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Editor's Note: 2012 in Review 

Issue #200 | 21 December 2012

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

Sustainable development events during 2012 have resulted in a very full agenda for the coming three years.

The sustainable development agenda for 2012 opened on 10 January 2012 with the release of the zero-draft for the outcome document for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20). Two weeks later, delegates agreed to work on the basis of that draft, but over the course of four meetings during the following five months, the text swelled to over 200 pages. Eventually, a final draft of approximately 50 pages was placed into consideration. The ultimate agreement, adopted in Rio, set in motion a number of follow up actions, calling on the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to take decisions determining the future of international decision-making on sustainable development. Importantly, the UNGA is to designate a body to operationalize the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production; identify the format and organizational aspects of the high-level forum, which is to replace the Commission on Sustainable Development; and constitute a working group to develop global sustainable development goals (SDGs). It should also establish an intergovernmental process to propose options on an effective sustainable development financing strategy, and consider the Secretary-General's recommendations for a facilitation mechanism that promotes the development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies. Furthermore, the UNGA will be determining the modalities for the third international conference on small island developing states, which is to convene in 2014; while the UN Statistical Commission is called on to launch a programme of work on broader measures to complement gross domestic product. Additional action is to be taken within two years on the development of an international instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) regarding marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The SDG language in the Rio+20 outcome document set in motion a lot of work in the final months of 2012, in particular, and the stories in this issue of Linkages Update identify additional follow-up taking place on the outcome, through decisions that the Second Committee sent to the UNGA.

Parallel to the attention to the SDGs were efforts related to the post-2015 period for the MDGs. In September 2012, the narrative for the post-2015 development agenda took off in earnest, as the High Level Panel of eminent persons on the post-2015 development agenda met around the edges of the opening of the UNGA, and UN Member States weighed in on their preferences for post-2015 MDGs, SDGs and the relationship between the two. During the last three months of 2012, thematic consultations have begun on line. At the end of October, the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons held its first substantive meeting with a focus on the issue of household poverty. And the dates for the second substantive meeting have just been set, for the end of January 2013.

Another key event in 2012 was the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. This October meeting in Hyderabad, India, followed a very intense COP 10, which had adopted the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, the Strategic Plan on Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi biodiversity targets, and a decision on implementation of the Convention's Strategy for Resource Mobilization. COP 11 did not have as ambitious an agenda in terms of establishing international environmental law, but it had its own achievements nevertheless, attempting to refocus global efforts to the implementation of existing commitments. In addition, delegates in Hyderabad continued the discussion on implementation of the Resource Mobilization Strategy as a prerequisite for implementing substantive commitments under the Convention and the Strategic Plan, and set an interim target of doubling biodiversity-related international financial resource flows to developing countries by 2015, and at least maintaining this level until 2020. COP 12 is expected to review progress, with a view to adopting the final target for resource mobilization.

And more recently, the Doha Climate Change Conference concluded a very busy year with some key decisions to shape international environmental law and policy. Delegates adopted decisions that established a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, and terminated the work of the Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP). Delegates also agreed to terminate the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the UNFCCC (AWG-LCA) and negotiations under the Bali Action Plan. Negotiations will continue under the Ad hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which has its own 2015 deadline: the Durban Climate Change Conference, in 2011, had established an Ad Hoc Working Group to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC and applicable to all parties.

The sustainable development calendar in 2013 may look more relaxed now, but the year promises to be just as interesting, as consultations on the post-2015 development agenda intensify, negotiations begin on the strands of follow-up to the Rio+20 outcome, alongside regional preparatory meetings for the SIDS Conference, and the UNFCCC and CBD parties focus on the decisions they adopted in 2012. Although many look to 2015 for the next big year for sustainable development policy decisions, meetings of the UN Forum on Forests, the first meeting of the Plenary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the back-to-back ordinary and extraordinary meetings of the Conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions will bring additional developments to international environmental law and policy. We have recently introduced our latest knowledge managment projects, which will help track the developments related to these key events: Forests Policy & Practice; Land Policy & Practice; and Chemicals and Wastes Policy & Practice. We look forward to helping to track developments and the evolving narrative during the coming years.