Skip to main content

Commission on Sustainable Development: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

UNCSD: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Felix Dodds, Fellow at the Global Research Institute UNC and Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute
I cannot believe that today will see the twentieth meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and its final session.
I write as a member of a very small group of people that attended the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and all of the CSD meetings to date, giving me a relatively unique perspective.
It should be remembered that the CSD was a compromise between the UK and USA, in particular, who did not want any UN institution for sustainable development, and Maurice Strong (Secretary General of Rio 1992), Norway and some developing countries who wanted to either transform the Trusteeship Council to an Ecological Security Council or create a new Council of the General Assembly. It was in fact a group of NGOs who came up with the compromise, handing the suggestion that this new body be a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to the great Malaysian Ambassador Razali, who then persuaded the G77 to support the creation of the CSD.
The first CSD was held under Ambassador Razali’s chair-ship and hopes for what the new body could achieve were high, not least regarding the delivery of new and additional resources for sustainable development. However developed countries were going through a recession in 1992 (sound familiar?) and so said they could not provide funds for the delivery of Agenda 21 (one of the main outcomes of the 1992 Earth Summit) at this point but would oblige in the future. Maurice Strong had estimated the cost of implementing Agenda 21 to be $625 billion a year, with $125 billion to be transferred from developed to developing countries. Yet at the Rio Summit official development aid was only around $60 billion, and it fell after the Summit, not returning to that figure until 2002.
But the first cycle of the CSD (1993-1997) was nonetheless seen as a success. Particular achievements included the push for new conventions on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedures for hazardous chemicals, and the creation of what has become the UN Forum on Forests - something that has ensured continual work on the forest issue ever since.
The second cycle from 1998-2001 also had some successes, mostly under the directorship of the wonderful Joke Waller Hunter. Twelve hours of negotiations were set aside at the beginning of the CSD for an interactive dialogue with stakeholders on the key policy issues that governments would be deliberating. The second cycle also saw some genuine progress regarding the adoption of national consumer guidelines on sustainable consumption, first by the CSD and then by the General Assembly (GA). It also saw the first UN-level discussions on sustainable tourism. On oceans, the CSD set up a GA process under CSD rules, thereby allowing for the far greater engagement of stakeholders than is normally possible under GA rules, increasing the normalisation of this practice.
The period of the last cycle (2003-2013), however, has seen two CSDs fail to deliver a substantive output, something which can be linked to a number of mistakes regarding the Commission’s modalities. First, cycles should never be longer than five years due to the inevitable and quick loss of momentum. Second, the removal of mandatory reporting by national ministries on the delivery of sustainable development meant that government participation tailed off or saw them send only low level officials to participate. In addition, the agenda of the CSD did not allow for a change in direction or the adding of emerging issues, therefore seeing it locked into a cycle that was destroying its credibility year by year.
There have been valiant efforts by the UN Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) Directors Tariq Banuri and Nikhil Seth to push the CSD back in the right direction but the time had come to reconsider the UN body we need to take sustainable development forward in this next phase as the major driving force for poverty eradication.  As the CSD’s successor, we hope that the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) will allow the dream of Rio in 1992 and Stockholm in 1972 to become a reality..
Originally published in Outreach 20th of September 2013

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Executive Director of UNEP announced

Erik Solheim according to Norwegian newspapers is to be announced today as the new Executive Director of UNEP. And later today Monday the 2nd of May ABC News confirm too.

He faced stiff competition for the number one job on the environment in the UN system. In the 6 Executive Directors of UNEP it will mean that developed countries will have had 5 of them with two Canadians (Strong and Dowdeswell) and Germany (Toepfer and Steiner). The only Executive Director to come from a developing country was Dr. Mostafa Kamal Tolba who died recently.

Erik brings considerable experience to the position having held been from 2007 to 2012  the combined portfolio of Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development; he also served as Minister of International Development from 2005 to 2007. During his time as minister Norwegian aid reached 1%, the highest in the world.

Since January 2013 he has been the Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC). In the DAC he has emphasi…

Guest Blog Mike Barry: 5 things we learnt on Marks and Spencer Plan A journey over last 12 months

Guest Blog by Mike Barry:  Director of Sustainable Business (Plan A) at Marks and Spencer

It’s that time of year, publication of our annual sustainability (Plan A) report. After the harum scarum dash to gather, collate, assure, sign-off and publish a wealth of data we can breathe (for a moment!) and reflect on what it all means.
Here are some quick insights into what we’ve learnt at M&S in the last 12 months on our Plan A journey.
1. Succession – Nine years is a long time in the world of sustainable business. How many corporate plans have come and gone since we launched Plan A in 2007? Too many! The continuity offered by having a single multi-year plan has been incredibly important. It’s allowed us to take long term decisions in a very short term turbulent retail marketplace. It’s allowed us to build the skills and capabilities in our business units to integrate Plan A into their ways of working. It’s allowed us to pick our battles, knowing that occasionally we’ve just got to let a …

Bokova out? Georgieva in for next UN Secretary General

The rumors that have been circulating for the last month have now proven to be true. The Bulgarian government has withdrawn support from Irina Bokova as their candidate for UN Secretary General and replaced her with Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for budget and human resources.
There is some evidence that the right of center parties in European capitals have been behind this with some articles appearing in the last few weeks against Bokova. The Guardian reported on the 26th: “one of her (Kristalina’s) staff members was hacked and emails purporting to be from one of her top aides were sent out to the rest of her office, instructing them to attack Bokova”There is no question that Kristalina has the cv and record to be a very good UN Secretary General. She is a strong supporter of sustainable development issues she will pick up the SDGs and climate agendas with ease. She is dynamic and very personable and was very active around last week’s UN General Assembly High Level se…