It was during the Third PrepCom for UNCED, back in August of 1991, that I convinced a small group of colleagues to join me at a hotel in Ferney-Voltaire, across the French border from Geneva, to write a summary of the first week of negotiations. As one of the co-chairs of the NGO Strategy Sessions, I thought that having a summary of progress on issues would be a useful tool for civil society as we prepared to do our lobbying each morning. However, after we uploaded our first “issue” to the NGO networks like Econet and Greennet and made some photocopies in Yolanda Kakabadse’s office in the Palais, a strange thing occurred. Somehow, bootleg versions of our report began circulating between government delegates and we began getting requests for extra copies. One delegate actually said, “I need to fax this back to my capital to let them know what is going on here.” A delegate from the Soviet Union waved a faxed copy at me and demanded that I give him the next issue, when it was ready, “so that I can send to Moscow and not have Moscow send to me.” At that point I realized that, while what we were doing was useful for NGOs, our real audience might be governments.
During the interim period, between the end of the Third PrepCom and the beginning of the final, five-week meeting of the Preparatory Committee before the Rio Conference, Johannah Bernstein, Pamela Chasek and I decided to publish daily issues of our reports. No one had told us that following thirty-four negotiating streams and publishing each day for five weeks with only three writers would be impossible, so on 2 March 1992 we published the first issue of the Earth Summit Bulletin, with the assistance of Island Press and with funding from the Ford Foundation, The Compton Foundation and the W. Alton Jones Foundation. This very first issue can be found on our archive at http://www.iisd.ca/vol01/
As the weeks passed, many of the delegates came to rely on our daily reports and appreciated the transparency that we brought to the process, often contributing bits of text to our work from closed meetings. Even in those early days, diplomats would slip us copies of draft texts and whisper to us what was really going on in the meeting. It was in our third issue that we began the “In the Corridors” section, which has proven to be a success over the last seventeen years.
Following the success of the Earth Summit Bulletin in New York, we were convinced to try to raise the money and publish in Rio during June 2002. Johannah undertook the job of fundraising, convincing several governments and a new Canadian organization called the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) to support us. We raised enough to pay for our travel to Rio, room, board, a small office in the Rio Center and 10,000 photocopies per day. Somehow, the three of us survived ECO-92, but not without the help of Maurice Strong’s assistant, Lucas Assunção, who presented us with ALL AREA SPECIAL GUEST passes, which guaranteed us unprecedented access throughout the meeting. Since that meeting in 1992, we have never participated in any meeting as NGOs or media, but always as members of the Secretariat. Both this distinction, that we were part of the conference process, and our decision to remain absolutely politically neutral in all of our reports, have gone a long way towards contributing to our success over the years.
Following UNCED, Johannah, Pam and I were resolved to return to our professional and academic pursuits and leave the Earth Summit Bulletin behind. However, the Director of Communications at IISD, Nick Sonntag, approached us to ask if we would like to continue publishing, but as part of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). As a result, during the last half of 1992, we were acquired by IISD, changed the name of the publication to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin and continued our work by following the Razali Group of the UNGA Second Committee as it dealt with the Rio follow-up issues.
I’m always surprised how many of our readers from the Rio process are still involved in environment and sustainable development policy work. And, as happens to people who are environmentally aware, they are often recycled back into this community after being away for years. What is not surprising is that they have managed to stay in contact with these issues through the use of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin and our other products.
So, from our beginnings in 1991-1992, the ENB
has grown and thrived under the tent of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), becoming the flagship publication of the organization. However, we are nothing more than the intellectual capital assembled to work on each issue. In the next Director’s Cut, I’ll introduce the members of the team that produces the Earth Negotiations Bulletin
and our derivative products and how they became ENB writers.