Exploring the ‘Discourse on Sustainable Development’ as part of its Rio Preparation Forum

4 June 2012, New York, USA - As part of its Rio Preparation Forum (RPF), the UNITAR New York Office held a half-day workshop on “Discourse on Sustainable Development” in collaboration with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). This workshop took place before many of the delegates left for the Rio Conference. This workshop supported the RPF’s goal to provide a comprehensive knowledge of the components of sustainable development, including the broader, holistic and culturally-sensitive aspects of the concept of sustainable development. In this vein, the workshop on sustainable discourse wove in the ethical and spiritual perspectives for sustainable development.

Discourse on Suatainable DevelopmentThe Permanent Observer for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, H.E. Mr. Ufuk Gokcen, opened the workshop and shared the host organization’s vision for sustainable development. Quoting a study entitled “Religion and Development: Are they Complementary?” by Habibullah Khan and Omar K. M. R. Bashar, he argued that the faith affiliations of communities play a vital role in sustainable development all over the globe. Mr. Akan Rakhmetullin, Deputy Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan, emphasized that the outcome of the Rio +20 Conference needs to balance the needs of future generations and the limitations we face to meet all these needs. He pointed out that decision-makers need to consider how much we will produce and how much we actually need and can afford. Mr. Ahmad Khan, Head of Chancery of the Permanent Mission of Pakistan, presented what will be, in his opinion, the outcome of the Rio +20 conference: “During these 20 years, we all focused on building up a strong institutional framework. […] And then we all realized that something was missing. And the missing element was implementation. It is not about norms. We have not been able to transfer this to our reality.” he said. He proposed ways to improve the implementation of sustainable development projects and integration among stakeholders, activists and governments. The Special Advisor of the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation at UNDP, Mr. Shahid Husain, gave concrete examples of successful implementation and recalled UNDP’S early sustainable development projects in the early 1970s and 1980s, one success story being the triangle cooperation between UNDP, Scotland and Uganda in 1977. The main lesson was that we could achieve better outcomes by bringing together all stakeholders so that they take part in the decision making process.

A closing panel on “The Ethics of Sustainable Development” brought together Dr. Kishore Mandhyan, Deputy Director at the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, Dr. Thomas Walsh, President of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and Mr. Taj Hamad, Secretary-General of UPF. This interactive discussion covered the ethical commitment that could come out of Rio +20. Sustainable development entails tempering the exploitation of natural resources with ethical concepts and values. Dr. Kishore’s numerous concrete examples in Germany, Kenya and India gave rise to a lively discussion and helped participants understand the important of urban planning projects for sustainable development. For his part, Dr. Thomas Walsh pointed out that privileging a Western rational perspective on sustainable development could be dangerous.

In conclusion, participants from Member States, civil society, and the UN system were able to reconcile different aspects of sustainable development into a diverse and coherent discourse prior to the Rio+20 Conference.