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Commission on Sustainable Development

represented by Christoph Berkemeier and Paul Schmidt

The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was established in 1992 to ensure an effective follow-up of the Earth Summit. The Commission reviews progress of programmes like the Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. It also helps to implement the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation on all levels. At NMUN, the Commission’s task was to write a report, which then was introduced to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

The topics on our agenda were:

  1. Management of Biotechnology: Environmentally Sound Technologies;
  2. Combating Desertification; and
  3. Building Sustainable Human Settlements and Infrastructure.

As we started our research we found out that Australia is quite interested in biotechnology. Australia tries to develop its industry from being commodity-based to one that is based on knowledge. Biotechnology fits quite well in there, because it does not really depend on raw materials and could help to improve agricultural goods. Although Australia is the most arid continent in the world, a significant part of Australian exports are agricultural goods. Biotechnology could help here on the one hand to process agricultural goods into higher value goods, which will generate a greater revenue than raw materials. One example for this are Generation 2 biofuels, i.e. biofuels manufactured from biomass from non-food crops, for which Australia set up a special research and development programme. On the other hand it could help Australian farmers simply stay in business. Some opinions were mentioned, that in such a highly competitive field like the agricultural industry the Australian farmers risk to fall back, if they do not have access to biotechnology. Although not all biotechnology is about genetically modified organisms, it is an important part of biotechnology, at least because it is an ignition point of heated discussions. We researched Australian regulations on genetically modified organisms and biotechnology in general to prepare for such discussions, as we could outline how risk aware Australia is and what kind of big long-term experience we got with biotechnology risk management. The most difficulties we had with the Australian position was that Australia is still into biotechnology. When Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister of Australia by December 2007, the eleven-year-term of John Howard ended. Mr Rudd and Mr Howard do not share many political beliefs, when it comes to ecology and climate change issues. On the one hand, the Rudd government closed the governmental pro-biotechnology website and on the other hand the Australian Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, sees genetic modified organism as part of the puzzle. Australian farmer NGOs criticised Rudd for the above mentioned, as they consider it as breaking one of his election promises. In the end, we decided to be slightly pro genetic modified organism with the purpose to promote biotechnology in general not only genetic modified organisms.

The next topic ‘Combating Desertification’ was also quite interesting for Australia, because although Australia is the most arid country in the world, it is also a big agricultural goods exporter. Many of Australia's neighbours and partners are threatened by desertification. We took a look at Australian international foreign aid programmes, agricultural research programmes and our contributions to multilateral agency like World Bank or United Nations agencies. Australia is very active in research programmes, in which they team up with foreign developing countries and help for example to breed more drought resistant crops. We wanted to push forward the importance of traditional knowledge, as Australia has been highly successful in this area within their own country. Good governance and a call to co-operate with us, were other important corner stones towards combating desertification for Australia. We also wanted to promote forestation as a dual use technology for combating desertification and gaining profits through carbon trading schemes.

On ‘Building Sustainable Human Settlements and Infrastructure’, we mostly researched Australia's internal policy, as this topic is not very international connected, at least not on a national level. Some Australian initiatives promote solar panel usage, other fight water and energy waste. On the international level, Australia has started the Initiative Infrastructure to Growth, which should help neighbouring countries to build a sustainable infrastructure for a growth of a sustainable economy.

Already at the Opening Ceremony of NMUN 2009 we tried to talk to our main partners and get their positions on the order of the agenda. Our own preference was to have as the first topic number 2 (Desertification), then topic number 1 as a second and at least topic number 3 (Human Settlement and Infrastructure). We did not want to take topic number 1 (Biotechnology) as first, because we saw it as a very controversial issue. After the Opening Ceremony, we had our first session of CSD, and started off with voting on every possible order of the agenda, but none got a majority vote. In a caucus session, we then tried to convince other countries of our preferred order. As it did not lead to a majority for one order, the Commission entered into a second caucus session. This time, our goal was to organise a majority to at least place the topic number 2 first, not caring about second and third order. In the following voting procedure we adopted an order of 2-3-1, which on the one hand made it unlikely that we are going to talk about biotechnology, as it came third. On the other hand, we had secured desertification as the first topic. If the Commission had not come to a decision on that night, we would have had to live with the topics in the given 1-2-3 order. For this day the Commission had only opened the speakers list before we suspended the meeting until the next day.

On the following day we first listened to some speeches and then start caucusing. We were only 53 countries and one observer, nonetheless, caucusing was quite chaotic and it was at first hard to find our partners. There are two basic strategies while entertaining a discussion. On the hand, you can sit down and start writing your own report on your notebook. On the other hand, you can take part in all working papers. There first approach is a very powerful position and has got the advantage, that you only have to consider other opinions to the point when your report would not pass a vote. The latter approach assures that there is no working paper unaffected by Australia’s opinion. We had chosen the second option, as Australia, an Asian European fusion country, would like to be regarded as a mediator in this Commission.

At first, we contacted our closes allies and regional partners, but most of them were not very interested in Australia’s opinion. We therefore searched for other options and found some new allies. We especially worked closely together with Tanzania, Italy, Bahrain, Kuwait, Germany and South Africa. These are not very traditional partners of the Australian foreign policy, but at least in our Commission, we developed the most rewarding relations with them. We even tried to include North Korea in our discussions, but they were under very strict orders not to do so. During informal session we were always moved between discussion circles and to make sure that our opinion was part of all of the working papers, so that nobody dropped our lines or even reversed them into the complete opposite. We took part in four out of six working papers on the floor with different partners. One of the working papers was about biotechnology to combat desertification. As said before it was a very controversial issue and we therefore used some time to convince the Members of the Commission. We also supported a working paper about microfinancing to combat desertification. Although we were not sure how this should work out, we supported it to gain support on other more important issues.

The second day passed with not much progress on the speakers list, as we used a lot of time for informal caucus. On the third day, we were able to hold a speech for the first time, followed by a second time late in the afternoon. We then finally merged some draft reports in alternating sessions of informal and formal caucus, which may be would not be able to stand the test of time, but at least would be able to stand the test of the Commission's vote.

On Friday we moved into voting procedure and six draft reports were about to be voted on. All drafts passed except the biotechnology draft report, because some biotechnology industry countries did not like the specific direction the biotechnology draft report took anymore. As there were four hours left, our director motivated us to discuss the next topic. In the end we voted on some kind of draft reports about Building Sustainable Human Settlements and Infrastructure, but the time constraints were very harsh for the this topic. We had invested 20 hours in the first topic and the second topic was rushed through in about four hours.

In the end we were quite satisfied with the outcome. Having in mind that the second report was very much rushed, it is acceptable. The report on the first topic mainly consists of accepted draft papers decorated with Australia's position. The disapproved biotechnology draft paper is not a total loss. The Commission of Sustainable Development did not argued against biotechnology; it just did not made a statement on it. Through our agricultural research programme we can still push biotechnology forward for Australian styled practical solutions.