The Earth Negotiations Bulletin
has, for almost two decades, assisted policymakers by not only synthesizing the outcome of international policy negotiations but also by communicating the outcome of these meetings to decision-makers worldwide. While the policymakers who attend these meetings enjoy the benefits of our daily reports as they work, the larger audience for our summaries is following the decision-making process from offices in multilateral development banks, regional economic commissions, international development agencies, and development and foreign ministries, primarily in developed countries. These readers rely on the information we provide to assist them in tracking the policies and priorities governments have set, and in making decisions based on those policies regarding how financial resources should be allocated. The multilateral assistance system is all about resource flows; redirecting and directing flows, halting flows, increasing flows and the decisions on where, when and how much should reach different initiatives are based on the policy decisions that we communicate on a daily basis.
In conversations with our readers, we identified a gap that was articulated by individuals working as decision-makers in these international organizations and by regional policy-makers, particularly in Africa. Most of the problems encountered in both environment and sustainable development activities were not international, but were local and regional in nature. The cultures, traditions and approaches of each region shape not only the problems, but also the solutions, as identified by those working at the ground level. At the same time, international meetings identifying international solutions were the focus of most communication sources. Although regional policy-makers often met to discuss and agree on regional solutions to regional problems, the outcomes of these meetings were not being successfully communicated to the international audience. Our readers asked us if we could begin attending and reporting from more regional meetings.
In 2006, IISD Reporting Services approached the Government of South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) with a proposal to begin providing coverage of regional meetings in Africa as part of a program of support for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). We felt that the outcomes of meetings such as the African Ministers Council on Environment (AMCEN), the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW), the African Ministers’ Council on Science and Technology (AMCOST) and other regional meetings on issues such as biodiversity, climate change and desertification were not being communicated out of the region. For decades, the development and environmental policies in Africa had been set in a one-way flow from major developed country capitals into the region, without substantial input from regional policymakers on their regional policies and priorities.
The Government of South Africa was very receptive to our proposal and suggested that we should also create a network for the exchange of policy information on sustainable development between regional policymakers in Africa. In addition, they suggested that IISD should write non-prescriptive policy briefs before major upcoming meetings to assist regional governments in their preparations. In 2007, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism signed a US$190,000 agreement with IISD to begin work on IISD’s African Regional Coverage Project, with the agreement that IISD would begin fundraising for the second and third year funding for this project. In 2008, funding from Germany’s Ministry for Development Cooperation (BMZ) and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) completed the project’s funding for the first three years, through the end of 2009.
During the last three years, this project has reported from over 24 intergovernmental meetings, including: the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Africa’s Development Needs; Africa Carbon Forum; First Inter-ministerial Conference on Health and Environment in Africa; African Ministerial Conference on the Environment; African Water Week; African Committee on Sustainable Development; African Ministers’ Council on Water; and the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology. The project has also published Briefing Notes to highlight the outcomes of several African Union Summits, as well as meetings of the UN-Human Settlements Programme and the MDG Africa Steering Group. In June 2008, as part of this project, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk launched the booklet “Environment and Decision Making in Africa: 2006-2008, which documents the history of environmental decision making related to climate change, water, biodiversity, and desertification.
As a result of the success of IISD Reporting Services’ African Regional Coverage, we have begun plans to expand our regional coverage into two areas. In early 2009, an agreement was signed between IISD and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Plans are currently underway to replicate this project in Asia and the Pacific, in partnership with the UN Environment Program Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, based in Bangkok. We are currently making plans to begin fundraising with governments in Latin America and Asia and the Pacific in order to expand our coverage of regional meetings.