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A Brief Introduction to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development

The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was envisioned in Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted by the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Agenda 21 called for the creation of the CSD to: ensure effective follow-up of UNCED; enhance international cooperation and rationalize intergovernmental decision-making capacity; and examine progress in Agenda 21 implementation at the local, national, regional and international levels. The Commission, which was formally established in 1992 by UN General Assembly Resolution 47/191, held its first substantive session in June 1993 and has met annually since then.

The CSD is a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), with 53 rotating members, although all UN member countries may participate in CSD meetings and discussions. ECOSOC elects the CSD’s 53 member states based on geographical allocation requirements: 13 seats from Africa, 11 seats from Asia, 6 seats from Eastern Europe, 10 seats from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 13 seats from Western Europe and North America. Other states, organizations in the UN system, and accredited intergovernmental organizations and NGOs can attend Commission sessions as observers. The Division for Sustainable Development in the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) serves as the CSD Secretariat.

FIRST FIVE CSD SESSIONS: The CSD’s first substantive session (CSD-1) met from 14-25 June 1993 and adopted a multi-year thematic programme of work. CSD-2CSD-3 and CSD-4 subsequently met at UN Headquarters in New York during annual spring sessions. Each session reviewed different sectoral chapters in Agenda 21. They all considered cross-sectoral issues including finance, technology transfer, trade and the environment, and consumption and production patterns. CSD-2 added panel discussions to the work method to enable participants to enter into a dialogue on the session’s agenda items. CSD-3 established the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF). CSD-4 completed the Commission’s multi-year thematic programme of work and began considering preparations for the 19th Special Session of the UN General Assembly to Review Implementation of Agenda 21 (UNGASS). CSD-5 began negotiating the UNGASS outcome.

UNGASS: In June 1997, five years after UNCED, the General Assembly held a Special Session (UNGASS-19) to review and appraise progress on Agenda 21. Delegates adopted the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 (A/RES/S-19/2), which assessed progress since UNCED, examined implementation and established the CSD’s work programme for the period 1998-2002. The work programme identified sectoral, cross-sectoral and economic sector/major group themes for the CSD’s subsequent four sessions, with overriding issues for each year to be poverty and consumption and production patterns. UNGASS delegates also endorsed the IPF’s outcome and recommended a continuation of the intergovernmental policy dialogue on forests. Subsequently, ECOSOC established the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) under the CSD.

CSD-6 TO CSD-9: CSD-6 to CSD-9 met at UN Headquarters in New York for annual spring meetings. Discussions at each session commenced with multi-stakeholder dialogues, in which representatives from major groups were invited to make opening statements on selected themes followed by a dialogue with government representatives. The economic, sectoral and cross-sectoral themes considered, as determined at UNGASS, were as follows: industry, strategic approaches to freshwater management, and technology transfer, capacity building, education, science and awareness raising (CSD-6); tourism, oceans and seas, and consumption and production patterns (CSD-7); sustainable agriculture and land management, integrated planning and management of land resources, and financial resources, trade and investment and economic growth (CSD-8); and energy and transport, atmosphere and energy, and information for decision-making and participation and international cooperation for an enabling environment (CSD-9).

Additional agenda items and outcomes for this period included CSD-6 and CSD-7’s preparations for the UN General Assembly's Special Session to review the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). CSD-7 recommended that the UN General Assembly establish an open-ended informal consultative process as a means to broaden and deepen its consideration of oceans and seas issues and developed an international work programme on sustainable tourism for the period from 1999-2002. CSD-8’s invitation to ECOSOC and the UN General Assembly to act on the IFF’s “proposed terms of reference for an international arrangement on forests” led to the creation of the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF).

WSSD PREPARATIONS: In December 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 55/199, in which it decided to embark on a ten-year review of UNCED. In 2002, the General Assembly accepted South Africa’s offer to host this event, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), and decided that the review should focus on accomplishments and areas requiring further efforts to implement Agenda 21 and other UNCED outcomes, leading to action-oriented decisions.

CSD-10 acted as the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the WSSD and convened four times between April 2001 and June 2002. The first PrepCom elected Emil Salim (Indonesia) as Chair of the PrepCom. PrepCom II’s report contained the Chairman’s Summaries of PrepCom II and a Multi-stakeholder Dialogue Segment held during the session, as well as Proposals for Partnerships/Initiatives to Strengthen the Implementation of Agenda 21. Delegates anticipated that attention to and announcements of partnerships/initiatives between governments, industry and other actors – “Type II” outcomes – could spur action and provide information on further actions necessary to implement the UNCED agreements. PrepCom III held preliminary discussions on a revised informal paper on sustainable development governance, began considering how to incorporate the Type II outcome issue into the WSSD’s agenda, and considered the Chairman’s paper transmitted from PrepCom II. PrepCom IV produced the draft Plan of Implementation for the WSSD, which was transmitted to Johannesburg for further negotiation. Delegates also agreed on the modalities for the WSSD’s organization of work and mandated PrepCom Chair Salim to draft elements for a political declaration.

National preparatory committees for the WSSD offered an additional feature in the WSSD preparations. These committees undertook country-level reviews, raised awareness and mobilized stakeholders. Subregional and regional preparatory meetings were held between PrepComs I and II (between June 2001 and January 2002). Eminent Persons’ Round Tables took place in all five UN regions, and regional preparatory meetings were held for Europe/North America, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, West Asia, Asia and the Pacific, as well as for SIDS.

WSSD: The World Summit on Sustainable Development met from 26 August – 4 September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Participants conducted their review through seven thematic Partnership Plenaries, statements by non-State entities, addresses by Heads of State and Government and other senior officials, four high-level Round Tables on the theme "Making It Happen," and a multi-stakeholder event. Approximately 280 Type II outcomes – non-negotiated partnerships between governments, business and civil society aimed at implementing Agenda 21 – were announced prior to or during the WSSD. These initiatives supplement WSSD’s negotiated agreements and represent a considerable amount of funding for implementation. WSSD government delegates negotiated two “Type I” documents: the Plan of Implementation (JPOI) and the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development.

The Plan of Implementation is designed as a framework for action to implement the commitments originally agreed at UNCED and includes eleven chapters: an introduction; poverty eradication; consumption and production; the natural resource base; health; small island developing States (SIDS); Africa; other regional initiatives; means of implementation; and institutional framework. The Johannesburg Declaration outlines the path taken from UNCED to the WSSD, highlights present challenges, expresses a commitment to sustainable development, underscores the importance of multilateralism and emphasizes the need for implementation.

CSD-11: CSD-11 took place from 28 April-9 May 2003, at UN Headquarters in New York, and concluded with the adoption of the CSD’s multi-year programme work for the period 2004-2017. Delegates at CSD-11 decided to organize upcoming CSD sessions as a series of two-year action-oriented Implementation Cycles, with a Review Session the first year and a Policy Session the second year. Each two-year cycle would consider a selected thematic cluster of issues and a suite of cross-cutting issues. The CSD further decided on the modalities for reporting, partnerships and enhancing UN system coordination and Major Groups contributions. Delegates also adopted decisions on NGO accreditation, the Bureau and preparations for the international meeting to review the implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for the sustainable development of SIDS.

CSD-12 AND CSD-13: CSD-12 and CSD-13 focused on water, sanitation and human settlements in the first two-year Implementation Cycle following the WSSD. CSD-12 convened from 14-30 April 2004, at UN Headquarters in New York. The first three days of CSD-12 (14-16 April) served as the preparatory meeting for the International Meeting on the 10-year Review of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of SIDS. The subsequent two weeks (19-30 April) were devoted to the CSD-12 Review Session, focusing on identifying constraints, obstacles, successes and lessons learned with regard to water, sanitation and human settlements. A high-level segment, attended by over 100 ministers and addressed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was held from 28-30 April. At the conclusion, the Commission adopted the report of the session, which included a non-negotiated Chair’s Summary. CSD-13 convened from 11-22 April 2005, at UN Headquarters in New York, and adopted decisions related to the thematic areas of water, sanitation and human settlements, as well as interlinkages and cross-cutting issues and international institutional arrangements for monitoring and follow-up of CSD-13 decisions.

CSD-14 AND CSD-15: CSD-14 and CSD-15 focused on energy for sustainable development, industrial development, air pollution/atmosphere, and climate change, together with cross-cutting issues. CSD-14 convened from 1-12 May 2006, at UN Headquarters in New York. The second week involved a high-level segment, from 10-12 May, with over 50 ministers registered. As then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan observed at the opening of the high-level segment, CSD-14 was the first CSD session to be chaired by a finance minister (Aleksi Aleksishvili, Georgia). At the conclusion of CSD-14, delegates adopted the report of the session, including the Chair’s non-negotiated Summary. CSD-15 took place from 30 April-11 May 2007, at UN Headquarters in New York. As the scheduled close of the meeting approached, numerous unresolved issues remained in the energy for sustainable development and climate change sections of the draft outcome document. CSD-15 Chair Al-Attiyah (Qatar) presented a compromise document on a “take it or leave it” basis, but the EU and Switzerland rejected it on the basis that it did not address the challenges in the thematic areas, meet world expectations or add value. The meeting closed with no adopted outcome document, and the Chair announced that a “Chair’s Summary” of CSD-15 would be issued the following week.

CSD-16 AND CSD-17: CSD-16 and CSD-17 focused on the thematic cluster of agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa. In addition, CSD-16 delegates, at the 5-16 May 2008 session at UN Headquarters in New York, reviewed implementation of the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation and the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States and the CSD-13 decisions on water and sanitation. A High-level Segment was also held from 14-16 May, with nearly 60 ministers in attendance. CSD-17, which convened from 4-15 May 2009, at UN Headquarters in New York, negotiated policy recommendations for most of the issues, but a few items remained unresolved on the final day. On the final evening, delegates adopted by acclamation a “Text as prepared by the Chair,” which included all negotiated text as well as proposed language from the Chair for policy options and practical measures to expedite implementation of the issues under the cluster. Following its adoption, the text was described as being the best text that could be agreed in the current situation, which included rising food prices, ongoing negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the Doha Development Round, and an international focus on the climate change negotiations under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
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