Crisis at the CSD and green policy's future

The UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) came perilously close to breaking point in May.
As the CSD’s 15th session drew to a close, the EU and other countries refused to agree to the final document dealing with energy, industrial development, air pollution and climate change.
Then the G77 Group of developing countries elected Zimbabwe to chair the 16th session of the CSD next year, against opposition from European and other developed countries.
Political tensions on global energy and climate issues are nothing new. The divergent positions of the EU, US, oil-exporting countries, small island developing countries and others are all well known. The G77, due to its diversity and divisions, finds it difficult to take a clear stance on anything.
In sum, CSD 15 was messy but ‘business as usual’ until the EU finally refused to agree to an outcome showing lower ambition than earlier international negotiations.
Now there is a sense of crisis. If the world is lucky, this will focus minds in the run-up to the June G8 Summit, where a similar outcome must be avoided, as well as at UN-sponsored climate negotiations this summer and in December.
The failure to secure consensus at CSD 15 should cause concern, but should not come as a surprise. Negotiators on all sides knew well that it was possible, and in the end even likely.
The election of Zimbabwe’s minister of environment and tourism, Francis Nhema, to chair the next CSD was also expected. It was Africa’s turn to nominate the next chair and the G77 had already agreed who it would choose.
The fact that almost all countries outside the G77 opposed Zimbabwe was also well known. With agriculture and the economy collapsing, the country will struggle to provide leadership, especially since CSD 16 is due to focus on agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa.
Faced with this double crisis, governments will probably grit their teeth and make the best of next year’s session, lest the only UN institution addressing sustainable development as a whole be abandoned.
But civil society has more freedom to respond and should do so. Comments by Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the UN, Boniface Chidyausiku will spur on NGOs. “What has sustainable development to do with human rights?” he told the BBC.
These issues may be kept apart in the UN, but those working on the ground know that peoples’ active participation is needed for sustainable development. And this requires adequate food, health, education and safe homes, as well as the basic human rights of freedom of expression and political participation without fear of persecution.
Civil society should launch multiple events around CSD 16, speaking louder on these issues than the voices in the negotiating room. If they do, the crisis might spur on governments to restore the CSD’s relevance and strengthen the UN system for environment and sustainable development.

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