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Editor's Note: Arrivals and Departures on the Sustainable Development Journey 

Issue #166 | 15 April 2011

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By: Lynn Wagner, Ph.D., Group Director, SDG Knowledge, IISD <>

The three meetings that IISD RS has reported from in the last fortnight offer an interesting review of the progression of international sustainable development policy making. Our teams reported from events ranging from the development of an international forum through which governments can seek to coordinate their actions, to ongoing negotiations seeking to strengthen international commitments, to the examination of practical efforts to implement international obligations and how they could be replicated.

As our Earth Negotiations Bulletin analysis from the first session of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Assembly notes, this meeting marked the official birth of IRENA and “attracted significant attention, as evidenced by its high attendance, with nearly 1000 participants, including over 80 ministerial level representatives and delegations from most countries in the world.” Despite this auspicious start, the focus of IRENA has yet to be determined, and decisions taken over the next few years will be key in shaping the Agency for a decade or more. In the process of defining its future, our analysis identifies possible options for its focus, and suggests that the “challenge before IRENA is to not see these options as crossroads, where one of these visions must be chosen, but to understand the development of IRENA as a journey, one which has just begun.”

Meanwhile, another team of Earth Negotiations Bulletin writers were in Bangkok, Thailand, to report on a forum whose journey has been long and arduous. The IRENA delegates are embarking on what our Bangkok team called “Life in the Departure Lounge,” in which, “At every point of arrival in climate change negotiations, the parties are also confronted by the challenge of choosing a new destination.” The April UN Climate Change Conference in Bangkok comprised the first parts of the 16th session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP 16) and the 14th session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA 14). Both of these AWG sessions will continue in Bonn, Germany, in June. AWG-LCA delegates spent the week in Bangkok discussing the agenda, which essentially defines its future for the coming year. Our analysis suggests that, “Going forward to Bonn, the modest but critical achievements of the Bangkok meeting promise to release business-like efforts to concentrate on the detailed implementation of the Cancun Agreements, while suspending some of the pressure to conflate technical and political issues and fight proxy battles over agendas.”

A third IISD Reporting Services team covered a meeting that looked at a different aspect of this collective journey to achieve sustainable development policy. The Fifth International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation (CBA), meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh, focused on “Scaling Up: Beyond Pilots,” and emphasized the need to spread CBA knowledge and practical lessons horizontally across communities and vertically across levels of governance and action. As the IRENA and UNFCCC processes work to inspire actions horizontally across country boundaries and vertically to actors at the State and local levels, the CBA meeting reminds us that communities are undertaking good practices and seeking to spread their lessons in opposite, yet complimentary, directions.

Our reports from these meetings record the departures, arrivals and destinations of a variety of actors pursuing sustainable development, particularly in terms of energy and climate policies at the local, national and international levels. In the next two weeks, we will be continuing our detailed reporting and analysis, this time with coverage of events on energy policy, the green economy, the CITES Plants Committee and the Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention. Our reporting services increase the transparency of decision makers' selected routes and enhance the opportunities to learn from earlier efforts and other processes along the way. As we enter into our 19th year of publishing Earth Negotiations Bulletin, we look forward to continuing to bring you news on these journeys, the challenges and obstacles faced, as well as the milestones reached along the way.