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A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF THE FIRST SESSION OF THE CSD

On 14 June 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development came to a close in Rio de Janeiro. Now, 12 months later, many have begun to review the past year to determine if, in fact, progress has been made toward making the commitments of Rio a reality. Much has been said about the inability or lack of will on the part of developed countries to find new and additional financial resources, transfer environmentally sound technology, and change production and consumption patterns. Many have stated that now, one year after Rio, developing countries are no better off, poverty is rampant, the industrialized world is in the midst of a recession, and we are no closer to putting sustainable development in practice. But at the same time, a number of small steps have been taken at all levels on the long road from Rio.

At the international level, the UN system has begun to reassess programmes and policies to ensure that they are consistent with Agenda 21. Preparations have begun on a number of Agenda 21 follow-up activities, including negotiations on a convention to combat desertification, a conference on high seas fisheries, and the first global conference on the sustainable development of small island states, not to mention the establishment of the Commission on Sustainable Development. GEF replenishment and restructuring are also in progress. At the national level, many countries have put together national environmental action programmes, others, including the United States, Tunisia, Finland, Venezuela, France and Benin, are establishing national commissions for sustainable development. ODA is being redirected towards sustainable development.

At the local level, numerous projects are underway to put sustainable development into practice. The GEF small projects fund, administered by UNDP, is funding local initiatives in several dozen countries. Local organizations are developing their own Agenda 21s and governments, particularly in the negotiations for the desertification convention and the International Conference on Population and Development, openly acknowledge the critical role of local organizations in sustainable development.

As the Commission on Sustainable Development held its first substantive session in New York on the first anniversary of the Earth Summit, the time had come to assess the year's accomplishments and determine just what role the CSD will really play in monitoring the implementation of the Rio agreements. Expectations were high as delegates from the 53 member States of the CSD and many non-member states, hundreds of NGOs, and numerous representatives of UN agencies and international organizations gathered in New York on 14 June 1993. Many said that it was essential that the CSD not become just another talk show. Others spoke about the sense of ownership and pride of the many delegates who created the CSD. The opening statements by CSD Chair Razali Ismail, Under-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development Nitin Desai, and US Vice President Al Gore set a positive tone for the meeting, yet challenged everyone to give practical expression to the pledges made in Rio.

Yet when the discussions began in Plenary, it was almost as if the balloon of hope had suddenly deflated. The debate resembled those that have been heard throughout the UNCED preparatory process and for years before that. Delegates seemed to lose sight of the environmental and development problems that are facing the world today. Agenda 21 language was being recycled rather than enhanced in a tedious process of diplomatic exegesis. Dispirited NGOs and delegates commented that maybe the CSD was not going to be special and that the so-called Spirit of Rio had been lost in the bureaucratic morass.

Perhaps some of the discouragement was due to the fact that this first substantive session of the CSD was a continuation of the organizational session. Most of the agenda items dealt with organizing the future work of the Commission: what chapters of Agenda 21 would be discussed in what year; what reports would be required and from whom; what are Governments' responsibilities in terms of reporting on national implementation; how will the critical issues of finance and technology transfer be addressed by the CSD; and how will the CSD monitor Agenda 21 implementation within the UN system. The CSD was negotiating six procedural documents, not examining Agenda 21 implementation. However, once the informal negotiating groups, under Vice-Chairs Ghazi Jomaa of Tunisia and Arthur Campeau of Canada, began their work, the mood shifted. Substantive negotiations led to the elaboraton of meaningful decisions that will, hopefully, set the CSD in motion.

The mood in the conference rooms and the corridors improved further during the two-day High-Level Segment. Over 50 ministers participated in the segment that gave a boost to the decisions adopted in Plenary. The summary of the high-level meeting, which was met with applause when read by Amb. Razali, highlighted the two-day meeting. The summary said that the ministers recognized that the primary purpose of the CSD is to give policy direction. There was an overwhelming sense of disquiet that the momentum of Rio had been lost and they stressed that much more needs to be done to translate the Rio commitments into concrete action. They made a number of specific suggestions for the work of the CSD, including: country-hosted intersessional meetings; holding the ministerial segment around a large table to create an environment conducive to dialogue; and recognizing that sustainable development is not just the job of environment ministers, but that development, finance, economic and other ministers should participate in the work of the CSD as well. They underlined the dynamic role of the Commission as a central political forum for monitoring and review of Agenda 21 and other outcomes of UNCED and they stressed the need to provide further political impetus and profile to the activities of the Commission. Initiatives and programmes were announced to show how Agenda 21 was alive, not a document collecting dust on a shelf. The US clearly showed that a new spirit of North-South cooperation and partnership has emerged out of the UNCED/CSD process when Timothy Wirth announced that the US and Colombia will work together to contribute to preparations for the intersessional working group on technology transfer, cooperation and capacity building.

Thus, with the endorsement of the ministers who took the time to come to New York, the first substantive session of the CSD ended on a positive note. There was a sense of community and partnership in the Trusteeship Council Chamber during the last session of the CSD on Friday morning, 25 June. The Spirit of Rio had returned and it appeared as though the CSD was on the right track.

The announcements of country-hosted intersessional meetings and the establishment of ad hoc intersessional working groups on finance and technology mean that numerous processes throughout the year will enhance and facilitate the work of the CSD. The 2-3 week annual Commission meeting will not be the only place where sustainable development is discussed at the international level. Whether or not the Commission is able to maintain the high political profile and continue to forge new partnerships and enable progress and cooperation on environmental and development issues remains to be seen. However the participants realized that they -- Governments, NGOs, major groups, international organizations, UN agencies and programmes, international financial institutions -- are responsible for ensuring that sustainable development becomes a reality and that there is positive progress to report at next year's session of the CSD.

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