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Sustainable Development ~ The Path Forward from Johannesburg WSSD

Author: Jacqeline Obando ~ National Business Initiative (NBI)

( Article Type: Sustainable Development )

In 2007, Johannesburg hosted the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD), which agreed to both the Johannesburg Declaration and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI). These agreements reconfirmed the commitment to work towards the Millennium Development Goals( MDGs) and Agenda 21 including, but not limited to, changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, managing natural resources and creating an institutional framework for sustainable development.

Africa came under the spotlight at this event as it needs to increase its efforts to achieve sustainable development and limit constraints such as conflicts, debt burdens and declining levels of official development assistance. For this reason, a specific chapter was crafted to identify the sustainable development challenges and needs of Africa. Since hosting the WSSD, South Africa has undertaken several initiatives to work towards the goals set and the following are worth highlighting:

  • Changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production;
  • Strengthening the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD);
  • Formulation of a National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSSD).

Changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production
In Chapter III, the JPOI calls on governments to ‘develop production and consumption policies to improve the products and services provided, while reducing environmental and health impacts, using, where appropriate, science-based approaches, such as life-cycle analysis’. The aim of this chapter is to promote a shift to more sustainable consumption, and this requires increasing both the supply of and demand for sustainable products. The challenge, however, is to develop frameworks to encourage both producers and consumers to take responsibility for the environmental and social impacts of the products and services that they design, produce, use and dispose of. In order to achieve this, changes are required in both the products and infrastructure that limit consumer choice, the culture and values underlying consumer behaviour.

In order to respond to these aims and challenges, South Africa, through the assistance of various donor organisations, established a National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC), which was launched at the WSSD. The Centre, which is now financially supported by the Department of Trade and Industry, supports the textiles, agricultural and metal-finishing sectors in striving towards cleaner production. The NCPC, headed by Ndivhuho Raphulu, is located at the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). At the same time, the formulation of the National Energy Efficiency Strategy, setting a national target of 12% and an industry target of 15% reduction by 2015, contributes significantly to South Africa’s objective of striving towards cleaner designed and produced goods.

  • In a business roundtable hosted by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and the National Business Initiative at the third anniversary of the WSSD (JHB+3), the discussions highlighted several key issues:
  • An example of progress by business is the commitment to promoting energy efficiency through a voluntary accord signed with the Department of Minerals and Energy to work together to meet the industry target of 15% reduction in demand by 2015;
  • The need for greater consumer awareness and how sustainable development could be used as a vehicle to bridge the first and second economy;
  • That the NSSD, based on the current consumption patterns and projected trends, offered an opportunity for all stakeholders to engage in proactive planning;
  • That an approach that may yield results in sustainable development could be the application of full life-cycle analysis and planning, incentives and/or procurement frameworks.

Commission for Sustainable Development
The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was formed following the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) to give effect to international negotiations in this arena. Ten years after it was launched, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) reiterated the CSD as a highlevel forum on sustainable development. At the 11th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD 11) in 2003, it was agreed that the multi-year programme would be organised in seven two-year cycles.

The first of these two-year cycles was the CSD 12 and 13, which focused its attention on the thematic clusters of water, sanitation, human settlements and various cross-cutting initiatives. In 2006, the CSD 14 will review progress made in several fields, including energy, climate change and industrial development. The Regional Implementation Meeting (RIM) took place in Addis Ababa in October 2005 to prepare the regional statement for Africa, which was presented in New York in May 2006. Recognised as major groups, civil society, business and industry have an important role to play in sustainable development and are called upon to contribute to CSD 14 through sharing lessons and constraints associated to achieving sustainable development.

The South African delegation, led by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and supported by the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Industry, Minerals and Energy and Science and Technology, will submit highlights of the South African Country Report, which is an update on progress made in the country. South Africa’s key objectives for CSD 14 include:

  • Ensuring that the review session lays a firm basis for the policy session outlining the challenges and constraints;
  • Profiling the link between the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) targets and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs);
  • Championing Africa’s energy, industrial development and investment needs and challenges;
  • Profiling South Africa’s response to climate change;
  • Reinforcing the need for means of implementation and equitable distribution of the benefits of industrial development;
  • South Africa, as chair of the Group of 77 (G77), will advance the interests of the group at CSD 14.

National Strategy for Sustainable Development
The Agenda 21 principles, agreed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, called on all countries to introduce National Strategies for Sustainable Development (NSSD) to give effect to the outcomes in Rio. Since the Rio Earth Summit, two international targets have been set: the first is that a Special Session of the UN General Assembly (Rio +5) set a target date of 2002 for NSSDs to be introduced; while the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) set a target date of 2005 for NSSDs to be in the process of implementation. Considering the above, no internationally agreed definition, nor official guidance on how to prepare an NSSD exists. However, NSSDs should define the process by which countries will commit to meeting Sustainable Development targets or ‘Agenda 21’ at a national level.

Initially, the NSSDs were argued not to require a completely new planning process but rather a reorientation of existing activities, for example an individual country may have a range of initiatives/strategies in response to international commitments or agreements. These strategies may contribute to or even individually reflect what is considered an ‘NSSD‘. The primary goal of the NSSDs is for countries to develop ongoing strategies toward reducing economic inequality, social instability and environmental degradation.

 Using the definition of the OECD DAC of NSSD as a basis, the following list might be seen as important, but not the only elements of an NSSD:


  • Analysis
  • Debate
  • Capacity strengthening
  • Planning
  • Action

The consultative process followed when developing this strategy included expert review and reference panels, stakeholder submissions and public hearings, roundtables and four consultative workshops. These stakeholder engagements were coordinated over a 12-month period and by the end of April 2006 a first draft strategy was prepared. While the draft NSSD will be presented at the 14th session of the Commission for Sustainable Development as an indicator of progress made towards achieving this target, the strategy will be open for public comment for some time.

In conclusion, while the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (the lead government department for sustainable development issues) works towards ensuring enhanced business and civil society contribution towards sustainable development outcomes, it is important that South African society continues and improves the pace of changing policy into action.