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Statement from Consumers International and the NGO Caucus on Sustainable Production & Consumption (SPAC)

On the Adoption and Implementation of the Revised UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection and national policies on sustainable production & consumption

21 February, 1999, United Nations, New York

On behalf of Consumers International and on behalf of the NGO Caucus on Sustainable Production and Consumption I would like to thank the CSD for providing us with this opportunity to speak to the distinguished representatives from so many countries. We believe that having this kind of opportunity to speak to you here, even for just a few short minutes, to share with you some of our views, concerns and desires is extremely important to our mutual commitments to sustainable development. We strongly share the belief stated in Agenda 21 and frequently repeated inside this building that "access to information and broad public participation in decision-making are fundamental to sustainable development." [1]

Marginalizing sustainable production & consumption
Unfortunately, many NGOs are concerned that many principles and values expressed in Agenda 21, including the "overriding" importance of sustainable production and consumption and the need to develop national policy frameworks for this are not taken as seriously as they should. The sense of "grave concern" about this issue seems to be lost in what we see as a process of marginalizing this issue. Being cross-cutting, the issue of achieving sustainable production and consumption is essentially the effort to create sustainable and just economies. Many NGOs feel that governments currently give far more priority to policies resulting in increased military spending, destructive subsidies, and ultimately unsustainable consumption. The low priority given to sustainable production and consumption policies and the need to develop national policy frameworks on this is indeed a matter "of grave concern" to us.

A crucial next step
Extending the Consumer Protection Guidelines to include sustainable consumption initiatives is a crucial next step in achieving sustainable development. Since adopted in 1985, the original guidelines have proved to be one of the most practical policy frameworks ever passed. Since that time, sustainable consumption has increasingly been recognized as a consumer protection issue, and we believe these new guidelines will be an equally effective tool for governments. We recognize that the current text retains many of the positive ideas originally proposed at the meeting in Sao Paolo, a process that enjoyed wide and open participation from all major groups. Regrettably, since that time this level of openness and transparency has not been maintained. As a result, a number of troubling changes were made that we wish we could have had the opportunity to discuss during intergovernmental negotiations.
Among them is the elimination of reference to the fact that sustainable consumption depends upon the availability of sustainable goods and services (i.e. sustainable production) and the overemphasis placed on the responsibility of consumers. Other changes lessen the responsibilities of governments and business in making the transition to sustainable consumption possible for everyone.

In spite of our concerns we will not ask you to re-open negotiations on this document. We realize you have worked hard to reach agreement on this text. Instead, we encourage the delegates at this CSD to adopt these new guidelines and create the necessary instruments for their effective implementation. We will, however, ask for two things.
First, we want to know that after all this work, this document will not end up gathering dust on the shelf. We want to know that these Guidelines are actually used to help governments in developing their policies on sustainable consumption and production. Therefore, we ask you to report back to the Commission and all stakeholders during the next three years, on how you have used the Guidelines to arrive at policy positions you will take in preparations for next year's CSD dealing with the consumption of food and forest products, and in your priorities for CSD9 when you address the consumption and production issues of energy and transportation. Finally, in the Comprehensive Review of Progress in 2002, we would like to know how the Guidelines help you in your plans for the next decade.
Second, we want to be sure that this past year's exclusion of the public and consumer groups from actively contributing to the process of revising the Consumer Protection Guidelines does not set a precedent. We want to believe that you indeed welcome civil society as an active partner in this process of achieving sustainable consumption and production. Therefore, we ask that you agree to inform and consult with the public each year on your efforts and plans to develop sustainable consumption and production policies so that we have the opportunity to build this partnership. In particular, we would like to hear from you and also share our ideas on how the Guidelines on Consumer Protection can become a more effective tool in achieving sustainable consumption and protecting

Some delegates may be skeptical about this idea of "partnership" between NGOs and government, just as some of us NGOs are also skeptical. However, remember that while NGOs may be critical and sometimes loud, we can also be your strongest friends and allies.

[1] United Nations. Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21, June 1997, paragraph 108.


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