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Editor's Note: Implementing the Rio+20 Outcome 

Issue #221 | 31 March 2014

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By: Lynn Wagner, Ph.D., Group Director, SDG Knowledge, IISD <>

As we near the second anniversary of Rio+20, a number of processes are focusing in on decisions that were set in motion by the outcome from that June 2012 event.

The just-completed meeting of the Open-ended Committee of Permanent Representatives (OECPR) to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) served as the subsidiary intersessional entity of UNEP's new governing body – the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA). Delegates at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) called on the UN General Assembly to take decisions to strengthen and upgrade UNEP by, inter alia: establishing universal membership in the Governing Council; securing stable, adequate and increased financial resources from the UN regular budget; and enhancing UNEP's ability to fulfill its coordination mandate within the UN system. Subsequently, the 67th session of the UN General Assembly, in December 2012, adopted resolution 67/213 on strengthening and upgrading UNEP and establishing universal membership of its Governing Council. In March 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 67/251, which changed the designation of UNEP's Governing Council to the UN Environment Assembly of the UN Environment Programme, based on the recommendation of the first universal session of the Governing Council one month earlier, in February 2013. The first meeting of the UNEA of UNEP will convene in June 2014, and is expected to include ministerial plenaries on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – another outcome from Rio+20 – and the post-2015 development agenda and illegal trade in wildlife.

A number of questions remain in regard to the role that the UNEA of UNEP will play and how it can be different from what came before. These questions were discussed informally and formally during last week's OECPR, including during a discussion of the role of the UNEA in the UN System. Our Earth Negotiations Bulletin summary from the meeting indicates that UNEP Executive Director Steiner "emphasized that Rio+20 bestowed a level of legitimacy upon UNEA far beyond the GC's oversight functions. He encouraged member states to consider how they can make UNEA a meaningful instrument for driving environmental reform, and to engage their ministers in the process before its June meeting." The March meeting, however, did not reach agreement on any draft decisions, and the Earth Negotiations Bulletin analysis indicates that intersessional work may therefore largely determine the “degree to which UNEA can function as the global authority on the environment.”

This week, two elements of the Rio+20 legacy will be under discussion in UN Headquarters conference halls. The Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs will convene for its tenth session. This week-long meeting will be the second of five scheduled “decision making” meetings, and delegates will consider a draft released on 19 March by the OWG Co-Chairs, which includes a revised outline of possible areas of focus for the SDGs. The Co-Chairs have proposed that the tenth session's discussions should be organized around the following eight clusters: Poverty eradication and Promote equality; Gender equality and women's empowerment, Education, Employment and decent work for all, and Health and population dynamics; Water and sanitation and Sustainable agriculture, food security, and nutrition; Economic growth, Industrialization, Infrastructure and Energy; Sustainable cities and human settlements, Promote Sustainable Consumption and Production, Climate; Conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, oceans and seas and Ecosystems and biodiversity; Means of implementation/Global partnership for sustainable development; and Peaceful and non-violent societies, rule of law and capable institutions.

Rio+20 also elevated oceans issues to a place of importance in the outcome, and the seventh meeting of the UN General Assembly's Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (BBNJ), which will take place from 1-4 April 2014, will be held in light of that outcome. Paragraph 162 of the Rio+20 agreement commits governments to address, building on the work of the Working Group, the issue of BBNJ, including by taking a decision on the development of an international instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) before the end of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. The April 2014 meeting will be the first of three to discuss the scope, parameters and feasibility of a possible new international instrument on BBNJ under UNCLOS.

We look forward to enhancing the transparency of these and more Rio+20 follow up processes, through our meeting reporting and knowledge management work, and hope that it will enhance your sustainable development policy work.