Moving in circles

the good thing about the United Nation's Commission for Sustainable Development ( csd ) is that it is moving in circles while all the other un commissions do not move at all. This was the cynical, albeit probably apt observation of a seasoned diplomat attending this year's eighth session of the csd in New York, usa .

The csd was established after the Rio Earth Sumit in 1992 and was given the task of monitoring the implementation of Agenda 21, the phone directory-sized non-binding action programme emanating from Rio. Key issues on the agenda were sustainable agriculture and land management, financing for development and trade, and the preparation of the 2002 Rio+10 summit.

Forests too was part of the agenda but that was largely because the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests ( iff ) had presented its final report to the csd who had to decide what to do with it. The iff is an inter-governmental body established in 1997 to monitor issues related to sustainable forest management.

This year's csd session started with the two-day "major groups dialogue session', un -speak for a new type of discussion where governments givethe floor primarily to representativesfrom civil society, non-governmental organisations ( ngo s), industry, farmers, and trade unions. It was no surprisethat these speakers did not followthe usual diplomatic style but stated their criticisms and demandsopenly. csd chairperson Juan Mayr Maldonado, the environment minister from Colombia who had alsopresided over the ultimately successful Biosafety Protocol negotiations in January 2000, actively encouraged the dialogue.

The remaining days were allocated to seminars with dozens of ministers attending. This year the csd had succeeded in getting a good number of high-profile ministers to attend and respond to each other rather than just read prepared speeches.

The recent trade meetings inSeattle and Bangkok had clearly left a mark. The European Union ( eu ) found itself attacked by the g - 77 as well asthe us and other major food exporters for their agricultural protectionism.For this the notion of the "multifunctionality of agriculture', recently championed by the eu , was seen as the paraphrase.

The high-level segment also discussed in less than two hours the final report of the iff that had met for the fourth and last time in January. The proposals for action were endorsed, and the creation of a new body, the un Forum on Forests ( unff ), decided. It was, however, not decided as to which un body the unff would report to. It now remains the responsibility of the un Economic and Social Council, the csd 's "parent body', to give the unff a place in the un system.

The iff , meanwhile, was heavily criticised by ngo s for its lack of determination to address the underlying causes of deforestation and the problem of non-implementation of existing forest protection policies.The unff is not likely to be significantly different from its predecessor iff .