Words:854
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