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A SUMMARY OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT 3-14 JUNE 1992

On 14 June the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development concluded the work mandated to it by the United Nations General Assembly more than two and a half years earlier in Resolution 44/228. When President Collor of Brazil officially concluded UNCED, the hundreds of diplomats, NGOs, support staff and Secretariat members who had worked together from Nairobi, through Geneva and New York, to Rio de Janeiro had not only contributed to one of the most significant international negotiation processes, but had individually participated in the creation of a elaborate programming tool that could set the planet on a new course towards global sustainable development.

Although the road to Rio began with UN Resolution 44/228 in December 1989, the first meeting of the Preparatory Committee took place in August 1990. PrepCom I, which was held in Nairobi, set the terms of reference of the UNCED. At PrepCom II, held in Geneva in March 1991, the voluminous documentation provided by the Secretariat assisted states to address key issues and to prioritize these areas where action was needed. The first signs of the actual form of UNCED's products first revealed themselves here. At PrepCom III, which took place in Geneva in August 1991, governments debated the best ways to approach the problems and commenced negotiations, for the first time, on Agenda 21. Finally, at the fourth PrepCom in New York, delegates met to negotiate and finalize the technical portions of Agenda 21 and the other political instruments that were expected to be signed in Rio de Janeiro.

By the end of PrepCom IV, 85% of Agenda 21 had been successfully negotiated and free of brackets. Major outstanding issues included finance, including all of the "Means of implementation" paragraphs in each chapter of Agenda 21; technology transfer, atmosphere and forests among others.

Against all odds, progress was achieved in New York. However, much work remained to be done. Thus, government officials and ministers in Rio had to conclude in two weeks, what hundreds of diplomats could not resolve over the past two years. What was expected to be a two-week gold-pen cum massive photo opportunity quickly evolved into the most critical negotiation session.

In Rio, the Conference itself was divided into two main bodies: the Plenary and its subsidiary body, the Main Committee. The Plenary was the forum for the "General Debate", which consisted of country statements delivered at the Ministerial level. By contrast, the Main Committee was site of the actual political negotiations, in essence, a "PrepCom V." The mandate of the Main Committee was to finalize the products of UNCED: Agenda 21, the Statement on Forest Principles and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Those areas in need of substantive negotiations to remove the remaining bracketed text were forwarded to contact groups established by Main Committee Chair Tommy Koh, of Singapore and his Bureau. The eight contact groups were: Atmosphere, Biodiversity/Biotechnology, Institutions, Legal Instruments, Finance, Technology Transfer, Freshwater Resources and Forests (including both the Statement on Forest Principles and the Agenda 21 chapter on forests). During the seven days of intense negotiations, the mood oscillated dramatically from issue to issue and day to day. The entrance of ministers and other high ranking politicians into the negotiations alternatively improved the pace, as they were able to make the necessary decisions, and impaired the process as they were often unaware of the history of the issue within the UNCED context. When the Main Committee ran out of its allotted time at 6:00 am on Thursday, 11 June, three issues still had not been resolved: forests, finance and atmosphere. These issues were forwarded for further negotiations at the ministerial level where, at the eleventh hour, agreement was finally reached.

The following report is an issue-by-issue summary of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development as reported in the Earth Summit Bulletin. To facilitate understanding of this complex set of negotiations, the topics are arranged in the order that their chapters appear in Agenda 21, the Statement of Forest Principles and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Declaration.

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