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Post-Rio Sustainable Development and the Summit

Maurice F. Strong

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Role of Civil Society

As stated in Our Global Neighbourhood, when speaking of issues related to global governance and international institutional reform, it is imperative "to take account of the emergence of global civil society. The crucial role that these new actors play in the management of global affairs requires a reassessment of the relationship between the UN and its family of organizations and the growing worldwide array of organized nonstate activity." The Commission on Global Governance [2] recommended that the functions of the Trusteeship Council in its new role be examined to determine how best it might benefit from contributions of civil society.

Many of the most exciting and promising Post-Rio developments are occurring outside of governments, where there has been a virtual explosion of activities and initiatives on the part of grassroots organizations, citizens groups and other key sectors of civil society. For example, engineers and architects, through their international bodies, have committed their professions to sustainable development as a central professional issue, and to cooperative programs designed to support the implementation of Agenda 21 in their sectors. The Business Council for Sustainable Development has merged with the International Chamber of Commerce's World Industry Council for the Environment, to form the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which now includes among its members over 120 chief executive officers of the world's major corporations. In many respects, the most enlightened business leaders are ahead of governments. Many of the world's cities are establishing their own Agenda 21s under the aegis of the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives. And similar initiatives are proliferating at the community and sectoral levels in every region of the world.

Particularly promising has been the initiative of more than 80 countries in establishing National Councils of Sustainable Development, or similar bodies, as multistakeholder forums in which representatives of government and various key sectors of the civil society can consult and advise on the development and implementation of Agenda 21 at the national level, and provide guidance and support for similar initiatives in local communities. Canada's own body, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, set the example for many of these.

Another unique organization is the Earth Council, headquartered in San José, Costa Rica. It is a new kind of global, nongovernmental organization, designed to act as a catalyst and to facilitate and support the implementation of, and followup to, the results of Rio. Its principal mission is to help to link people at the community and grassroots level with the broad policy and decisionmaking processes which affect them, to amplify their voices in these processes, voices that are too seldom heard or heeded, to support their own initiatives.

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