Sometimes sustainable development policy developments seem to proceed at the speed of “a snail, taking a turn, with full brakes applied,” to put it in the words of one of many chairs that I have enjoyed watching practice their craft during my years as an Earth Negotiations Bulletin
writer. Other times, the rate at which delegates have taken up new policy directions has seemed, by contrast, almost astonishing.
Releases of new scientific reports, revealing the importance of global action to address a particular issue, often are targeted to precipitate such changes in decision-makers’ speed. Other intervening variables include unanticipated “shocks” to ecological or financial systems, such as a natural disaster or a financial meltdown. Changes in government leadership can also bring rapid changes, as those attending the 25th session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC-25/GMEF) have witnessed this past week. On the first day of the one-week meeting, the “US announced support for launching negotiations for a legally-binding instrument on mercury in 2009, to be completed before GC-28 /GMEF in 2012” (http://www.iisd.ca/download/pdf/enb1674e.pdf), reversing its position from previous mercury negotiations. On the following day, the US indicated it was prepared to engage in the discussion on the global environmental architecture (http://www.iisd.ca/download/pdf/enb1675e.pdf). As this issue of Linkages Update reports, the Co-Chairs of the informal consultations of the UN General Assembly on the institutional framework for the UN’s environment work reported, on 10 February 2009, that these talks had stalled, and they encouraged interested parties use upcoming intergovernmental meetings to continue discussions, including the 25th session of the Governing Council of UNEP.
The first big sustainable development meeting of 2009 also hosted the release of UNEP’s “The Environmental Food Crisis: The Environment’s Role in Averting Future Food Crises,” which provides an overview of how environmental challenges such as climate change, water stress, invasive pests and land degradation may impact food prices and world food security, and proposes a seven-point plan to reduce the risk of hunger and rising food insecurity in the 21st Century. Reports such as this, as well as the ongoing food and financial crises and other variables that have intervened since delegates last met, may feed into next week’s discussions at UN Headquarters in New York, US, at the Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting for the 17th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. I will be there, watching Chair Gerda Verburg of the Netherlands practice her craft, and reporting with my colleagues Wagaki Mwangi and Tanya Rosen on the positions taken and possible directions that sustainable development policy may take.