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From melancholy to a time for celebration: Report on the 20th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, (CSD 20)

Report from the last session on the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) as it transitions to the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) including reflections on opportunities and challenges for women looking at a future development agenda post-2015.

Report by Alejandra Scampini, AWID20 September 2013, UN Headquarters

“Mission delivered. Next chapter open!” Said Achim Steiner, Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UNEP.

The event was a space to bring the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to a close. There was lots of sharing about the critical analysis of the CSD and emphasis on how this was useful. This exercise of reflecting and understanding the challenges would be very important as the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) moves forward.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Wu Hongbo, Undersecretary General for the International Conference on Small Islands Developing States, referred to the achievements of the CSD: he said

“First and foremost CSD has been a unique platform for taking a long view toward the future. Beyond reacting to the crisis of the immediate present, the CSD aimed to formulate and implement long range, visionary policies”. When assessing the commission’s performance, he highlighted “the exceptional breadth and scope of its programme of work. It provided a distinct home for the sustainable development agenda”.

Another former Chair of the CSD remarked the fact that today there is no Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Development or Economy that would not apply CSD. Also another achievement is the recognition of the role of the private sector not just about how they report on their financial performance but also on the impact they are making on people and on the environment.

A representative of the Major Groups said “we are here to mark the end of an era, but the work is far from done. Climate is still changing, deforestation growing, inequalities growing; we are still struggling with the realization of human rights. We have to think of sustainable development as more than development. It is a way of life. Achieving sustainable development has to come from within. This planet is our common home and it has boundaries and limits. We must not only recognize that sustainable is important and will only happen if we create the access and mechanisms for meaningful participation of CSOs”.

Over the last 20 years, the active participation was given an instrumental role. Major Groups (MGs) have infused with new ideas, challenges and information. But it was also important that MGs took the CSD home to impact the local and national level.

Mr. Bedřich Moldan, Director of Charles University in Prague, Former CSD 9, Chairman, highlighted the importance of monitoring and measuring impact: “During the CSD 9 in 2001 there was a complete programme of indicators” he said, and recalled “the challenges to convince others to devise a set of indicators that were essential”. The need to have clear indicators seems to be central for the creation of the new SDGs.

Nikhil Seth, Director Division of Sustainable Development, emphasized that this is a time to celebrate but also a time to plan for the future. He recalled the euphoria and excitement of those days that made the Rio Conference possible; the unprecedented definition of sustainable development; and the creation of the CSD as a home for development debates to evolve.

On the road head

A Major Group representative requested to ensure the good practices of the past are not lost so that the HLPF is also open, transparent, holistic and inclusive for MGs. Members of MGs look forward to enrich the body of the HLPF. This will be achieved with true participation of CSOs. There is the expectation from MGs that the multiple crisis will be used as an opportunity to think of new models of consumption and production, transform economic and global governance, put people’s wellbeing at the centre for all, decent jobs and access to resources. MGs finalized by emphasizing their eagerness to work with HLPF and other stakeholder’s to define the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Mr Moldan also reinforced the fact that the cooperation of MGs was fundamental in directly shaping policies and introducing the notion of planetary boundaries. Those are important contributions to the work and he hopes groups go further together. The new HLPF must connect with the legacy and analysis of CSD to build up on successes.

The HLPF is seen by the panel as an important opportunity. Yet, there is still not much clarity about how the HLPF will continue the work of CSD. As the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, said “More importantly, how the HLPF will address the issues that CSD could not address such as mainstream biodiversity in sustainable development”.

Barbara Adams, senior Policy Advisor at the Global Policy Forum stressed the fact that we have a great opportunity ahead. “In this evolution towards a new mechanism we cannot go back to a 3 minutes slot and ensure meaningful CSOs participation. This is key”, she said. Agenda 21 marked the diversity of CSOs. Not just NGOs but also diversity of MGs. The respect to this diversity must continue in HLPF. Not just with MGs but also with governments.

Barbara called the attention on the need to bring back the agenda of the World Trade Organization (WTO), finance, issues that are very much related to sustainable development. The HLPF needs to bridge the gap between the General Assembly (GA) and ECOSOC. Yet, there are ideas around how the HLPF should go beyond and do more. There are concrete opportunities to go beyond: there is going to be a summit every 4 years in the context of UN on sustainable development. There is work to do to make sure that these agendas of WTO, fiscal policies, investment agreements are included in this agenda. Clearly for women and feminist movements it is an opportunity to bring gender equality, women’s empowerment and human rights into the HLPF. Yet, the how is still uncertain. Access is limited to MGs and also very limited even to them. Others referred to the opportunity to rethink targets and goals and redefine them as incentives, not punishments. There is clearly a feeling of opportunity to address relevant issues and agendas that for so long we have called for structural changes.

Other proposals:

One was around using the HLPF as a place where we can adopt a global agreement to go beyond GDP, improving reporting mechanisms that are more related to the challenges we have, and the need to share and move forward on targets in a participatory way.

In addition, Barbara Adams pointed out “the UN is increasingly looking for partnership as part of the global partnership. The UN Secretary General (SG) outlines a number of partnerships in the SG report. Maybe the partnership should respond to the HLPF. Also, we can start a multi-stakeholder approach to agenda setting”.

As the session was concluding the feeling of remembrance and celebration of the legacy of the commission permeated the room. There was agreement that the lessons learned from 20years of the work of the CSD is a good starting point for giving final shape to the high level political Forum on Sustainable Development.

It is clear that the Forum will be key for the new development agenda. it is a valid niche, strongly linked to the follow up of Rio+20 and related events to the post 2015 agenda.

Finally these are the main priorities outlined for the initial work of the HLPF, building on the strengths of the CSD:

  • Have a focused and flexible agenda

  • Provide strategic guidance rooted in country level realities and the latest strategic findings

  • Review and monitoring progress on a regular basis

  • Allow the sharing of experiences

  • Strengthen the integration of the 3 dimensions of sustainable development

  • Engage more strongly the economic and social policy making communities

  • Benefit from a robust process with support from a stronger UN inter-agency process

  • Enhance the engagement of MGs, the academia, and scientific community

  • Encourage and strengthen partnerships, initiatives and voluntary commitments.