TO: SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE/DEVELOPMENT ACTIVISTS
FROM: Linda Elswick, World Sustainable Agriculture
Association, (firstname.lastname@example.org), and the
NGO Working Group on Sustainable Agriculture
DATE: June 15, 1993
UN Meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development,
New York, June 14-25, 1993
PLENARY REPORT MONDAY, JUNE 14, 1993
"PEOPLE'S PARTICIPATION IS BECOMING THE WATCHWORD FOR OUR TIME --
WE ARE RECOGNIZING THAT THE NEGOTIATORS' ROLE IS SECONDARY TO THE
REAL AGENTS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, THE WOMEN, THE PEOPLE AT
THE LOCAL LEVEL...."
These were the concluding words of a UN diplomat completing a
report on the Desertification Convention Report to the afternoon
session of the CSD. After a morning opening session where
numerous NGOs had to be turned away, and in a session where it was
said there were more NGOs than government negotiators, these words
seem fitting. The diplomat also noted that a bottom up approach,
geared to local needs, was often heard at the recently completed
Desertification Convention meeting in Nairobi (170 NGOs had
applied for accreditation; 50 attended the African meeting.)
Agenda Item 1
The main item on the agenda for Day 1 of the CSD was the proposed
"Multi-year Thematic Programme of Work" for the Commission. The
format was proposed at the February organizational meeting of the
CSD in New York. While noting the importance of being able to
modify the elaborate schedule for work between now and 1997, when
there would be an overall review and appraisal of Agenda in
preparation for the special session of the General Assembly, many
governments expressed almost unqualified support for the plan
currently under discussion.
As described below, however, NGOs have major concerns, however,
about how well the Commission will be able to accomplish its work
with this plan.
Selected Government Interventions
As expected, some countries stressed the need to highlight both
economic and environmental issues, with emphasis on the financial
means to do so. Norway in particular suggested that the plan be
supplemented with an additional economic theme addressed to
various areas, and specifically mentioned agriculture in the
context of food security, relevant aspects of protection of land,
chemicals, biodiversity, etc.
Norway also noted that the 1994 high level segment of the program
of action was very important; discussions should be focused on one
broad theme relating to a working segment of the CSD -- in
particular this should be the broad and important relationship
between economics and development, consumption and production.
India noted that "comparative advantage must be redefined in
The NGO concensus position on this issue was presented early in
the discussion (approximately 25 groups had arrived early in New
York and worked on a paper that was shared with other NGOs on
It is produced here in full:
"TOWARDS A STRATEGIC AND EFFICIENT CSD"
Many NGOs are concerned that the time and the resources of the CSD
are quite limited. Some NGOs believe that the proposed multi-year
agenda, if not carefully and strategically oriented, will not be
an efficient use of these resources. These NGOs want the CSD to
be forward looking and strategic. Its overarching role should be
to facilitate the transition to global sustainability. A crowded
agenda, as currently proposed, without adequate inter-sessional
activities, may actually prevent the CSD from achieving this more
In the transition to sustainability, there are a set of
fundamental problems or barriers that no country can solve on its
own. NGOs think that the CSD should focus on these key obstacles
to global sustainability. These obstacles include the
cross-sectoral issues on the CSD agenda but we think the UNCED
analysis must be pushed much deeper. For instance, the
fundamental obstacles that the CSD must address include the notion
that some countries are using more than their fair share of the
globe's carrying capacity. The CSD should be the forum to assess
and rethink both environment and development strategies, policies
and institutions to ensure equity and sustainability are achieved
on this small planet.
In the examination of cross-sectoral issues the CSD must take an
integrated approach that looks at the entire system as opposed to
addressing individual syptoms of a problem. NGOs think that many
of the solutions that will allow us to see old problems in a new
light still have to be invented. It is a big job. But the CSD
does not have to work in isolation. It should find creative ways
to engage sustainability thinkers and practitioners around the
planet who are already working on these issues to help them.
UNCED was an exciting process that mobilized thousands of people -
the work and methods of the Commission should be no less exciting
In this strategic approach the CSD should:
1. Use national reports and other mechanisms to identify the
national and global barriers to sustainability.
2. Establish a participatory process to develop credible
policies, strategies and institutions to overcome the barriers to
This is consistent with the CSD's expressed desire to take and
"integrated" approach to sustainability and to effectively
incorporate the "inter-linkages" between sectoral issues.
Criteria for Designing an Efficient Thematic Agenda:
Some NGOs believe that the CSD's proposed thematic agenda could be
organized more efficiently. The organization of the agenda is
closely linked to the arrangements for adequate and empowering
inter-session methods of work. (see our paper on this topic). As
the CSD discussion evolves we will offer criteria for assessing
and prioritizing the agenda.
The CSD should adopt a strategic approach which uses national
reports and other inputs to identify the fundamental barriers to
sustainability. The analysis of these barriers should inform the
discussion of the cross-sectoral issues. The CSD's work on
particular sectoral issues should use a variety of creative
processes to develop options and strategies to eliminate the
roadblock in both their cross-sectoral and sectoral dimensions.
In this strategic view, the Commission on Sustainable Develoment
would be a consensus building forum which lays the groundwork for
a much more efficient and rapid transition to sustainability at
all levels of society."
Sustainable Agriculture Aspects of the Proposed Plan of Work
[The following is a very condensed version of the proposed plan of
work of the Commission on Sustainable Development for 1994-1997,
paying particular attention to sustainable agriculture-related
concerns. The full plan will be posted when it as been approved
by the Commission.]
(a) 1994 Session
(i) Review of cross-sectoral clusters including the Roles of major
groups, including Chapter 32, strengthening the role of farmers;
Chapter 26, recognizing and strengthening the role of indigenous
people and their communities; and Chapter 27, strengthening the
role of non-governmental organizations: partners for sustainable
(ii) Review of sectoral clusters, first phase:
F. Health, human settlements and freshwater (chapters 6, 7, 18
I. Toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes (chapters 19, 20 and 22);
(b). 1995 Session
(i) Review of cross-sectoral clusters, including roles of major
G. Land, desertification, forests and biodiversity (chapters 10,
11, 12, 13, 14 and 15).
(c) 1996 Session
Roles of major groups and
H. Atmosphere, oceans and all kinds of seas (chapters 9 and 17)
(d) 1997 Session
Overall review and appraisal of Agenda 21 in preparation for the
special session of the General Assembly.
Please note: The Commission "may take up any emerging issue in
any other chapter even if it is not scheduled for the year, if the
circumstances so require."
Meeting with US Delegation to the CSD
NGOs from both the US and other countries met with about six
members of the US delegation, where the issue of the Thematic Plan
of Work was raised. NGOs stressed that this plan was not
workable; it put issues that were connected and dealt with in an
integrated way at UNCED back into little boxes where the whole
will be easily lost.
The CSD must find a way to organize its work and deal with the
numerous concerns of UNCED, perhaps in Working Groups which will
meet on an ongoing basis during intersessions, the results of
which would be reported to the CSD at its annual meeting. This
would allow work on a variety of issues to be taken up
immediately. To facilitate the work, required reports would be
made available in to the negotiators well in advance of the yearly
full meeting of the CSD.
Rafe Pomerance, newly appointed US Deputy Assistant Secretary for
Environment, Health and Natural Resources, acknowledged the
problem and noted that it would be difficult to change the
carefully constructed, politically balanced plan which enjoys a
great deal of support by government delegations. However, he
clearly took under consideration the NGO comments and
possibilities for introducing them into the design of the plan
still under consideration.
US NGOs also stressed that the welcome words of Vice President
Gore in the morning opening session, promising US leadership.
They noted that the rhetoric must be backed up by "on the ground"
action in the United States. Attending to the disproportionate
impact the policies and actions the people of the industrialized
countries have on the environment worldwide must be a priority.
Sustainable agriculture advocates will need to make their case
through the State Department and the US Environmental Protection
Agency as no one from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is
on the US delegation.