The head of the United Nation’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) says the forthcoming conference on sustainable development is an opportunity to redefine the vision of future development for the region.

“The establishment of common objectives based on sustainable development indicators could accelerate the transition to the full incorporation of environmental and social costs in the economy and a shift to sustainable production and consumption patterns,” said Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s executive secretary at a debate at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Chaired by U.N. Deputy-Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, U.N. high-level officials analyzed the progress achieved and deficiencies persisting since the Earth Summit in 1992 on the path towards sustainable development.

The debate took place a few months before the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, dubbed “Rio+20,” to be held from Jun. 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Bárcena said that the current situation is very different from 1992, when the region was coming out from a “lost decade” of low growth, high inflation and balance-of-payments restrictions related to external indebtedness.

In comparing that epoch to the present, she said, despite the economic crisis, “the whole region has shown a relatively high level of growth for almost a decade; inflation is controlled in almost all countries and, in general, there is an economic stability that allows to assimilate the shift towards sustainable development in a better way.”

Since the Earth Summit, Bárcena emphasized that, among other developments, “legislations and institutions related to environmental issues have been refined, sustainable development has been enshrined as a concept in the context of public policies, and significant progress has been made in terms of regulations on industrial emissions into air and water, as well as on wastes.

“In almost all countries, programs on energetic efficiency have been implemented and, as of year 2000, a deployment of policies aimed at promoting investments in renewable energy has been observed in most of them,” she said.

Nonetheless, Bárcena warned that, in spite of the valuable progress shown, Latin America and the Caribbean are facing great challenges in terms of social inclusion, equality, poverty eradication, deforestation and environmental protection.

“It is increasingly evident that environmental degradation affects disadvantaged groups more severely,” she said, adding that other areas requiring attention are environmental statistics and assessing the value of the environment, as well as the economic impact of its degradation on national assets.

In order to ensure sustainable development in the region, Bárcena suggested that synergies be created among social inclusion and protection, human security, disaster risk reduction and environmental protection.

She also urged that synergies be created in measuring development sustainability; incorporating economic costs and benefits deriving from environmental and social damage or improvement into standard economic decisions; and increasing coordination of public action on policies.

During the dialogue, U.N. officials stressed the importance that countries be aware of sustainable development goals and their metrics, as well as the feasibility of reaching an agreement, accessing information and environmental justice, and sustainability indicators for urban areas in the region.

The final version of the document, “Sustainable Development 20 Years On from the Earth Summit: Progress, Gaps and Strategic Guidelines for Latin America and the Caribbean,” was distributed during the debate.

The U.N. said the draft version was presented, during the U.N. General Assembly debate last September, to ministers and representatives of governments in the region for comments during the Regional Preparatory Meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean at Rio+20.

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