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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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New Style of Dialogue Among Major Stakeholders Holds Promise For Future Change in Global Negotiations

03 June, BALI, Indonesia— In the ten years since the Rio Earth Summit opened up the decision-making process to include nine major groups from civil society, the process of interactive dialogue has evolved in a manner that could serve as a new model for future negotiations within the multilateral context.

The multi-stakeholder dialogues that concluded last week featured focused discussions on the central objective of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which is to promote sustainable development activities that will achieve measurable results on the ground.

In separate sessions covering sustainable development governance, capacity building for sustainable development and the issue of partnerships, the representatives of major groups voiced a wide-range of proposals to government delegates. These ranged from the need for a legally binding convention on corporate accountability to equal representation of women at all levels of economic decision-making, and the need for prerequisites and principles for partnerships. (See Chairman's Summary of the Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue).

The dialogues were noteworthy for the number of government delegates who attended and participated, and PrepCom Chairman Emil Salim said the ideas from the major groups are "important contributions and deserve our careful consideration."

The idea of allowing representatives of major groups—the groups closest to people in society—to participate in the intergovernmental discussion on sustainable development was radical when it was proposed, but in its present incarnation of facilitated dialogues, it is even more radical-representatives of major stakeholders can address their concerns directly to each other, or to government delegates.

As an answer to the problem of dialogues becoming forums for lengthy statements and monotonous monologues, the Bali multi-stakeholder dialogues used facilitators to keep the discussions moving and on topic.

"Negotiation in the multilateral setting is broken and needs to be fixed," according to Paul Hohnen, one of the facilitators. "Too much time, and too much money, is spent on achieving too little."

A good part of the dialogue in the sessions was interactive, and delegations were put on the spot on occasion. But according to Ida Koppen, the other facilitator, as long as the setting is so formal, it will be hard to get away from people just making statements.

"I was impressed by the level of commitment by the representatives of the major groups," Koppen said, but she added that there were widely varying degrees of preparations. She noted that for many major groups, meeting beforehand was prohibitively expensive.

Many major groups, she said, enter the discussions from a feeling of powerlessness, and consequently become defensive. But through preparation, she said, there are ways to gain power, such as coming with well prepared proposals.

Hohnen said the UN was showing leadership through the multi-stakeholder dialogue, not only in raising issues, but also in process. 'We covered a lot of ground in a short time. This is a road to go down further in the decision-finding process."

Both facilitators said that dialogues could be enhanced if they could break down into smaller groups and if the dialogues were not so closely tied to the formal negotiating sessions. That, they said, caused many groups to assume postures from which they could not budge in order to find common ground.

In fact, non-governmental organizations asked at one point during the discussion on partnership, "where is this conversation going." The NGOs said that discussing the partnership initiatives might make it seem as if they accept the idea, when they reserved the right to reject it altogether if governments fail to make serious commitments in the negotiated outcome document.

The proposals put forward by the major groups for consideration by delegations contain suggested elements for partnerships and the means and mechanisms for monitoring the follow-up after the Johannesburg Summit. The proposals call for partnerships that are credible and have measurable objectives and targets, can be monitored and have proper financing mechanism. They also called for the partnerships to be guided by principles such as equality, transparency, the precautionary and polluter-pays principles, and for full participation at an early stage. The idea of respect for rights, and the idea of equity between generations, were also stressed by the major groups.

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24 August 2006