Commission on Sustainable Development holds final session

After promoting sustainable development for two decades, the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) held its last session on Friday, 20th September. The concluding meeting took place just before the inaugural session of the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development on Tuesday, 24 September, which has replaced the CSD.

A bold and new idea that emerged from the 1992 Earth Summit, the CSD was the first UN body established to promote and monitor the implementation of sustainable development.  It broke new ground by including an array of participants from civil society in its deliberations.  The CSD also served as the launching pad for a range of new initiatives, treaties, and organizations aimed at addressing particular issues within the sustainable development agenda.

But over time, participants expressed concern that progress in implementing sustainable development was lagging and that the issue needed to be addressed at a higher level. Therefore, in the  Rio+20 outcome document “The Future We Want,” Member States called for the creation of the High-Level Political Forum to ensure that sustainable development tops the agenda of the highest levels of government and is embraced by all actors.

CSD taught us many lessons

The Chairperson of the final CSD session, Bektas Mukhamedzhanov, Kazakh Vice-Minister of Environment Protection, said “the CSD played a critical role to maintain the momentum on sustainable development.  CSD taught us many lessons on how the Forum can deliver on this responsibility.”

“We are entering a new period in history,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo.  “There is a realization that sustainable development—the integration of policies and actions that promote economic and social well-being that also protect the environment—has to have a  prominent place on the international agenda at the highest levels.  The Commission on Sustainable Development has served us well, yet we have to recognize that we need to urgently accelerate action.  The High Level Political Forum will help us do just that.”

Former CSD Chair Gerda Verburg, the only woman to chair the Commission in its history, said that what we need from the HLPF is an “integrated and result-oriented approach, without dogmas and a fixation on talks and negotiation. It is our generation that can and has to make the difference”.

A platform for inspiring action

The CSD has been credited with helping countries share ideas and best practices and many believe that it provided a platform for inspiring action.  The work of the Commission led to the establishment of the UN Forum on Forests, which has advanced progress on sustainable forestry through the adoption of the non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests in 2007. A recommendation of the Commission led to the process that established the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, as well as the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

The Commission has also advanced progress in the areas of oceans, water and energy, among others, and has worked to promote sustainable development in small island developing states.

According to a report of the UN Secretary-General on the lessons learned from the Commission, the contributions achieved by the CSD were also accompanied by a number of shortcomings. The report pointed to shortcomings in fully integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development and in its review and impact on the implementation of sustainable development.

The new High-Level Political Forum will be shaped with these useful lessons in mind and its first session revealed an optimism and determination that bodes well for the future.

Fore more information, including a video summarizing the CSD’s history and video messages from two of its Chairs, please see: A short video on the HLPF can be found here: