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I. Introduction

Scope of this report
Principal obstacles to implementation of the Summit initiatives
A Forum of the Americas on Sustainable Development

In the context of the institutional arrangements set up in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, the Secretary General of the Organization American States was given the mandate to submit a report on progress attained in the implementation of the initiatives of the Plan of Action on Sustainable Development. The report, to be made available prior to the 1998 Summit of the Americas, was intended as a follow-up on the commitments entered into in Bolivia. This paper is in compliance with the coordinating and follow-up roles entrusted to the OAS.


The Summit of the Americas on Sustainable Development held in Santa Cruz in December of 1996 will perhaps be cited by historians as an effort which put the Western Hemisphere ahead of the rest of the world as the first region to prepare a blueprint on sustainable development within the framework of the global agreements reached at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992. The Declaration of Santa Cruz built on the Rio Declaration and consolidated at the political level an understanding of the concept of sustainable development that reflects specific conditions in the Americas. The Bolivia Plan of Action also had the effect of setting priorities for the Western Hemisphere within the broad range of issues addressed in Agenda 21.

At the Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994, the countries of the hemisphere reiterated their commitment to sustainable development and agreed on a series of actions to protect and ensure the efficient use of renewable natural resources and to combat pollution. At the Global Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States held in Barbados in 1994, these governments further defined their priorities for action. Taken together with Agenda 21, the agreements reached in Miami and Barbados were the pillars on which the Bolivia Plan of Action was built.

In addition to mandating the holding of the Bolivia Summit in 1996, the Miami Plan of Action had called for "subsequent annual sustainable development ministerials," thereby setting in motion a significant process of inter-American dialogue on this issue. The Bolivia Summit gave additional impetus to this process.

The Bolivia Plan of Action is ambitious and includes initiatives in the areas of health, education, agriculture, forests, biodiversity, water resources and coastal areas, cities, energy and mining. Although the Declaration and Plan of Action are not comprehensive from the standpoint of sustainable development, they provide a foundation on which the countries of the hemisphere can gradually build new agreements on policies covering other elements critical to an environmentally sustainable approach to economic, social, and cultural development.

Scope of this report

One year is perhaps a very short period of time to evaluate the achievements of the Declaration and Plan of Action which the countries of the Western Hemisphere adopted at the Bolivia Summit. The mandate which the Secretary General of the Organization of American States received to present this report was based on the desire of governments to assess promptly the progress being achieved on the 65 initiatives comprising the Plan of Action, which ultimately amounts to a strategy for seeking compliance with these initiatives.

The purpose of this report is to identify the major advances made in the region in implementing the Santa Cruz agreements and to make a series of recommendations designed to promote further implementation of the approved initiatives. It is important to stress that most of the activities linked to the initiatives were begun prior to the Summit, so it is not easy to determine to what extent they have been furthered as a result of the commitments made in Bolivia. In the main, these previously initiated activities were launched as a result of the commitments made in Rio de Janeiro, as expressed in the Declaration on the Environment and Development, and Agenda 21, as well as the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions, the Declaration on Forests, and other multilateral agreements or national initiatives of various origins. Quite frequently, the Santa Cruz initiatives were designed to strengthen activities that were already under way.

We are therefore looking at a very wide range of programs, many of which cannot be easily linked to the Bolivia Summit, either in terms of their origin or their achievements. This report makes an evaluation of the progress noted in the fields covered by each of the Santa Cruz initiatives, but it does not pretend to he comprehensive. It attempts to highlight successful strategies of implementation, identify obstacles encountered, and suggest new policies which may help to overcome difficulties.

The report singles out those activities that have been developed as a specific response to the mandates emanating from the Summit. While the number of such activities is relatively modest, they have a great deal of support, are very dynamic, and the outlook for them is promising.

Principal obstacles to implementation of the Summit initiatives

The modest progress made on actions undertaken as a direct result of the Summit can be attributed in part to the limitations inherent in the initiatives themselves, some of which go back to the preparatory process for the Summit.

Because of major disagreements that occurred in the course of the negotiations with regard to the scope of the Plan of Action and the responsibility that the different countries of the region should assume to implement the Plan, there was a great disparity in the support for the initiatives included in it. Furthermore, while many initiatives were the result of careful processes of technical preparation that included early political consultations, others were added during the very last part of the negotiations leading up to the Summit. Background studies were not conducted in issue areas such as sustainable cities, for example, and specific lines of action and implementation methods were not spelled out. The need to include such details was understood, but the time needed to further define the initiatives and make them operational was lacking. There was also a tendency in the final negotiating process to eliminate detail from some initiatives which had been more extensively crafted, in order to obtain a degree of homogeneity in the final document. Much useful detail about responsibilities for implementation was thereby deleted, most notably in the case of the chapter on water resources and coastal areas.

The shortage of financial resources to implement the initiatives has been another limiting factor. During the Bolivia Summit, there were major disagreements on this subject, similar to the differences of opinion encountered in other negotiating forums that took place after the Rio Conference. These differences have not been resolved and have ultimately made it impossible, so far, to implement some initiatives.

The fact of the matter is that there are too many initiatives in the Plan of Action and there has been too little money available in the short term to expect major advances. A major task for governments is to prioritize the initiatives and focus limited resources wisely. This is especially true at the inter-American level, where funds to support collective actions of the member states are extremely limited.

Many of the obstacles encountered in efforts to develop the agreements of the Rio Summit were repeated in the efforts to implement the Bolivia agreements. During the Special United Nations Assembly (Rio +5), the limited success achieved since Rio was acknowledged, but different interpretations of some of the fundamental agreements made at the Earth Summit made it impossible to develop strategies to overcome implementation problems. This situation, while worrisome in and of itself, should encourage the countries of the hemisphere to rise to the challenge and find ways to resolve this situation at a regional level.

Another obstacle to implementing the Bolivia Plan of Action is found at the national level. During the process of negotiating the initiatives, the institutions which had jurisdiction over the relevant areas in many cases did not participate adequately in the process, with the result that they were not fully committed to implementing the initiatives in question. This is a situation that can be resolved, but to do so will require decisive action at high levels of government. In the case of hemispheric actions mandated by the Summit, one proven strategy is to create focal points in countries and make sure that there is a clear assignment of responsibilities. Further substantive dialogue that fully involves all of the relevant institutions is clearly needed.

A Forum of the Americas on Sustainable Development


The most meaningful follow-up to the consensus achieved at the Summit is not a report, on developments relating to those initiatives, or a series of such reports, but rather a continuing and constructive dialogue that will intensify efforts to fulfill the commitments that have been made.

The Plan of Action of the Summit on Sustainable Development is in many ways a piece of unfinished business. An organized forum process is greatly needed to further define priorities and to design practical, implementable actions. New initiatives may also be identified and new topics, not contemplated in the original Plan, may be incorporated. There needs to be a space in which the highest authorities of the hemisphere governments can exchange experiences on making the critical economic and social sectors environmentally sustainable. Such dialogue can serve as a basis for defining public policies at the national level and putting the concept of sustainable development into operation. To properly meet those needs, it is proposed that a ministerial-level forum on sustainable development be established within the framework of Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI), as part of the agenda of its annual meetings.


The Forum of the Americas on Sustainable Development would perform the following functions:

a) Work towards ensuring that the contents of the Declaration of Santa Cruz de la Sierra are reflected in regional, subregional, and national policies on sustainable development;

b) Promote implementation of the initiatives contained in the Plan of Action by defining goals, means of achieving them, and the agencies responsible for execution, and identifying new initiatives when necessary;

c) Promote a structured regional dialogue on experiences with solving problems of environment and sustainable development shared by the countries, as a strategy for increasing governments' capacity to define and implement relevant policies.

d) Adopt hemispheric positions for the negotiations taking place at the international level on environment and sustainable development issues.

The Agenda for the Next Three Years

In view of the breadth of these functions, it is proposed that the Forum of the Americas on Sustainable Development concentrate each year on just two of the topics in the Bolivia Plan of Action. In particular, the following agenda is recommended for the next few years:

1999: Health and water
2000: Cities and energy
2001: Agriculture and biodiversity

One of the basic criteria for the selection of the two topics to be addressed simultaneously in any given year is that they should be closely interrelated and that the dialogue between the two sectors or issue areas could lead to the formulation of intersectoral policies. The two topics proposed for the first year, health and water, are good illustrations of the process. Many of the health problems in the region are associated with the lack of potable water and the unsatisfactory disposal of domestic and industrial wastewater. Such situations call for designing and putting into effect comprehensive policies and for coordinating the various sectors involved.

An agenda so conceived reduces the scope of debate to something manageable, while maintaining an integrated focus. The ministers of the relevant sectors would be asked to address the agenda along with the ministers of environment, economy, or planning, as appropriate. The focus should be on intersectoral issues in particular and the conclusions of the meeting could focus on actions to promote more effective coordination between sectors in order to help achieve sustainable development.

Furthermore, concentrating dialogue on issues at the interface between two sectors would have the effect of engaging higher authorities of government, which are needed to address problems or conflicts that cannot be resolved within the individual sectors. Such meetings are likely to promote the kind of high-level CIDI meetings which governments mandated in the OAS Charter. Through this mechanism, complex issues of sustainability could be addressed in a practical framework which does not attempt to treat the whole massive subject of sustainable development at one time.

Besides dealing with intersectoral topics, the agendas should also focus on specific issues that will advance the process of implementing initiatives agreed at the Bolivia Summit, particularly ones requiring collective actions by governments.

Broad policy issues related to the Santa Cruz de la Sierra Declaration could also be included, with a view to furthering dialogue and action on a regional level and building hemispheric positions that could be advanced in global negotiations.

Ultimately, the ministerial meetings should be responsible for determining specific lines of action and should specify the relevant objectives, activities, expected results, financial resources, and the national and international institutions responsible for implementation.

It should be stressed that not all the possible elements of the topics to be considered in any given year would be included-only those in which there is a clear possibility of establishing a fruitful exchange of experiences aimed at policy recommendations or of deciding to implement specific proposals for action or of arriving at hemisphere-wide positions for use in negotiations at the world level. In each case, one of the priority criteria for the inclusion of a topic would be that its environmental and development dimensions could be treated in an integrated manner.

Composition of the Forum, Convening Entities and Methods of Work

The Forum of the Americas on Sustainable Development, which would function within CIDI, could work as follows:

· It would operate through annual ministerial meetings, that would deal with an agenda set by CIDI at its regular meetings.

· Its participants would be ministers or leading officials of the sectors defined in the Bolivia Plan of Action along with the ministers of economy, national planning, and environment, or their national equivalents. Given the cross-sectoral nature of the Forum, the OAS would invite other organizations concerned with the topics, such as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), or the Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE), to participate in the meetings and assist in their planning and follow-up.

· During the twelve months prior to the annual ministerial meetings of CIDI on sustainable development, preparatory activities would be carried out at an adequate political and technical level to obtain needed consensus and to ensure that the lines of action submitted to the ministers for consideration would be viable if adopted. These preparatory activities would be undertaken in accordance with the nature of the topics to be discussed. They would include the preparation of studies and reports and the organization of workshops, seminars, or negotiating forums, among other things. The end product of these activities would be political and technical documents, which would contain specific recommendations for consideration and possible adoption by the ministerial meeting held under the auspices of CIDI.

· Efforts would be made to assure that the Forum of the Americas on Sustainable Development would be fully coordinated with the Forum of Latin American Ministers of Environment, so that their activities would be mutually complementary and not duplicative. As is well known, this strong forum has a remarkable history of achievement and concentrates primarily on topics that are the concern of the ministers of environment.

The CIDI Forum, as mandated, should concentrate on intersectoral aspects of sustainable development. Efforts should also be made to coordinate the activities of the Forum on Sustainable Development with those of the FAO Forestry Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and with the Central American Commission on Sustainable Development.

· The OAS Secretariat should also seek to utilize the inter-American technical dialogues operating under its auspices, such as the Inter-American Dialogue on Water Management and the one that is being created in the field of biodiversity, to support to the Forum of the Americas on Sustainable Development.

Technical Secretariat

The technical secretariat for the ministerial meetings and other technical dialogues would be under the responsibility of the OAS, in collaboration with other international and regional organizations as mentioned previously. Within the OAS, the Unit on Sustainable Development and Environment would function as the technical secretariat for the meetings, in association with other units as needed, under the overall coordination of the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development. Specialized Organizations of the inter-American system, such as PAHO and IICA, would be called upon to provide support to relevant sectoral dialogues.

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