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Published Date: Dec 9, 1998

High Level Segment of the 6th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (PB-3)

Adil Najam, SDPI

Background on the CSD

The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was set up following the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED; held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992).  The CSD meets annually in New York.  The Department of Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development (DPCSD) in the United Nations Headquarters in New York serves as the secretariat for the CSD.  The CSD was established to serve two key functions:
·    To monitor the implementation of Agenda 21 (the Plan of Action adopted at UNCED).
·    To provide a policy forum for discussion of emerging issues relating to sustainable development.

Agenda 21—which was one of the principal outcomes of UNCED—is a 40 chapter document outlining actions that countries should take to incorporate environment and natural resources issues in their development planning.  Substantive areas covered by Agenda 21 include climate change, depletion of the ozone layer, air and water pollution, desertification, deforestation, soil loss, toxic wastes, depletion of stocks of fish, etc.  It also considers underlying patterns of development which cause stress to the environment, such as poverty, the external debt of developing countries, unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, the structure of the international economy, demographic pressures, etc.

Rio + 5

1997 marked the fifth anniversary of UNCED as well as of the CSD.  The fifth session of the CSD was part of a series of events and meetings (including a special session of the United Nations General Assembly) which were popularly referred to as “Rio + 5”.  This elaborate review of the implementation of the “UNCED Agenda” at the five-year mark was a sobering rather than a celebratory experience.  Although a number of individual countries reported significant achievements at the domestic level, the general consensus was that the promise of a global compact on sustainable development that had been proclaimed at Rio has remained unfulfilled.  In particular, the developing countries (South) were critical of the industrialized countries (North) for not having provided the type of financial and technological support that had been envisaged at UNCED.  The discussions during the 1998 session of the CSD are likely to be heavily influenced by the debates of 1997.