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The question of institutional arrangements to follow-up UNCED was mandated to Working Group III of the UNCED Preparatory Committee, which began to work in earnest on this matter in March 1992, at its fourth and last session. The Chair of the PrepCom, Tommy Koh (Singapore), and Working Group III Chair, Bedrich Moldan (Czechoslovakia), chose Ambassador Razali Ismail (Malaysia) to serve as the issue coordinator for institutions and informal meetings began on 17 March 1992. Razali had been given a broad mandate that included addressing the ways and means to strengthen cooperation within the UN on environment and development; reviewing the role and function of UN agencies; and examining the ways in which institutions could be strengthened to implement Agenda 21. The objective was to produce a draft of what would become the chapter in Agenda 21 on institutions.

Preliminary debate in the sub-group was characterized by a general agreement that no new institutions should be created, yet there was a need for programme coordination and a high-level body to provide policy direction on environment and development. Razali prepared a draft negotiating text based on the informal discussions, the various government position papers on institutions, and consultations held with governments. This marked the first, but certainly not the last, time in this process that Razali used his role as the Chair to facilitate and -- according to many observers -- accelerate discussions by synthesizing views, with the help of the Secretariat, into a Conference Room Paper (CRP.3, in this case). These informal draft papers reflected the best political compromise possible and was then used as the basis for negotiations in lieu of text presented by a country or one of the regional groups (a process that had slowed or defeated negotiations in other sub-groups at PrepCom IV).

It was in this early draft that the idea to establish a Sustainable Development Commission emerged, as well as the proposal that ECOSOC undertake the work of policy review and oversee system-wide coordination of the implementation of Agenda 21 by the various UN bodies. Debate followed on the exact relationship between the proposed Commission and ECOSOC. While Razali picked up on the idea of the CSD as a functional commission of ECOSOC (which it finally became), many governments promoted the idea that either a revitalized ECOSOC be given the responsibility for monitoring the implementation of Agenda 21 or that a third sessional committee of ECOSOC be established. By the end of PrepCom IV the group was still unable to resolve some of the issues surrounding both inter-governmental mechanisms and functions in Chapter 38 of Agenda 21: "International Institutional Arrangements." While the possibility of a functional commission had not been precluded, the text that was sent to Rio proposed two options: 1) a high-level Commission on Sustainable Development that would report to the General Assembly on matters of substance and to ECOSOC on matters of coordination; 2) or the use of a revitalized ECOSOC with a subsidiary mechanism such as a third sessional committee or the utilization of its high-level coordination segments.

NGOs were particularly active on the issue of post-UNCED institutional arrangements. The International NGO Group on Legal and Institutional Matters, a coalition of NGOs from both industrialized and developing countries, circulated a number of position papers and lobbied for the creation of the CSD, particularly with several developed countries that were opposed at the start of negotiations to the creation of any new institutions as a result of UNCED. [Return to start of article]