The success of any process can only be judged by assessing its output against its objectives. This session of the CSD ad hoc working group on sectoral issues was convened to provide governments with an opportunity to discuss the sectoral issues to be considered by the third session of the CSD and provide guidance and recommendations. In view of the fact that the Working Group had only one week to deal with six chapters of Agenda 21, the meeting could be considered a success since delegates were able to identify key proposals on which there is broad consensus. Among other factors, this success can be attributed to the Secretary- General's reports, which were focused and specific in their recommendations, as well as the procedure of work that the Chair adopted, enabling the Group to have two days of general discussion and three days of focused debate on the report and recommendations to the CSD.
Another aspect of the meeting's success was its ability to reach consensus. A report that lacked consensus would not only have been inherently weak, but would have led to yet another debate at the CSD, rendering the week's efforts a waste. No doubt the Chair's sense of humor and neutral stance as well as the high level of concentration contribued to the enabling negotiating environment.
Notwithstanding these successes, the Working Group's enormous workload prevented delegates from any detailed consideration of the issues. The Secretary-General's reports provided several proposals for action without providing a list of priority actions. Consequently, the Group's proposals do not necessarily reflect the priority or urgent action needed, but rather, the general recommendations that all delegates could agree upon.
Most of the recommendations demonstrate a positive step towards realizing sustainable development. Throughout the discussions, delegates regularly acknowledged the need to involve all stakeholders, including local communities, industrial interests, academia and NGOs, in order to better address these sectoral issues. This acknowledgement of the multi-stakeholder aspect of land management may have been a source of difficulty in deciding between an intergovernmental working group on forests, an eminent persons group, or an international panel of experts. It was appropriately recognized that no expertise exists on how to sustainably manage forests, hence, there is a need for an open, transparent and participatory body that is not merely composed of scientists. Notwithstanding this goodwill towards opening up governmental processes, the modalities of how to ensure both an integrated and transparent approach are still necessary. The CSD, as well as other UN agencies, needs to begin to address how to bridge the gaps in existing structures, especially in developing countries. How the expertise that is now widely recognized to be resident with local communities is to be drawn out is an issue that is not only relevant to forestry issues, but the overall implementation of Agenda 21.
As many delegations expected, the issue of forests dominated the discussions. The numerous post-UNCED intergovernmental initiatives on forests, including the Indo-British and Canada-Malaysia initiatives, as well as the Montreal and Helsinki Processes, also indicate a high level of interest in the issue. The fact that both the North and the South adopted moderate positions from the outset of the Working Group's discussions provided a constructive environment in which to address these substantive issues. Although negotiating a new legally-binding instrument on forests was considered premature, the positive atmosphere demonstrated during the Working Group meeting bodes well for the work of the proposed intergovernmental panel.
Degradation of forests, land and mountains and loss of biodiversity are closely related to current agricultural practices and although delegates recognized the integrated nature of these sectoral issues, it is surprising that integrated land management and sustainable agriculture and rural development did not emerge as the central issues. This indicates that the CSD, like the UNCED process before it, still has a long way to go before sectoral and cross-sectoral environment and development issues can be treated as an integrated whole.
Determining the overall success of this meeting calls for an assessment of the impact that the delegates' key proposals to the CSD will have on sustainable development. Given the general and non-binding nature of the proposals and Agenda 21, it is likely that the impact of these proposals will be minimal. In fact, in some instances, it was clear that some delegations tended to renege on previously agreed on commitments. Thus, unless the requisite pressure is generated at the national level, both in the developed and developing countries, the results of this meeting will only be worth as much as the paper they are printed on.
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