Day 8 at CSD-19

The day of the official opening in the General Assembly Hall. Always impressive.

Some good speakers, including Dr. Jeffrey Sachs who highlighted the global ethics crisis. His speech was very strong, focusing on the influence of the strong oil lobby (especially in the US). Unfortunately he didn’t really explore the concept of this ethics crisis further. But he mentioned that what the world needs is a technological road map, global carbon taxation, strong regional cooperation (he praised the EU), and a global knowledge network. It’ll be worthwhile to see the webcast again of his speech.

The Baha’i International Community had organized a side event on Making the invisible visible: Values and the transition to SCP in collaboration with Consumers International, The One Earth Initiative, and the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living (PERL). Its speakers focused on the values hidden behind our consumption and production behaviour. It was pretty amazing how each presentation linked very neatly into the next.

We then had our BIC briefing and in the evening I attended an event organized by the Major Group for Children & Youth on ‘Youth, Social Media, the Arts, and Rio+20’. Some very inspiring ideas out there. Definitely worthwhile checking out these initiatives: WE CAN, Rio+Twenties, Road to Rio and Greenbiz, Inspire Change (a performing arts initiatve from all UN regions, directed by Kiara Worth), Alas de Rio, Feather Project and the Human Impacts Institute.

Day 6 at CSD-19

Things are starting to heat up here at the UN. Evening negotiation sessions have been initiated to keep making progress. Yesterday afternoon I  attended the session that dealt with Interlinkages and Means of Implementation. Some very interesting exchanges, that most of the time didn’t end in any agreements. The chair actually told everybody off for not having agreed on anything during the first 2 hours! His comment must have made an impression because soon after they went from this paragraph (proposal by G77. NB: G77 is the group representing most developing countries and China; there are many more countries in the group than the original 77):

[(c) bis: Facilitate the active participation of groups living in the most vulnerable situations, including women, youth, and indigenous peoples in the elaboration of local and national planning taking into account national legislation.–G77]

To this (changes in bold):

(c) bis: Facilitate and promote the active participation of groups including, inter alia, women, children and youth, indigenous peoples and those living in the most vulnerable situations in the elaboration of local and national planning, taking into account national legislation and decision-making. [agreed ad ref]

Now, you might think there isn’t much difference and that agreement must have been reached quite easily. Wrong!

The negotiations went from deleting all groups mentioned to wanting to list all groups possible (including disabled people and the elderly). The first suggestion (deletion) would not have made us (= civil society) happy, as it is often important to specify who is affected or needs to be included. The 2nd suggestion poses a problem in that the list can become very long (too long) and therefore looses its power and meaning.

The compromise reached, listing a few groups WITHOUT calling these groups vulnerable, is very neat. Had these groups been called vulnerable, we would have tried to convince governments to take it out. The Women’s major Group has been fighting hard over the years not to be called ‘a vulnerable group’, it puts women into a victim position instead of as an agent of change position.

Now, I didn’t note exactly how long this discussion on this paragraph took, but I’d guess at least 30 minutes. The good thing is everybody agreed in the end (probably ‘helped’ by the chair’s previous displeasement about progress). See, why progress is slow?

Day 5 at CSD-19

Slowly the number of women attending the morning briefings of the Women Major Group is increasing. This is good, although the number hasn’t been anywhere near the number attending last year. Last year we ended up with close to 70 women on our emailing list. This time we might just manage 20!

I’m not sure about the reason for this. I’ve the feeling that there are a lot fewer people representing civil society this CSD. And I’m sure we aren’t as visible as a Women Major Group to make everybody aware of our existence. But we still work together as best as we can.

I’m sorry I missed the training workshop by the Children & Youth Major Group on the use of technology, such as  Googledocs and Piratepad. They are experts in using these software tools to work together as a group. I wished our group was up for that level!

I’m disappearing to Washington DC for the weekend – go cycling with my brother to the Great Falls (50 km round trip). Very much looking forward to being in a greener city!

Day 4 at CSD-19

Brackets are UN currency during CSD. They are everything. Never mind the different types: alternative, contentious, suspicious, tactical/trading, uncertain, waiting, and weary. They have their own importance and without them, these negotiations wouldn’t work.

Alternative brackets are the easy ones – they just give some alternatives for certain words.

Contentious brackets are the hard ones during negotiations – they deal with contentious issues, often related to trade.

Suspicious brackets are those that make you wonder what else is going on, what hidden agendas exist.

Tactical/trading barckets are used for trading (country A will support issue X as long as country B agrees to issue Y).

Uncertain brackets are those where the issue remains unclear (uncertain) and often makes you wonder if the negotiators know what they are doing.

Waiting brackets are used when countries have to wait for further instructions from their government.

And weary brackets are those normally inserted when everybody is really tired (say at 3AM after a hard night of negotiations) and these normally cover the sentiment “I don’t know anymore what we meant or wanted to disagree with; I’m too tired”.

Lesson over! Next week will see the full use of all of these types as we’ll be having evening sessions as well as morning and afternoon sessions. Sleep will become a precious item.

Day 3 at CSD-19

It was pouring down with rain, so I ended up at the UN with wet shoes and feet for the day. Not pleasant, but it was the first rain I saw in nearly 6 weeks (England has been very dry).

The NGO information meeting was followed by a meeting of the Women’s Major Group which was also attended by Chantal Line (the UN liaison for Major Groups). I then headed out to the BIC office for a meeting on RIO+20 – what does the BIC want to focus on contents-wise and what process we need for effective participation of the Baha’i community. All very exciting and it’s very nice to be involved intthese kind of brainstorming/consultation sessions. Slowly ideas and focus points (such as ‘participation’, ‘elimination of the extremes of wealth & poverty’, and spiritual qualities needed for good governance) are becoming clearer.

The afternoon was spent in sessions on Sustainable Consumption & Production. It’s hard not to get frustrated when you hear countries say: “We’ve been thinking about this and would like to revert back to the original language and keep that.” So, what was the point about adding all those amendements (remember the 7 types of brackets?) and then go back to the original? Guess, I better practice a bit more detachment and patience!

I only realised today that the building works that were opposite the UN for the past 2 years have finished. That is where the new building of the US embassy to the UN is! I’ve walked past it without realising until today when I started to wonder why there were so many metal fences put out along 1st Avenue. Well, Obama is in town today and I guess he’ll visit the embassy. So, I bet security will be very tight today, although I don’t think he’s coming to the UN.

Day 2 at CSD-19

Started off, as always, with the information briefing for all NGOs. This meeting, during week 1, is held in a proper meeting room with microphones, and the chair has  a beautiful wooden hammer to get everybody’s attention. Unfortunately this nice room is not available to Major Groups during the rest of the day.

So, the Women’s Major Group then tried to meet at 10am near the Vienna cafe, but it was all very confusing and not many people showed up. Clearly this wasn’t working and communication within the group was an issue. Let’s hope this improves over time 🙂

As I wasn’t inspired to attend the sessions on Waste and Chemicals, I went to the BIC office across the road for coffee and then met up with British Baha’i friends at the UN. We did the tourist tour, which I’d never done before. Typical one of those situations where you need visitors to do the things that are under your nose. It was very interesting and I got to parts of the UN building, I hadn’t been before. The visual exhibitions and arts in the many corridors are just stunning.

In the afternoon, I went to the negotiation sessionon the Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) as this is the topic the Baha’i delegation is focussing its attention on.Let me give some background on how it works.

The draft negotiation text, as presented by the chair at teh start of CSD-19, was 25 pages long. Two working groups are set up who deal with different topics. They start with reading through the text and inviting amendments from all countries. This is what happens:

The original text (just a random paragraph):

58. Together with poverty eradication and protecting natural resource, changing unsustainable consumption and production patterns is one of the three overarching objectives of sustainable development.

is amended into:

58. [Together with poverty [eradication / reduction – Cambodia] and protecting [and managing – Switzerland, Canada] [the / and soundly managing – Cambodia] natural resource[s – Cambodia] [base – delete Cambodia], changing unsustainable consumption and production patterns is one of the three overarching objectives of [and essential requirements for –Switzerland] sustainable development – delete G77].

Welcome to the world of brackets!!!

More on brackets (alternative, contentious, suspicious, tactical/trading, uncertain, waiting, and weary) later.

Days 0 & 1 of CSD-19

It always takes a while to get back into the flow of the Commission of Sustainable Development (CSD-19), even if this is my 4th time. Do I remember where to go? How long does it take to get there? What silly things did I pack in my backpack that UN security want to see? Will I remember names of key people?

Yesterday (Sunday) was a long day, starting with breakfast with 2 Baha’is, a training/information session organised by the Major Group of the NGOs, picking up of my UN batch, more NGO training, and finally our briefing at the offices of the Baha’i International Community (BIC). It was fabulous to see my Baha’i friends, catch up with them, and get ours heads around the BIC focus points. More on that later.

Today (Monday) is Day 1 of the 19th session of CSD. For more general info, please look here.

I find the 1st day always a bit boring (I know, awful isn’t it?) with the general statements made at the opening session – everybody thanking everybody and expresssing their pleasure in being here. I wonder if that’ll still be the case at those days of negotiating at 3AM (fully expected later in the 2nd week).

The Women Major Group (WMG) is meeting at 6pm tonight, so I’ll attend that briefing.