THE EARTH TIMES
JUNE 12, 1993
“The Commission for Sustainable Development is important..”
BY ASHALI VARMA
Ambassador Razali Ismail was elected Chairman of the Commission on Sustainable Development on Feb. 24, 1993, for a one-year term. He is Malaysia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He was also Chairman of the G77 in 1989. Razali played a prominent role in the preparatory meetings on environment and development in the two years leading up to the Rio Summit. Excerpts from an interview with The Earth Times:
There is concern that the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) may be yet another
bureaucratic body, how do you see it evolving?
The CSD is arguably the one tangible manifestation of Rio. There were a lot of important commitments made but most of them were on the philosophical side, intangible side – the Rio declaration the fact that over a hundred heads of state were there and all that. There was a surging sense of expectation and interest from people from all walks of life that at last we are coming to our senses. We could talk in terms of ourselves and the state of the planet together and we could work out a more balanced arrangement on these aspects. The CSD is the one body where governments can get together in this case 53 governments – to at least monitor the implementation of the commitments and decisions of Rio. The CSD by itself generates activities in the UN throughout the agencies. You now have as it were a UN commitment and
involvement on looking at the progress of Agenda 21 in the context of the agencies. So we can not really say it is another bureaucracy. But one can turn this into a bureaucracy by passivity and negativity and the continuation of an inordinate sense of suspicion and anxiety when one wants to resist change. For the South, I think to have the CSD, is the continuation of the pressure that we have been successfully able to apply on the North, in the two years leading up to Rio. But it doesn’t stop there as we didn’t manage to get a lot of the things that we wanted to do. What Rio has done is just given us an opportunity, so we should now continue mounting that pressure in every aspect, including structural adjustments in a very unequal international economic structure.
Can the CSD be effective in the question of aid and conditionality?
We have to deal with realities, conditionalities are already there. In the case of what will take place in the CSD under the context of shared and differentiated responsibility there are conditions that the North must adhere to and there are conditions that apply to the South and there are common conditions but those do not constitute conditionality. Obviously wasteful and flagrant use of natural resources would not be accepted now. But in order to allow us not to do that there are conditions. The North must make available to us certain provisions like financial resources, technology related to national capacity.
How could you make the CSD an effective monitoring body?
Well, at the minimum, it must succeed as a monitoring body and it must be able to generate consensus. It doesn’t have much life ahead of it if it is not able to do that. The CSD is only a
functional commission. It is not the ECOSOC or the General Assembly so in many ways what it says is recommendatory. But I believe in time that the importance of the CSD could
be inversely proportional to its actual size because principally the CSD is supported strongly by a lot of people outside including the NGOs, interested groups and academicians. If the CSD would just prove its worth and be seen to function well enough than its impact would be more meaningful with governments and institutions. So I think the CSD is a mobilizer of opinion gathering and opinion making. It is a facilitator to locating ways of determining resources where resources are not available.
Do you think that the CSD Secretariat has enough representation from the South?
I think in Nitin Desai we have the best man for the job. This is a man who has figured in the development process in his own country. He has been with us all the way leading to Rio so this is a man who knows the subject and all its permutations. I am banking a lot on the commitment and wide ranging experience of Desai. I believe he is essentially committed to the issues. I know that there is a general dispute between the North and the South and Malaysia has also complained that there is too much representation from the North within the higher levels of this secretariat. I don’t want the work of the CSD to be stymied—to be held back because of the suspicions and counter suspicions.
What can the CSD do to persuade Northern countries that are reaching out to Southern
markets to give cleaner and more effective technologies so you have sustainable development?
We have the subject of technology and also finance coming up at every annual meeting of the CSD. I would expect the South, the G77 to utilize these occasions to underline over and over the necessity of being given preferential rates to the right technology to phase in sustainability, without having to put a lid on our development processes. I would be very disappointed if G77 doesn’t push for this. It should apply the pressure to governments of the north and on the business sector. If you remember there were no adequate statements or pronouncements on transnational corporations in Rio. This was one of the disappointments and shortcomings of Rio. I will expect the South to use this meeting of the CSD as another opportunity to rewrite this pronouncement for the TNCs and bring them back to accountability. This includes the transfer of dirty industries
What can you do to make the first substantive meeting of the CSD really effective?
My role is tosee that the firstsubstantive meeting of the CSD will now be channelled through a mechanism that goes further. We will be looking more at the cross sectoral issues which obviously need discussion particularly the ones that were not properly looked at in Rio- the question of resources and technology. The CSD must come out with certain decisions that moves the process beyond Rio.
How will the CSD relate to the World Bank and IMF?
The CSD can marshal a lot of the expectations of the people like the NGOs who want more accessibility to the policy making activities. They want the World Bank to be more transparent. I see this happening in the GEF discussions. The CSD is part of the process in wanting to open up the World Bank and the IMF and put the onus of the implementation on the shoulders of the governments.