Catalyst for common sense
Preparing for my role as Chair of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) - which will concentrate in its April meeting on Oceans and Seas, Tourism, Consumption and Production patterns and Small Island Developing States - I have been warned by colleagues that the CSD is in danger of slipping off the ministerial
Ministers do not want to waste time in discussions which result, at best, in bland and general recommendations and, at worst, in a lowest common denominator outcome. If we try to please everyone we may well end up with an outcome to which nobody can take exception, but which will move
no-one to action and is likely to condemn us to repeating
The CSD needs to identify clearly the key sustainable development issues - where Agenda 21 is not implemented effectively enough, or at all. We must focus on recommending practical measures for concrete action
and not get bogged down in torturous debate of lengthy
texts. We must produce substantive outcomes which provide clear, practical direction to governments, United Nations agencies, international organizations, businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) alike at local, regional and global levels. Pages of dense negotiated text without a clear message will simply leave the status quo unchanged.
Keeping Reality In Sight
The CSD needs effective input from national and regional agencies. As I set out on the road to the meeting - with its very broad agenda, and the undoubted difficulty of finding a way through the jungle of conventions, agreements and agencies (not to mention nearly 200 sovereign states) - I find it necessary to keep firmly in touch with the visions of local people around the world who want to make their homes a better place.
I am excited by the multi-stakeholder dialogue on sustainable tourism, held on the first two days of the meeting, which will draw together representatives from governments, the tourism industry, NGOs, trade unions, worker groups and local authorities. I will be looking for concrete recommendations to promote sustainable tourism and would like to see some real, down-to-earth ecotourism operators from, say, the South Pacific, talking about the issues they face. What is the sustainable carrying capacity of a small atoll? How can the amount of packaging reaching its fragile ecosystem be reduced?
The CSD and other bodies concerned with tourism must look for practical answers to these questions of sustainability. Without them, the very assets on which much tourism thrives - sun, sand, surf, clean and green unspoilt environments - may become irreparably damaged or disfigured.
The meeting can help clarify practical questions for small island developing states, where tourism is vital. Do states and their policy makers and managers know where to obtain the technical and financial support they need? Does the available support help them to respond to their problems in an integrated way? Does it back the development of harmonious approaches and priorities to regional or sub-regional problems?
Getting to grips with the mandates and capabilities of the various existing bodies - including academic institutions, bilateral donors, foundations, the private sector and NGOs - and finding ways of using their resources is a major challenge for governments. Their potential to help solve problems needs to be used in accordance with a strategic assessment
We need to discuss the best ways of exchanging information, strengthening human and institutional capacity and taking an integrated approach. There will be many options for such activity. In my own region, small island developing states have derived real benefit from the critical mass that the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) can provide. International agencies work closely with such organizations - using their first-hand knowledge of a region, its problems and solutions which may already have been tried - as they venture into new territory.
The CSD cannot seek to be a catalyst for a global debate if it starts at the global level. It has to start with local and regional action that will then empower people to demand that we think globally - not about texts or institutions or structures or power plays, but about practical, achievable, enforceable action. To those ministers who will be working with me at this year's CSD, please let it be a triumph not for negotiators, diplomats, analysts or journalists but for common sense and modest, but achievable, goals.
The Hon. Simon Upton is the Environment Minister of New Zealand and Chairman of the Commission on Sustainable Development.