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Noted by the 131st IPU Assembly
(Geneva, 16 October 2014)

The Standing Committee on Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade held two sittings during the 131st Assembly, one on 14 October and one on 15 October, chaired by its President, Mr. R. León (Chile).

At the first sitting, the Committee discussed the draft Outcome Document of the Parliamentary Meeting at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Peru in December. The Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Meeting, Mr. S. Tejada Galindo (Peru), submitted the pre-draft of the Outcome Document to the Committee for comments. The IPU Secretariat took note of the feedback provided and would incorporate it into the document that would be presented to the Parliamentary Meeting in Lima.  The Parliamentary Meeting will be organized by the IPU and the Congress of the Republic of Peru, with the support of the IPU Geopolitical Group of Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC). The Outcome Document adopted at the Parliamentary Meeting would be presented to the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The first sitting also comprised, for the first time ever at an IPU Assembly, an interactive debate with private sector representatives. The debate focused on corporate investment in sustainable development and was organized jointly with the World Investment Forum of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The participants included Ms. L. Schreve, Head of Sustainable Lending at ING Bank, Mr. R. Milliner, B20 Sherpa for Australia, Mr. N. Boateng, Chief Executive Officer of Empretec, Ghana, Mr. S. Chowdhury (Bangladesh, MP) and Mr. D. Carter (New Zealand, MP).

The debate highlighted the private sector’s growing role in funding for development and called for closer interaction with parliamentarians to make development more sustainable, not just financially, but also in social, environmental and ethical terms. The participants agreed that parliamentarians in all countries had a critical role to play in creating stable and enabling environments for investment and private sector development. They underscored the importance of taking account of risks, particularly disasters, and the need for the private sector and governments to include a risk mitigation component as a key underlying component of sustainable development.

The panel emphasized that, in developing countries, the State had a central role in devising strategies to support the development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as key drivers of development, particularly in Africa. SMEs today faced many obstacles, ranging from inadequate management skills to access to funding and technology. It was important for parliamentarians to understand the role of SMEs and their potential to spur growth, so that they could come up with strategies and plans to support their development. Such strategies should include access to financing, but also business advice, education, mentorship and other support programmes. Strong government strategy in this regard, accompanied by clear and transparent laws and policies, would also leave commercial banks more comfortable about dealing with start-ups.

The exchanges also included a useful reflection on the sometimes low capacity of parliaments to engage with the private sector and stimulate investments and private sector development. The private sector panellists admitted that they were not aware of those obstacles and acknowledged that the private sector had a relatively poor understanding of parliaments and vice versa. Both parliamentarians and the private sector representatives welcomed opportunities for further exchanges and expressed the hope that the IPU would continue to create them. Such exchanges were also critical in order to tackle other hindrances to development, such as corruption and illicit financial flows and trade.

The sitting on 15 October was dedicated to the debate on the subject item of the Committee’s next resolution, Shaping a new system of water governance: Promoting parliamentary action on water. The subject item was introduced Mr. A. Iza, Head of the Environmental Law Programme, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Ms. E. Tranchez of Waterlex, Ms. N. Marino (Australia, MP) and Mr. F. Bustamante (Ecuador, MP). A total of 35 parliamentarians from 34 countries took part in the debate, highlighting different aspects of water governance at national, regional and international level and stressing the important role that parliaments played in all of them. At the end of the debate, the co‑Rapporteurs reflected on the Committee deliberations and provided initial insight into how they would incorporate the input provided during the debate into the draft resolution.

The participants observed that the planet was running out of water, our most important resource for sustaining life and all ecosystems. The adoption of middle class lifestyles by developing countries moving up the income ladder, climate change and population growth would only exacerbate the water crisis. A strong water governance system was critical to supporting much needed conservation measures while making water accessible to all equitably and fairly. Most of the world's water reserves, whether situated in individual countries or across borders, were not being actively managed. One way to ensure they would be was to implement two key international conventions that most parliaments had already ratified.

Access to clean and affordable water should be considered a human right. Water itself had the right to be preserved, so that aquifers would have enough time to replenish themselves. As several countries had reported, lax regulations were at the root of water overconsumption. Concern to secure vital water supplies was a root cause of conflict between and within countries. As most water was used for agriculture, it would be important to shift to crops that were less water-intensive and generally reform agricultural practices with an eye to the best practices that traditional agriculture and modern methods had to offer.

Water governance must be established at all levels, from national to local. There was no single model of water governance and the overall context had to be considered. One approach that many speakers alluded to was based on the notion that water was a public good belonging to everyone and requiring strong government regulation to make sure it did not become a mere commodity. That model valued strong community involvement through water councils that included representatives of minority groups and the most vulnerable in society. In Ecuador, for example, water rights had been enshrined directly in the Constitution, and all essential water services had to be provided directly by the government or at least guaranteed by it.

Although several countries had achieved the water target of the Millennium Development Goals (many fewer had achieved the closely related sanitation target), much stronger action worldwide would be required to turn the tide. The current draft Sustainable Development Goals therefore included a stand‑alone water goal. Parliaments were encouraged to actively support that goal as negotiations of the draft began in earnest next year.

In addition to the debates, the Standing Committee Bureau had four vacancies to fill, one by the Asia‑Pacific Group, one by the Twelve Plus Group and two by the Eurasia Group. The Committee approved the candidatures of Ms. S. Tioulong (Cambodia) and Ms. S. de Bethune (Belgium). No candidatures were received from the Eurasia Group.

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