World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

You are here: Home / Resources / Documents / WCC programmes / Public witness: addressing power, affirming peace / Poverty, wealth and ecology: impact of economic globalization / Neoliberal paradigm / WCC Report on the 11th Session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-11)

WCC Report on the 11th Session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-11)

09 May 2003

April 28 to May 9, 2003, New York focused on follow-up from the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) (Johannesburg, Aug/Sept., 2002)

Prepared by David G. Hallman,
Climate Change Programme Coordinator,
World Council of Churches


This report provides a brief overview of the main issues and decisions at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-11) meeting held recently in New York to follow-up on actions of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) which occurred in Johannesburg in Aug/Sept. 2002. Some of the content in this report comes from UN press statements (, CSD documents (, issues of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (, Outreach 2015 ( and other governmental and non-governmental materials. More background on the involvement of the World Council of Churches in the WSSD is available at:

Because of budget reductions within the WCC JPC Programme and staff vacancy in the WCC's UN office in New York, the WCC did not have an ecumenical team present at this CSD as has been the case in other years since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. I was at CSD-11 primarily to monitor the proceeding and provide this report which is being distributed to the WCC Climate Change/Sustainable Communities Network and which will be posted to the WCC web page. Two members of former CSD ecumenical teams, Esther Camac of Associacion Ixa Cava para la Informacion y el Desarrollo Indigena and Joy Kennedy of Kairos Canada, attended CSD-11 on behalf of their organizations and contributed to this report. In particular, Joy Kennedy prepared material on the final CSD-11 decisions (section 6c).

The eleventh session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) met April 29 to May 9, 2003 in New York. The UNCSD is the key United Nations forum bringing countries together to consider ways to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development - economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

Marking its first formal meeting since the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, the Commission aimed to focus on its own future work in translating into reality the commitments made at WSSD. The WSSD outcome covered such issues as poverty eradication, changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, protecting and managing natural resources, health, and the special needs of small island developing States and Africa.

CSD-11 Chair Mohammed Valli Moosa, South Africa's Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism opened the high-level segment. Drawing attention to pledges made during WSSD, he said that problems such as global warming, hunger and disease must be tackled with the "same vigor recently displayed by some on the military front". In this regard, he underscored the multilateral approach as "the only real solution" for achieving sustainable development.

Also addressing the opening high-level segment was Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), who said the way to ensure responsible prosperity for all - and especially for the poorest of the poor - was for governments to make real efforts to eradicate poverty and bridge the sizeable gap in world consumption patterns. Mr. Töpfer said the WSSD had provided the international community a new chance to push forward environmental agreements. The Summit's Implementation Plan, which contained over 30 concrete tables and targets, had also produced a 10-year programme for sustainable development and consumption, a clean fuel initiative and other clear, concrete partnership activities, he added.

While the outcome of the WSSD had been encouraging, the breadth of the Plan clearly underscored that a huge disparity still existed between commitments made and action taken to implement them, Mr. Töpfer said. "This critical issue should be considered during the Commission's current session, as well as in the future," he said, adding that, "the international community must decide on a reliable framework to bring all available resources together in new efforts at implementation."

A major background document was circulated in advance to help focus discussion at CSD-11 on the future role and operating style of the CSD. Prepared by the Secretary-General, the report "Follow-up to Johannesburg and the Future Role of the CSD - The Implementation Track" proposes a two-year cycle focused on a limited number of prioritized issues. The first year would be a "review year" that would assess progress, identify obstacles, areas of concern and challenges in the context of implementation, and share experiences and good practices. The second year of the cycle would be a "policy year", would be based on the work of the review year and would examine options for action at national, regional and international levels to expedite progress in the areas of concern and consider specific measures to overcome constraints.

According to the Secretary-General's proposals, the review year would begin in May/June with a CSD Global Implementation Forum which would lead to informal processes and then a formal decision-making CSD Review Session in Feb/March of the following year. The policy year would then begin in May/June of that year with Expert Forums on Priority Areas leading to a series of informal processes and then culminating in Feb/March of the following year with the decision-making CSD Policy Session. The two-year cycle would recommence focused on the next set of prioritized issues. The full report and other CSD-11 documents can be accessed from:

This proposal for organizing the two-year cycle was generally well received at CSD-11. Some revisions were proposed by government delegations and representatives of civil society. There was some debate about the selection of priority issues for the initial cycle. The final decisions about the CSD future programme of work are described later in this report.

The session's first three days were devoted to a high-level segment, which featured ministerial statements and included interactive ministerial round tables broadly highlighting priority actions and commitments to implement WSSD outcomes. The session also included regional implementation forums, a multi-stakeholder dialogue, with presentations by major groups on the future Commission work programme, and an interactive discussion of the Major Groups' proposals.

The three interactive ministerial round tables involving major stakeholders were intended to bring together all major participants in the fields under discussion: poverty eradication; sustainable consumption and production patterns; natural resource management; health and sustainable development; and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

Nitin Desai, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, warned one of the ministerial round tables that the international community is falling far short of reaching targets set by world leaders in 2000 at the UN Millennium Summit, stressing that 100,000 people needed to be raised out of poverty every day, 200,000 must be provided sanitation and 400,000 more with safe energy in order to meet those goals by the target dates. What was currently being done, mainly at the country level, was nothing compared to those figures, covering just a tiny fraction of what was needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals. At another of the roundtables, a presentation was made by Jonathon Sachs (Special Advisor on the Millennium Development Goals - MDGs) outlining some of the ways in which the MDGs might be linked to the CSD's follow-up work for the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

In the inter-active ministerial round tables, many delegations mentioned the importance of water and energy as key issues on which the CSD should focus in the near future. Major Groups, including Indigenous Peoples, youth, and trade unions emphasized the importance of meaningful and broad-based participation in the implementation of WSSD agreements.

The following are a few excerpts from the Chairperson's Summary of the High-Level Segment:

Participants reaffirmed the unique role and mandate of the CSD as the only high-level UN body to facilitate accelerated implementation of sustainable development. The primary role of the CSD remains that of monitoring, reviewing and co-ordinating implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. 

Participants stressed the importance of political ownership and involvement in the new work programme of the CSD. The CSD is well placed as a forum for co-ordination and integration and will be able to add value to the implementing organs and agencies in the UN system.

The Commission should also take into account the ongoing dialogue in the General Assembly on the integrated and co-ordinated follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic and social fields. Delegations from member states renewed their commitment to ensure a more integrated approach to implementing sustainable development at country level and highlighted the mutual benefit of an improved, more action-oriented CSD work programme and better integration at country level. They also resolved to ensure that the CSD sends out a strong message to governments in this regard and to request the Secretary-General to promote a more integrated approach to sustainable development implementation with heads of state and government in all relevant forums.

The importance of national strategies for sustainable development that integrate economic, social and environmental issues was highlighted. WSSD agreed that these must be implemented in all countries by 2005. Ministers from different sectoral portfolios should engage in these national strategies, as well as in the CSD, depending on the particular focal area of the CSD at the time.

A three hour session on Thursday morning May 1st was devoted to hearing from representatives of the "Major Groups" recognized within the CSD regarding the future programme work. This categorization of civil society was initiated at the time of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. It includes nine groupings: women, Indigenous Peoples, youth, NGOs, farmers, trade unions, business, scientific community, local authorities. The session started with input from each of the groups and then responses and dialogue with government delegations. There was a good representation of government delegations throughout the session.

There was general support by Major Groups about the direction in which the CSD programme planning is heading. The two-year cycle with a review and a policy year was seen as a good approach to implementing the WSSD agreements but with certain qualifications. The NGO presentation was characteristic of this approach in emphasizing: "1) increased and unprejudiced participation of NGOs, with the necessary resources put into place to support participation, 2) no renegotiation of Agenda 21, the Rio Principles, and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, and 3) that the CSD distinguish itself as the primary forum in the multilateral system on sustainable development and policy coherence".

Two issues did provoke considerable response fed by pointed questions and comments by the Chair. There had been earlier comments by some governments about needing to have more involvement of "implementing NGOs" who are active in the field as opposed to "policy NGOs." There was initially considerable confusion about this distinction. Eventually, there was general agreement that it is not a helpful or meaningful distinction to make. The second lively issue of discussion was whether the current nine major groups were sufficiently representative of civil society. In particular, the Chair made a strong case for disabled persons and the religious communities to be recognized. As he said, in his country (South Africa) it would be unthinkable to have a multi-stakeholder dialogue without these two groups formally represented. There was general affirmation of the need to have disabled persons represented and a few government delegations and Major Groups spoke positively about the important role that faith communities can play. The discussion concluded with a suggestion that a CSD working group be created to study the issue in greater detail, not only in terms of what major groups are present but also regarding the overall modalities to increase the effectiveness of their participation.

The following are a few excerpts from the Chairperson's Summary of the Multi-stakeholder Dialogue:

A key theme emerging from the dialogue was the renewed commitment to addressing sustainable development within a multilateral framework, as well as the central role of the human-centred and rights-based approaches to sustainable development …

The CSD was asked to give consideration to the broadening of participation to include groups like consumers, faith-based groups, parliamentarians and the media. There was a convergence on the need to include vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities and the elderly, as well as to recognize the important role played by educators in the future work of the CSD. The Women's group also emphasized the importance of appropriate gender balance in all CSD meetings. 

Several delegations expressed strong concern at the small numbers of stakeholders from the South forming part of the Major Group delegations to the CSD… …

Major Groups' comments indicated support for the proposed two-year cycle of the new Work Programme, and for water and energy as priority areas for the first two cycles. Farmers drew specific attention to the importance of linking water to food security issues. There was also general support for the proposed regional implementation forums, which were seen as ways to increase major group participation in the monitoring and implementation efforts. …

Indigenous People and NGOs proposed a rights-based approach, the use of prior informed consent and respect for cultural diversity as general principles that should be underlying the future work of the CSD. Gender issues and gender equity needs to be mainstreamed into the future work of the CSD.

Indigenous Peoples' representatives had a visible presence within the formal sessions and in other events at CSD-11. Statements made by Indigenous Peoples' during the Ministerial Inter-active Sessions and the Multi-stakeholder Dialogue emphasized such issues as: 

A side event held on Tuesday April 29th was focused on "Indigenous Peoples' Proposals for the Way Forward After Johannesburg". It featured presentations on the Kimberley Declaration and the Indigenous Peoples Plan of Implementation adopted by Indigenous Peoples at the time of WSSD in Johannesburg as well as information on current partnerships, advocacy statements and campaigns related to protected areas, waters and extractive industries. All of these documents are available on the web site of Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples' International Centre for Policy Research)

In responding to the Chairperson's Draft CSD-11 Decision, the Indigenous Peoples' Caucus emphasized a variety of points to strengthen the participation of Major Groups. In reference to the proposal for the multi-year programme of work, the Caucus proposed an additional paragraph which captures the essence of Indigenous Peoples' priorities:

Values and principles that are essential for achieving sustainable development, such as peace, security, stability and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms (including the right to development), respect for cultural diversity and ethics for sustainable development, as emphasized in paragraphs 5 and 6 of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, shall be fully considered in addressing all themes in each cycle.

  • Indigenous Peoples' priorities relate to the protection, use and renewal of ancestral lands;
  • There needs to be a strong inter-relationship between the CSD and the newly-established UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

a) Chairperson's Draft Decision
Late in the afternoon of Thursday May 1st, the Chairperson tabled his draft decision by CSD-11 "Future Programme, Organisation and Methods of Work of the Commission". The Chair's draft decision recommended among other things:

  • A two-year work cycle commencing with a review year followed by a policy year with the following rhythm:
    - Spring to fall period - regional implementation forums
    - February - Secretary-General's state of implementation report
    May - CSD Review Session
    - December - Secretary-General's Policy Reports
    - February - Inter-governmental preparatory meeting with a dialogue with experts
    - May - CSD Policy Session
  • In preparation for the CSD Review Sessions, the two annual meetings of the two former Ad Hoc Inter-sessional Working Groups of CSD be transformed into five CSD Regional Implementation Forums;
  • The results of CSD work should not be limited to summaries of discussions and negotiated texts, but should also include sharing of best practice and lessons learned, capacity-building activities such as learning centers, and partnerships that support implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for Further Implementation of Agenda 21 (Rio +5), and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation;
  • The overriding theme should be "Sustainable Development for Poverty Eradication" for all implementation cycles in the CSD multi-year programme of work;
  • The foci for the first two cycles should be:
    - 2004/5 - Water (access to water & sanitation, water resources management, water scarcity, water & agriculture, water & health, water & land, water & desertification, water & pollution)
    - 2006/7 - Energy (access to energy, energy efficiency, diversification of energy supply, enhancing industrial productivity, transport, climate change, renewable energy & natural resource management)
  • Contributions from Major Groups to CSD sessions, while respecting established rules of procedure, should be enhanced…Other constituencies, such as disabled persons, consumer groups and educators, should be actively involved in the implementation of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and CSD work;
  • The involvement of UN organizations in partnerships should be in accordance with their mandates and priorities and should not lead to diversion of the resources allocated for inter-governmentally agreed priorities.

b) Major Groups' Responses to Draft Decision
On Friday morning May 2nd, a plenary was held to receive Major Groups' reactions to the CSD-11 Draft Decision prepared by the Chairperson. While generally supportive of the directions of the draft decision, a number of suggestions and comments were made by Major Groups including:

  • The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation made it absolutely clear that sustainable development is best served if THREE overarching themes are considered together i.e. poverty eradication, changing unsustainable production and consumption patterns, and protecting the natural resource base of economic and social development. Singling out one - poverty eradication - undermines the essence of Rio.
  • Re the WTO - the absence of any consideration to the CSD's role in integrating trade is a major omission that will come to haunt its implementation programme and jeopardize its chances for success. In excluding economic decision-making and the WTO specifically from its purview, the CSD is undermining its own mandate. The WTO is today the most powerful multilateral organization and its legally binding rules have tremendous impact on sustainable development. If sustainable development dimensions are not injected into trade policy, and the CSD is in the best position to help do so, our goal of sustainability will forever remain an elusive goal;
  • Much of the important work on sustainable development occurs at the local level and yet the draft decision does not acknowledge this. In sections that list the various levels of governmental, inter-governmental and societal decision-making, there should be explicit reference made to the local community level as well.

c) Negotiation and Final Decisions of CSD-11
The majority of the second week of CSD-11 was spent on hearing responses to the Chairperson's draft decision from governments and multi-governmental negotiating blocks, receiving further input from major groups, negotiating texts and making final decisions. There was general support for the proposal of a two-year programme of work cycle but there were a number of other issues which became contentious.

The G-77/China (the main negotiating block of developing nations) expressed reservations about selecting only one priority issue in each cycle. They preferred a clustering approach that would allow for consideration of all issues in Agenda 21 as opposed to a single-issue focus. This and other statements by the G77/China indicate their strong interest in using the CSD to operationalise resources to support progress towards the implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation in developing countries. Members of the JUSCANZ negotiating block (Japan, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) generally continued to support the idea of a single-issue focus. The European Union sought compromise ground by suggesting that three issues be considered per cycle. The EU also proposed that the programme of work cover the main themes and overarching objectives of the WSSD, namely poverty eradication, unsustainable consumption and production, and protecting the natural resource base. This statement echoed some of the concerns expressed earlier by the Major Groups. The EU also supported including work on corporate and social responsibility.

In the end a compromise was reached with the development of a matrix of thematic clusters which would follow two-year cycles throughout the Multi-Year Programme of Work of the CSD, as laid out in an Annex of the agreed order. This would be guided by the considerations that:

The Thematic Clusters will be:
2004/2005 - Water, Sanitation and Human Settlements
2006/2007 - Energy for Sustainable Development, Industrial Development, Air
Pollution/ Atmosphere, Climate Change
2008/2009 - Agriculture, Rural Development, Land, Drought, Desertification, Africa
2010/2011 - Transport, Chemicals, Waste Management, Mining, A Ten Year Framework
of programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production
2012/2013 - Forests, Biodiversity, Biotechnology, Tourism Mountains
2014/2015 - Oceans and Seas, Marine Resources, SIDS, Disaster Management and

As for the other cross-cutting issues, they should also be addressed in every cycle.
These include:

They also agreed that the CSD may decide to incorporate new challenges and opportunities related to implementation into its Multi-Year Programme of Work.

Another area of considerable concern and differences of opinion was that of the reporting responsibilities of governments regarding implementation actions. Some countries felt that the responsibilities were too onerous while others wanted to strengthen them so as to focus on evaluative monitoring and not just highlighting positive developments. They were unable to entertain new and innovative methods of monitoring and review, but did stress the need to produce country reports that would

Also, contentious was the attempt to define the level of participation of Major Groups in the High- Level segments of CSD, especially Ministerial Roundtables and Dialogues. Some delegations wanted to ensure that only the very highest level of civil society participants would interact with Ministers, while others agreed it was the business of the major groups themselves to decide who would represent them. The final agreement was: "Strengthening major group involvement in the activities of the CSD, including through the participation of representatives from major groups at the appropriate level."

In February, the UN Secretary General established a Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations Civil Society Relations,

But in this CSD, there was debate about of the accreditation of NGOs and the backlog that has developed in the system which has not been able to deal effectively and expeditiously with the applications of the hundreds of NGOs who had been accredited to Rio, then Johannesburg, and had been put on a CSD Roster, but had not gone through the more formal ECOSOC accreditation process. Finally it was agreed to,

It will be important for NGOs to take advantage of the Eminent Persons Panel to let their concerns and views be known as to how the UN system can improve its access for civil society and its contributions.

While the proposals to be more inclusive of groups who have until now not been named, such as disabled persons, consumer groups and educators, were not able to be agreed to in the final text, there was a willingness to refer back to the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, (paragraphs 139 g and 145 c & d.) for its attempt to involve more people in the implementation of sustainable development. In fact, the desire for this to be enhanced was spelled out in the agreement of this meeting that,

The main goal of the Chair to not renegotiate texts Agenda 21 or the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation was often hard-won as numbers of delegations tried to re-interpret or backtrack, and sometimes add on to them. However, in several instances, when substantive issues could not be agreed upon, the actual previously agreed language was referenced, and repeated exactly as is. The appropriate paragraph numbers of Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, as well as the phrase "following the established UN rules of procedure", became a kind of shorthand for the new agreements.

This reemphasized the importance of establishing good foundations from which to go forward in the decades ahead.

Dr. David G. Hallman,
Programme Officer for Energy & Environment for
The United Church of Canada, and
Climate Change Programme Coordinator for
The World Council of Churches,
3250 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Canada M8X 2Y4
tel.: 1-416-231-5931 ext. 4069
voice mail: 1-416-231-7680 ext. 4069
fax: 1-416-231-3103
e-mail: dhallman (at)

Specific organizational modalities for CSD meetings will be recommended by the Bureau of the Commission through open-ended and transparent consultations conducted in a timely manner…Activities during CSD meetings should provide for balanced involvement of participants from all regions as well as for gender balance.

recommend to the ECOSOC to consider, in accordance with established UN rules of procedure and taking note of the ongoing work of the NGO Committee, the status of NGOs that were accredited to the WSSD so that the Commission can benefit from their contributions as soon as possible.

to look into the modes of participation in UN processes of non-governmental organizations, as well as of other non-governmental actors such as the private sector and parliamentarians. The SG has asked the Panel to identify best practices within the UN system and other international bodies, and use them as a basis for recommendations to be issued within twelve months. The Panel is also asked to find ways to make it easier for civil society actors from the developing countries to play a full role in UN activities.

reflect the overall progress made on the three dimensions of sustainable development focusing on the thematic cluster issues of the cycle and include inputs from all levels, as appropriate, including national, sub-regional, regional and global levels, and drawing on all those sources...which includes contributions from major groups and other stakeholders, including scientific experts as well as educators.

Poverty eradication, Changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, Protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development, Sustainable Development in a globalizing world, Health and Sustainable Development, Sustainable Development of SIDS (small island developing states), Sustainable Development of Africa, Other regional initiatives, Means of Implementation, Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development, Gender Equality, and Education.

The thematic clusters should be addressed in an integrated manner taking into account economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Recognizing that all issues identified in Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation are important, the implementation process should cover all these issues equally and, therefore the selection of some issues during a life cycle does not diminish the importance of the commitments undertaken with respect to the issues to be considered in future cycles;