Linkages Update - Editor's Note #164 - 17 March 2011

 Increasing Transparency for Decision Makers 

By: Lynn Wagner, Ph.D., Manager, Knowledge Management Projects, IISD Reporting Services <lynn@iisd.org>
   

The sustainable development policy calendar is especially full this year; although we are only two-and-a-half months into 2011, IISD Reporting Services has already sent teams of experts to eleven meetings since early January.

Intersessional and Preparatory Committee meetings for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio 2012) have already taken place in January and March, respectively, and a handful of country-led initiatives are expected later in 2011 to contribute to the UNCSD preparations. These events have been added to the normally busy schedules for international policy makers following climate change, biodiversity, desertification, forests, water, chemicals and energy events, among others.

While each meeting on the sustainable development calendar addresses a unique topic, it is interesting to see how larger themes emerge from one meeting to another. An example comes from the discussions I have listened to at three meetings since January: the World Future Energy Summit; the meetings of the Committee on Science and Technology and the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD CST and CRIC); and the second session of the Preparatory Committee for the UNCSD (PrepCom II).

In January, a keynote speaker at the World Future Energy Summit, Truman Semans, GreenOrder, US, described current events as the beginning of an age of “radical transparency,” which he said is characterized by, inter alia, increasing visibility of government actions, and software technology breakthroughs that can improve decision making processes. In February, Friedrich Kitschelt, on behalf of German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel, called on participants at the UNCCD CRIC not to consider their review of the new UNCCD national reporting system as an administrative exercise, but instead to use the new monitoring and assessment system to increase transparency and democratic governance for affected people and the public at large to see whether resources are used in the most effective way. And in March, at UNCSD PrepCom II, delegates proposed exploring options related to national reporting, compilations of best practices and peer review mechanisms, among others, as a way to spur implementation at the local level.

As turmoil and democratic aspirations within many global regions fill the newspapers and airwaves, alongside continuing news about global economic crises, budget austerity measures and leaked government documents, the sustainable development community is encountering new opportunities and challenges for governance. The new UNCCD national reporting system provides the closest view of global efforts to implement UNCCD-related policy to date, although delegates at the CRIC identified many caveats and suggestions related to the data. Underlying these discussions and those at the UNCSD PrepCom on options for national reporting and compilations of best practices is the expectation that new software technology will contribute, as Semans noted, breakthroughs that can improve decision making processes. Information related to the past twenty years of efforts to implement sustainable development agreements will require organization if it is to become useful knowledge for implementation.

IISD Reporting Services' growing number of “Policy & Practice” knowledgebases, which now cover climate change (http://climate-l.iisd.org/), biodiversity (http://biodiversity-l.iisd.org/), sustainable development and Rio 2012 (http://sd.iisd.org/), and small island developing States (http://sids-l.iisd.org/), reflect the growing desire and need for accurate, timely information on key issues that improves transparency and accountability. Linkages Update will continue to provide a one-stop shop of information with links to key information from these sources, as well as our coverage of events in the field. With expertise based on 20-years of covering key meetings, dating back to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, we have a lot of experience in helping decision makers learn from and build on past intergovernmental efforts. We look forward to using these knowledgebases and our Reporting Services meeting summaries to continue identifying the themes that emerge throughout the coming year's sustainable development calendar.