Giving direction to Commonwealth nations

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IT WAS former UK environment minister Michael Howard who proposed to his Indian counterpart, Kamal Nath, that their countries should form an alliance to push post-Rio environmental issues. Britain was especially interested in reactivating discussions to secure a global convention on forests.

Final agreement on the convention, incorporating India's positions on the issue, was announced simultaneously in London and New Delhi in April, following a night of drafting and redrafting of its wording. An Indian environment ministry official stressed the convention was "a radical departure for Britain on its earlier position despite grumbling by their Treasury." As drafted, the convention proposes to make the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) more high-profile and catalytic instead of merely monitoring, which is the role Britain wanted it to play. The agreement reached also ensures British support on the replenishment of the GEF fund -- and this has since been accepted by the other industrialised countries.

"This accord between two major countries from North and South, has already served its purpose by giving a direction to Commonwealth nations," says an Indian official, who did not want to be named. The statement was distributed and discussed at a Commonwealth ministers meeting preceding the UNEP governing council meeting in May and at the CSD meeting in New York in June. It received broad support, though misgivings were expressed initially by some countries, including Malaysia.