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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good, the Bad and  the Ugly

By Felix Dodds

Published in Outreach at the UN General Assembly 20th of September 2013

I can not believe that this is the twentieth meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development and its last session.

I think I may be the only person or one of a very small number who have attended Rio in 1992 and all of the CSD meetings. It gives me a relatively unique perspective.

It should be remembered that the CSD was a compromise between those the UK and USA in particular who did not want anything and Maurice Strong and Norway and some developing  countries who wanted to either transform the Trusteeship Council to an Ecological Security Council or create a Council of the General Assembly. It was infact a group of NGOs who came p with the compromise handing the suggestion for a function commission of EcoSoc to the great Malaysian Ambassador Razali who then sought and got G77 support for the creation of the CSD.


The first CSD was held under his chairship and was addressed by the recently elected author of The Earth in Balance Vice President Al Gore. Much was hoped for the CSD in the follow up to Rio not elast the delivery of the promised new and additional resources. Developed countries were going through a recession in 1992 (sound familiar ) and so said they could not provide funds for the delivering of Agenda 21 then but would in the future. Maurice Strong the Secretary General of Rio had estimated the cost of implementing Agenda 21 at $625 billion a year with $125 billion transfer from developed to developing countries. At Rio official development aid was around $60 billion it fell after Rio and did not return to that figure until 2002.

One of the great successes of Rio was the nine chapters of Agenda 21 giving rights and responsibilities for stakeholders in helping governments make better informed decisions. Prior to Rio stakeholders were not allowed in much of the negotiations after Rio due to the leadership of its first three chairs Ambassador Razali (Malaysia), Dr Toepfer (German) and Henrqiue Cavalcanti (Brazil) stakeholders participation was locked in and they became a key part of the CSD landscape with other UN commissions reluctantly having to follow the lead taken by the CSD in allowing stakeholders a chance to participate.

On the substance the first cycle of the CSD (1993-1997) was also seen as a success. There was constant pressure on developed countries to live up to their financial commitments but on the substance the puch for new conventions on POPS and PICS started in the 1994 CSD, the creation of what has become the UN Forum on Forests started in 1994 and has ensured continual work on the forest issue.

The second cycle from 1998-2001 also had some successes this was under  directorship mostly of the wonderful Joke Waller Hunter. In 1997 the idea of stakeholder dialogues was introduced by 1998 twelve hours of negations were set aside at the beginning of the CSD for an interactive dialogue with stakeholders on the key policy issues that governments would be negotiating. This second cycle aslo saw some substantive successors with the adoption of national co9nsumer guidelines on sustainable consumption first by the CSD and then by the GA. It also saw the first substantive discussion on tourism  with policy recommendations relating to financial leakages and the first substantive work by the UN on sustainable tourism. On oceans the CSD set up a process in the UNGA under CSD rules to enable stakeholders to eb able to engage and by doing so enabled the UNGA to start to get used to stakeholder engagement in that body. Their was substantive leadership by the chairs of that era, Simon Upton (NZ), Juan Myar (Colombia) and Bedrich Moldan (Czech Republic).

In the run up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development we had the appalling 9/11 and  its long shadow fell not only over WSSD vastly reducing the hopes for a new global deal on sustainable development but also with the election of President Bush we saw sustainable development downgraded.

The period of the last cycyle (2003-2013) has seen two CSDs fail to deliver a substantive output and two huge mistakes at the beginning fo the cycle first never give a cycle more than 5 years as it loses its momentum very quickly, second the taking away of development ministries having to report on the delivery of IDA or sustainable development meant that they start either not to come or to send very low level officials and third the two year cycle did not work. I guess the forth was the agenda of the CSD did not allow for change in direction or adding emerging issues and so it was locked into a cycle that was destroying its credibility year by year. There have been valiant efforts by the DSD Directors Tariq Banuri and Nikhil Seth to push it back in the right direction but the time had come to relook at what we neded to take forward sustainable development in tis next phase as the major driving force with poverty eradication – the CSD was that and we hope the High Level Political Forum will be and will allow the dream of Rio in 1992 and Stockholm in 1972 to become a reality.

Felix Dodds

Fellow at the Global Research Institute UNC and Associate  Fellow at the Tellus Institute

Author of Only One Earth- The Long Road to Sustainable Development via Rio wit Michael Strauss and Maurice Strong

And in January 2014 new book: From Rio+20 to a New Development Agenda Building a Bridge to a Sustainable Future by Felix Dodds, Jorge Laguna Celis and Liz Thompson


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