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UNGASS has Run Out of Steam

Richard Sandbrook
International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-)
Vol. 73, No. 4 (Oct., 1997), pp. 641-654
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Royal Institute of International Affairs
DOI: 10.2307/2624461
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2624461
Page Count: 14
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UNGASS has Run Out of Steam
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Abstract

The United Nations has made sustainable development one of its major objectives. But the way in which this is being pursued is likely to result in the UN system becoming increasingly marginalized in the process. This article suggests that far too much attention is given to international debates rather than to national and regional processes. The results of the UN Special Session of June 1997, called to review progress five years after the UN Earth Summit in Rio, were poor. Debate, in public at least, reverted to the traditional North-South divide. Yet in many countries the enthusiasm for the findings of the Earth Summit and its follow-up is clear. What is argued is that governments need to sort out much more clearly what can and should be addressed at the international level. Many of the major environment issues, such as forest and biodiversity loss, are basically national or local concerns. The development agenda and poverty have to be addressed locally. Only when it is clear that individual countries and regions cannot cope without international intervention, as happens in the case of climate change and the international trade regime, should the matter be of concern to the UN at the centre. The UN could do more to foster this sense of subsidiarity in its affairs.

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