The 19th Session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) ended in failure Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC


Though it received very little media attention the failure of the 19th Session of the UN Commission On Sustainable Development (CSD) to reach an agreement on May 14th 2011, on a series of environmental and development issues is a major set-back for global diplomacy.  The CSD emerged in 1992 from the United Nations Conference on Environment and  Development (UNCED), popularly known as the “Rio Earth Summit.” Since 2003 the CSD cycle focuses on a thematic cluster along with cross-sectoral issues. The first year in the cycle is a Review Year, while the second year is a Policy Year. The recent 19th Session focused on transport, chemicals, waste management, mining and the 10-Year Framework Programme (10YFP). In addition the delegates at CSD 19 participated in a multi-stakeholder dialogue with Major Groups such as Farmers, Women, NGOs, Trade Unions and Children and Youth. There was also a High-Level Segment involving government ministers from around the world.

In my daily report from May 3rd 2011 onwards, I attempted to capture some of complexity of the discussions and the reasons for the positions taken up by major parties such as the Group of 77/China, the EU, the U.S., Japan, Norway, Australia and New Zealand.

At the closing session on Friday afternoon May 13th 2011, the Chair László Borbély informed the assembly that the negotiations on the Means of Implementations (MOI) on chemicals and waste management were not concluded. He recommended calling a plenary to address the outstanding issues.  Negotiations continued through Friday evening into Saturday morning.  At 2.50 a.m. the chair introduced a text which he felt reflected a fair compromise between the various positions articulated by the different negotiating groups. The G-77/China negotiator said that, while they could agree with much of the text, there were important points on which they could not agree. The use of the word ‘green economy’ was a particular stumbling block, as was the lack of reliable finance to ensure the proper implementation of the programme. The U.S. negotiator indicated her opposition to opening up the text for what it called new negotiations at this point. The Arab Group represented by Sudan expressed “outrage” that the document did not include reference to the plight of people under foreign occupation, which everyone present understood as a challenge to Israeli policy.  The EU delegate complimented the chair Borbély for his perseverance and expressed “deep sadness” that while the text may not be perfect, it ought to be accepted as a fair compromise between the various parties. After a 30 minute break to allow delegates to consult with their governments, the meeting reconvened.  Both the G-77/China and the Arab Group expressed resentment about being forced to accept a “take it or leave it” ultimatum from Chair Borbély.  Another break was called at 4.45 a.m.

Tired and exhausted delegates returned to plenary at 7.19 a.m. for a final effort to reach agreement. There were arguments about whether there was a quorum since only 24 members of the 53 members were present and the quorum is 27.  Eventually, at 9.a.m. on Saturday morning May 14th 2011, CSC 19th finally came to a close with the participating governments unable to reach an agreement.

Sadly, two year’s work on crucial issues ended in a debacle which could have important consequences for future UN Conferences, especially the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa in December 2011 and the forth coming Rio+20 in June 2012.

What went wrong?  One criticism of the CSD process is that  the government ministers involved in negotiations are almost exclusively from the ministry of the environment in their country rather than from ministries or industry. This imbalance was evident at the ministerial round table discussion on sustainable consumption and production which was packed by officials from government environment ministers rather than finance representatives from finance ministries.

On the positive side, there is now a growing consensus about the nature of the problem facing planet and humanity. Everyone agrees that there needs to be a major change in how we produce and consume the goods of the planet if we are to stave off a major collapse in important habitats and life-systems.  It is also agreed that we do not have the luxury of time on our side.  Unless, crucial far-reaching decisions are taken in the next decade, then the impact on the planet will be massive and irreversible.

The UN Secretary General of the UN Nations, Ban Ki-Moon had stressed the importance of a favourable outcome at CSD 19th in order to ensure the success of Rio+20. Governments, NGOs and religious groups will have to redouble their efforts to ensure that Rio+20, does not end in a whimper like, CSD 19.



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