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Editor's Note: Building Momentum 

Issue #176 | 3 October 2011

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

The past fortnight has launched what promises to be an extremely busy three month period for sustainable development policy making.

The opening of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) was accompanied by the traditional parade of heads of State and government, as well as a number of special events. This year, the opening of the UNGA was preceded by a high-level event on desertification. In 2010, a similar pre-UNGA event focused on biodiversity and added momentum to the negotiations at the October meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which resulted in the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, among other outcomes. And in 2009, a UN Summit on Climate Change convened prior to the opening of the UNGA, to feed into the momentum for the UN Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

The 2011 event for the youngest Rio Convention focused on the upcoming tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification as well as links between desertification, land degradation and drought, and the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20). In relation to the latter, a number of speakers suggested that a goal for “zero net land degradation” should be adopted as a quantitative sustainable development target. The idea of targets was also raised in statements during the opening of the UNGA, with several speakers, beginning with the UN Secretary-General, proposing that the UNCSD could endorse a process to elaborate sustainable development goals that “pick up where the Millennium Development Goals leave off” and to agree on the means to achieve them. This idea and many other possible outcomes from the UNCSD will be taken up next by regional meetings organized by the UN economic commissions, which will then lead into the UNCSD Preparatory Committee's negotiations during the Northern winter and spring.

Meanwhile, the UN Panama Climate Change Conference taking place this week is seeking to build momentum going into the UN Durban Climate Change Conference, which will take place at the end of this year. Our team in Panama is reporting on the events there, and the drafts and proposals that will be sent to Durban. At last count, IISD RS will have teams in no fewer than 15 cities in the coming month, reporting on addition efforts to build momentum and reach consensus about the path forward for sustainable development.