CIVICUS Interview with Chantal Line Carpentier

Sustainable Development Officer and Major Groups Programme Coordinator
UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Sustainable Development

Chantal Line Carpentier joined the Division for Sustainable Development of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) as a Sustainable Development Officer in 2007. She previously served as Head of the Trade and Environment Programme of the North American Free Trade Agreement Commission for Environmental Cooperation and worked at the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture and the International Food Policy Research Institute as well as consulting for the United Nations Development Programme, World Bank, and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. She regularly publishes journal articles and book chapters on the relations between economics, trade and environment.

What are your hopes and aspirations for Rio+20?

My hopes are high because the stakes are high. While countries have made some progress on changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production over the last 20 years, in the context of escalating economic and environmental pressures, and increasing populations, overall things have worsened. We are using resources at an increasing rate and the gaps between rich and poor are widening. Most of the world’s ecosystems are in decline. Meanwhile, more than one billion people lack access to food, electricity or safe drinking water.  When you consider all that, it’s not really surprising that social unrest is on the rise.

Current incentive structures still tend to encourage unsustainable behaviour. My hope is that the summit in Rio, in June, results in profound and positive change. That we put in place a system that reforms the institutions and incentives to kick the development curve towards an inclusive and green economy that will operate within the carrying capacity of the planet – i.e. an economy that provides a sustainable and equitable future for all. Current incentive structures still tend to encourage unsustainable behaviour.  It is time for constructive transformation and Rio+20 is one of our  best chances to balance the global economy and put in place the basis for a stronger social compact among businesses, consumers, working people, farmers, families, older people and youth.

I hope that at least some Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and a process to develop others, will be agreed upon – possibly on universal access to energy, and on food security and sustainable agriculture, which are areas where it appears that political support among governments is strong. For instance, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for tri-part goals on universal access to energy, doubling of energy efficiency and doubling the rate of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030.  These SDGs would complement and contribute to the review of MDGs to be held in 2015.

Rio+20 should also agree on an effective accountability process for all actors  – governments, business and industry, local authorities, NGOs and other major groups and stakeholders.  Accountability and ownership by all actors would favour implementation. There is growing support for instance for public reporting on sustainability performance.  A registry of commitments is one of the tools that have been suggested to follow up on commitments made at Rio+20 and avoid previous lack of implementation.

How is UNDESA engaging with different stakeholders in the lead up to the conference?

The UNDESA Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) provides substantial support to member states by supporting negotiations, helping the Bureau develop the zero draft of the outcome document, producing issues briefs on priority areas, and reviewing the gaps in implementation and progress on Agenda 21 principles.  Under Secretary General Sha Zukang, who is head of UNDESA, is the Secretary General of the Conference and, as such, heads the Rio+20 Secretariat.

The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) Major Groups programme supports the participation and engagement of ‘major groups’ and other stakeholders at the summit and during the lead up negotiations. ‘Major groups’ is how we describe the nine categories of civil society organisations that are formally given a role in the negotiations. They are women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, NGOs, workers and trade unions, local authorities, business and industry, scientific and technical community, and farmers.

Supported by a grant from the EU, the UNDESA secretariat developed an interactive web page for major groups to upload messages, petitions, position papers, supporting meetings etc. We have also provided, in partnerships with regional commissions and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), capacity building workshops to bring new comers up to speed on how to be effective in affecting the Rio+20 outcome by better understanding how the UN process works. We also support engagement and participation in the official process through the Major Groups process, as launched by Agenda 21 at the Rio Summit, 20 years ago.

What do you see as the major challenges in establishing a concrete, ambitious outcome agreement?

Political will.  Political will. Political will. As in 1992, mobilisation of NGOs and other stakeholders – business and industry, local authorities etc.  –  will be required to create momentum and break the status quo related to concerns from both ends of the political spectrum around the concept of green economy, as well as around the lack of delivery by many nations on previous commitments.

What is your message to civil society?

We are at a critical juncture – economically, socially and environmentally.  Scientists are overwhelmingly agreed that the earth is nearing the point of no return on climate change.  The threat to the prosperity, productivity and stability of all countries is becoming clear. Just as at the Earth Summit in 1992, civil society can and will have to make a difference. Despite people’s declining trust in governments and the private sector in general, we all know there are individual champions of sustainable development in our governments and businesses who are trying to improve the situation. These champions need the active partnership of their national civil society and other stakeholders. This is where civil society can have the most impact. They can work together internationally by providing improved language to the sections of the governments’ negotiating text (the zero draft) when they see things that are missing or should not be there. Also, by holding governments, business as well as civil society itself accountable to the promises they will make at Rio to create a better world for current and future generations.

Finally, they can work together within each country to implement principles for sustainable and equitable policies that lead to more food and freshwater security, more access to renewable energy, more balanced economies, more liveable communities, and a healthier environment for us all.