U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development Report
For two weeks, more than 500 delegates, ministers, NGO (non-governmental organization) representatives, and other "stakeholders," assembled at the United Nations headquarters in New York - to plan your future. The ninth annual session of the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-9) concluded its work at 8:45 am, Saturday, April 28, after a bizarre 24-hour negotiating session that ended, finally, in consensus on five key "decision" documents. (Full report, 31 pages)
The five decision documents addressed:
The first three days of the two-week meeting were devoted to what is called "Multi-stakeholder dialogues." These so-called stakeholders include only accredited representatives from recognized constituencies: (1) business and industry; (2) trade unions; (3) NGOs; (4) local authorities (ICLEI); and (5) scientific and technical community. Spokesmen from these constituencies told the delegates (official representatives from participating national governments) what they think public policy should be relating to each of the five decision areas.
Participants were then divided into working groups to begin negotiating a final decision document for each issue area. The beginning point in each working group is a "draft" decision, prepared by a "Group of Experts," appointed by CSD-Chair, Bedrich Moldan (Czech Republic).
These negotiating sessions are the life-blood of international diplomacy: boring, tedious, prone to extensive debate over such trivia as the difference between "energy for sustainable development" and "sustainable energy" - and absolutely essential to set the stage for the next meeting.
The dialogue sessions are much more interesting, here the various constituents reveal their true colors and wish lists with little thought about diplomatic acceptability. Trade unions want "greater worker participation in energy and transport decisions; no privatization of railroads; international standards for safety, environment, and labor; phasing out of nuclear energy and decarbonization."
ICLEI, claiming to speak for all local governments, wants authority to "implement land-use policies to reduce travel demand; development of regional strategies; and sustainable land use and use of local foods and lifestyle change."
NGOs are less diplomatic in their demands: "phase out nuclear energy and fossil fuel use; improved footpaths and footbridges; human-powered and non-motorized vehicles; gender-equitable transport; reducing car dependency."
This is the first U.N. meeting (outside the Kyoto negotiations) at which energy is on the agenda for general discussion. Ireland, New Zealand, Germany, Nauru, and Denmark openly opposed the use of nuclear energy. India took the position that each nation should make its own decision about energy. France and Italy declared the "current models of development are unsustainable," but stopped short of prescribing what models might be sustainable.
Considerable time was used by speakers who felt compelled to condemn the United States for its pronouncement on the Kyoto Protocol.
To reach consensus on these very contentious questions, the draft text for each decision document underwent extensive revision, finally omitting language on which consensus could not be reached, dealing with: energy efficiency codes and standards; phase-out of harmful subsidies in developed countries; atmospheric pollution reductions; and statements calling for support of "energy for sustainable development."
The resulting decision documents are bland, subject to doublespeak, (discretionary interpretation), and achieve all the objectives required of such diplomatic products: the basis for CSD-10.
An encouraging sign is the growing discontent with the CSD structure and procedures. Some discussion was advanced, unofficially, of course, that the CSD process is a waste of time. Others hold that it is an important process that brings people together in a less formal setting than other U.N. agencies and gatherings. There is little reason to believe that dissatisfaction with the organization will lead to its abolition.
Instead, it will more likely be expanded and given new responsibilities. It is assuming the responsibility of acting as the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+10), scheduled for Johannesburg, South Africa, in September, 2002. In fact, the first PrepCom meeting began immediately after CSD-9 adjourned. Three more PrepComs are scheduled, leading to the big blowout in Johannesburg, which planners say will be bigger than the 1992 pep rally in Rio.
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