Most of the discussion on Agenda Item 4 focussed on document E/CN.17/1993/L.3, a draft decision prepared by the Chair on "Guidelines to the Secretariat for organizing information provided by governments on issues related to the implementation of Agenda 21."
Colombia, on behalf of the G-77, made some general points including: information provided by the governments should be voluntary and the guidelines for the Secretariat are relevant and useful. Colombia remarked that other points would be taken up later after the G-77 developed a more specific position. Razali agreed that the paper works on the basis of voluntary reporting, that there is no attempt to have individual reports examined, no attempt to make comparisons, and countries are not expected to submit voluminous documents. Venezuela thought that the guidelines should cover questions with a view to organizing information provided by governments. Paragraph 1 should include the word "voluntarily" after the phrase "information provided." Venezuela stressed that a linkage between trade and the environment be included in government reports. A sub-paragraph should include language about the impact on national economies and development of protectionist environmental measures. Venezuela also disagreed with the 3-month reporting period.
Australia stated that a culture of reporting must evolve over time and there will have to be identifiable benefits for the countries providing the information. Requirements should be flexible and reports should be relevant to the Agenda 21 clusters to be discussed in a particular year. This information should be requested in the form of a questionnaire. Australia supported Venezuela's suggestion for a reference to protectionist trade practices. As for the proposal that the Secretary-General should present two reports, Australia suggested the preparation of one report having three headings: national priorities, progress in achieving them, and problems encountered.
China thought that the exchange of information was important and that reports could assess the main problems and contradictions in the implementation of Agenda 21 and that countries would learn from dialogue and mutual example. Saudi Arabia agreed that reports must be voluntary. This is one way of assessing how sustainable development is being accomplished. There should be less text and more numbers in the use of statistical format. Indicators should be developed that are realistic, easy and understandable. The CSD should lead coordination of efforts already underway by the UNEP Governing Council and the WMO in developing environmental indicators. Pakistan said that the objective of national reporting is not to see detailed scrutiny in every area of Agenda 21, but to report on implementation activities. Reports should be standardized and broad enough to include a variety of areas, and should treat poverty alleviation, consumption patterns, trade issues, and financial resources. Some type of funding should be provided to help developing countries prepare reports.
Iceland, speaking on behalf of the Nordics, said that national reports should be limited to the clusters of the multi-year programme being discussed at each session, with reports as brief and concise as possible. The CSD should benefit from the work of the OECD in the area of environment and development indicators. Guidelines should accomplish two objectives: provide a standardized presentation of national reports and define for each cluster the content, timing and precision of the information. The United States supported Australia in endorsing a process beneficial to participants. The US suggested distributing questionnaires nine months ahead of time so that reports could be finished six months in advance of each meeting. New Zealand saw the benefits of a standardized format and stated that reports should emphasize self-monitoring and evaluation rather than preparation for external use. All major sectors should help in preparation.
The Russian Federation stated that Rio showed that global partnership is not only North-South but East-West. The process of mutual information sharing and reporting should be both pragmatic and secure possibilities for corrective action. He supported Australia's ideas on a single report. Egypt said that reporting should assist the CSD in reviewing progress on Agenda 21. Guidelines are given to the Secretariat and not to the governments on how to collect the information. An executive summary of 3-5 pages would highlight important activities. India said that there was need for statistical indicators for sustainable development.
Brazil expressed concern about the discussion as a whole. He reminded the Commission that yesterday the Chair cut short discussion of the timing of the high-level segment as that had been decided at the organizational session. However, this agenda item was also addressed at the organizational session. He stated that this discussion was a waste of time, given the heavy agenda. azali responded that he was sure that Brazil did not mean to say that the efforts of delegations so far have been a waste of time.
Switzerland stated that the experience gained during UNCED demonstrated that little use can be made of large amounts of information. He suggested some comparability of data and monitoring at the international level; a framework to respond to the clusters to be covered each year; a peer review process to provide an efficient instrument for national reporting; and the establishment of a set of indicators, possibly under the work of the high level advisory board. Denmark, on behalf of the EC, stressed that the CSD and reporting on the implementation of Agenda 21 is a gradual, evolving process and there is a need to maintain sufficient flexibility. In paragraph 8, Denmark suggested that the Secretariat "should" send questionnaires to Governments at least six months prior to the CSD meeting, and in paragraph 9 it was suggested that three months may not be enough time to allow the Secretariat to prepare the documentation.
The Philippines welcomed the free, voluntary and spontaneous exchanges of information but does not want to be constrained by obligatory reports that will be inspected. He urged more financial and technical support for the preparation of reports. Mexico warned against a situation where governments would have to establish bureaucratic bodies to prepare the reports. He also expressed concern about the time-frame for preparing reports and the workload involved. Austria supported comments made by Australia and Egypt that the Secretariat should only have to prepare one report encompassing both the overview and thematic reports. She emphasized the importance of sharing information on national-level implementation of Agenda 21, particularly on what has worked and why, and solutions to what has not worked, so mistakes will not be repeated in different parts of the world. She also was concerned about the three month preparation time.
Japan welcomed the Secretariat's documents, especially the need for a standardized format for national reports. He stressed the importance of the quality of information provided in national reports and the need to encourage governments to provide this information. Poland agreed on the voluntary nature of brief and concise reports and encouraged governments to prepare them. The important element is comparability. Poland agreed with previous delegations that the Secretariat should produce one report devoted to the analysis of main problems and constraints of regions. Romania supported: analyzing the implementation of Agenda 21 at the regional and international levels; a standard format for reporting to ensure comparability; reports that are simple and effective and focussed on activities, not statistics; and reports that refer to the cross-sectoral nature of Agenda 21.
Malaysia supported flexibility, concrete proposals and comparability of data, and associated itself with Venezuela's proposal on the economic impacts of environmental protection measures, Pakistan's comments on the cost of national reports, Saudi Arabia's proposal on indicators and Egypt's proposal for executive summaries. Morocco stated that governments should be free to submit reports in the format that they decide. The preparation of reports is an enormous task for a developing country to carry out annually. The Republic of Korea said that governments should determine both the information provided and the format of national reports. Governments should be encouraged to provide information on clusters not being discussed in a certain year, and the Secretariat should only have to prepare a single report.
Algeria supported flexible and voluntary reporting, but warned that human and financial constraints may prevent developing countries from preparing the reports. Vanuatu expressed concern about the burden of preparing national reports and supported Australia's suggestions with respect to consolidating the Secretariat's reports. Bolivia stated that the Chair's proposal focussed too much on what information governments should provide. Some mechanisms should be developed for including reports from international financial institutions, the UN system and other relevant subsidiary bodies of ECOSOC. France supported the idea of sustainable development indicators and suggested that both the CSD and the high level advisory board should contribute to the choice of indicators.
Uruguay said that there is a need to incorporate people involved in sustainable development in the preparation of national reports; indicators must deal with the dynamics of the process; and paragraphs 3 and 5 should reference national and local programmes of action. In the final intervention on agenda item 4, Jackie Roddick, an NGO representative from Scotland, spoke on behalf of Northern and Southern NGOs. She said that NGOs regard the reporting process as crucial. Governments should report on the participatory process and include reports on NGOs and major groups in official documents. Many NGOs support the use of indicators and targets but express caution in relying on them as data are only as reliable as the scientists who collect them and the way in which they are collected. Bad data leads to bad decisions. She also stated that the social context of sustainability must be kept in view.
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