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Perhaps the biggest weakness, or missed opportunity, of the CSD session was the lack of dialogue. Due in part to the fact that the meeting was only two weeks long and the agenda was formidable, there was insufficient time for the type of dialogue that might have produced concrete and creative recommendations. As it was, two days were spent listening to general statements, five and a half days were spent negotiating draft decisions and two and a half days were taken up by ministerial statements at the High-Level Segment. Delegates were given little time to consider draft proposals before they were expected to negotiate agreements. As a result of this lack of dialogue, many complained that the draft decisions were vague and not particularly action-oriented. One delegate noted that, under these circumstances, it was not surprising that the texts repeat language from Agenda 21. There was also limited dialogue on national implementation. Not enough national reports were completed on time to be summarized in the Secretariat's report. Delegates criticized the format of the reports because there was not enough time to complete the required analytical work. Delegates called for simplified and comparable reports, but the failed attempt to adopt a decision on indicators will delay the realization of comparable reports. A few delegates reported on national-level activities in their statements, but there was really no opportunity to share detailed success stories that might help other countries.

The High-Level Segment was not the recipient of much praise this year. Although some ministers and other participants did put their prepared statements aside and respond to others' comments, this was the exception rather than the rule. The High-Level Segment ran into trouble almost from the start when the two hours of planned opening statements quickly expanded. The planned "discussions" on finance, technology, trade and environment and changing consumption patterns did not materialize. Although most speakers addressed the issues on the CSD's agenda for this year, there was little focus to the discussions and few clear recommendations emerged. At this point, there does not seem to be a recipe for improving the High-Level Segment. Ministers tend to come to meetings such as this one with prepared statements that they wish to present "for the record" and for their constituencies back home. Some have suggested the use of a closed round-table discussion that may facilitate the free exchange of ideas. Others disagree since this would totally destroy any sense of transparency and democracy in the work of the Commission. There was also criticism of the participants in the High-Level Segment. As Canada pointed out, they were preaching to the converted -- most of the ministers who participated were ministers of the environment. Many called for the participation of ministers of finance, development, industry and agriculture in the future.

NGOs were not particularly effective at this session. Due to a lack of funding and a lack of interest, there were far fewer representatives from NGOs and major groups at this session than anticipated. Unlike at other UN-related meetings and conferences of late, the Women's Caucus played a minimal role. A lack of gender sensitivity abounded and, as a result, there was little reference to the role of women in many of the Chair's draft texts. Many of the NGOs that did attend spent most of their time in their own meetings and were often unaware of what the governments were doing. Very few NGOs approached government delegates with specific recommendations or language to be included in the draft decisions. Nevertheless, there were a few NGOs that were effective. For example, CAPE 2000, a group of US environmental groups, was successful in raising the issue of the health problems related to lead, which now appears in the decision on toxic chemicals.

Finally, the subject that proved to be the most contentious did not involve any of the issues in this year's thematic work programme. Delegates spent more time negotiating the procedural text on matters relating to intersessional arrangements in preparation for next year's session than they did on many of the substantive issues. This procedural focus, while important, should not draw delegates away from addressing the review of Agenda 21 implementation in the future as it did this year.

In defense of the Commission, some delegates and observers have noted that this was the first year that the CSD actually addressed Agenda 21 follow-up and implementation (last year was primarily procedural in nature). Hopefully, the lessons learned this year, in conjunction with the intersessional meetings, greater UN system coordination and progress at the national level, will help to produce more action-oriented recommendations and decisions as well as a productive dialogue -- at both the diplomatic and the ministerial levels -- in the future. [Return to start of article]