With six weeks to go before the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, there is still no clear indication of what the practical implications of the Conference and the Programme of Action will be. Although it was intended that this resumed session of the PrepCom would hammer out issues related to implementation, monitoring and review of the 14 substantive chapters of the action programme, contained in Chapter XV, this was not to be, due to a breakdown in the negotiating process, a lack of concrete substantive recommendations, and an absence of political will.
Chapter XV of the Programme of Action mentions the need to strengthen the capacity of SIDS to participate effectively in the negotiation of new or revised agreements or instruments. This need was manifested throughout the week as AOSIS sought to coordinate its work, indicate clearly what it sought, and come forward with substantive compromise proposals. The size and competence of some of the AOSIS delegations made it difficult for small drafting groups to meet and work out such compromises, as the handful of people who had knowledge of both the subject matter and the process were needed in the informal sessions. The negotiations were also hampered by disarray within the European Union, which was unable to speak through a single voice, and CANZ (Canada, Australia and New Zealand), which while often supporting each other's amendments, did not always coordinate and, thus, strengthen their impact. The US was often unable to propose compromise text due to lack of clear instructions from Washington. To complicate matters even further, the Secretariat was unable to quickly and efficiently provide delegates with accurate, revised texts during the week. Finally, there was little substantive input from NGOs who, for the most part, have still not learned how best to influence the UN negotiating process. It was not until the conclusion of the PrepCom that NGOs submitted written comments on the entire Programme of Action. Although these comments are comprehensive, their timing may prejudice their impact.
As the week wore on, delegates seemed unable to articulate concrete, substantive recommendations. This lackadaisical attitude resulted in brackets around some of the critical issues such as financial resources and institutional follow-up with little indication on how they might be resolved. AOSIS members did work hard during the intersessional period to produce a complilation text in response to proposals put forth by donor countries at the last PrepCom. However, there was little substantive dialogue between AOSIS and donors during the intersessional period and the resumed PrepCom that would enable them to move closer to consensus. So, whereas the purpose of this PrepCom was to remove the brackets from Chapter XV, it appeared as though this chapter will go to Barbados with more brackets than it started with.
Perhaps these other two problems could be overlooked had there been the necessary political will present in the Conference Room, but this was not the case. Agenda 21 was adopted in 1992 as a framework for the implementation of sustainable development by the year 2000 with the understanding that its implementation and the means for its implementation would evolve. However, within the SIDS negotiating process, some OECD countries have adopted an absolutist approach to Agenda 21, preventing them from finding new and innovative approaches within the political context of Rio. AOSIS seemed taken aback by this lack of political will on the part of the donors and, as a result, was drawn into macro-arguments on means of implementation rather than coming forward with its own specific and detailed proposals on what could be achieved in the present political and economic climate. Furthermore, AOSIS received and/or accepted little, if any, support from the other members of the G-77. Most non-island G-77 members who attended the PrepCom were present at formal sessions only, leaving most of the substantive work to be carried out by AOSIS alone. Those who did attend the informal sessions occasionally tried to support the islands and even propose concrete, compromise text, but were not always welcomed.
At this stage in the process the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States is similar to the UNCED negotiations after PrepCom IV -- many crucial provisions in the Programme of Action still remain in brackets with no agreement in sight. What made Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration a reality during the Earth Summit was a combination of high-level government participation, mobilization of public pressure in the North, the efforts of the host Government, and a great deal of shuttle diplomacy by the Secretariat and its emissaries. At this point, it does not appear as though these ingredients can be put into place in time for the Barbados Conference. This places the onus on the Main Committee and the host Government to pull an endogenous, island rabbit out of a hat in Barbados.
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