Bali blog 1: Civil society and UNEP


I am flying on Qatar Airlines racking up my carbon footprint karma on the way to Bali in the current guise of "civil society representative for North America" to participate in the 11th session of the Global Major Groups and Stakeholder Forum, followed by the 11th Special Session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF) , both hosted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Did someone say "what's a global major group and stakeholder forum?" "You're representing who (or what)?" Or, "who elected you?" Most important is the question: "Is any of that going to matter?" Or rather, "isn't all this just a lot of talk and an excuse to go off to some exotic beach and have parties and spend lots of money to talk about getting more money to lament how bad things are getting and how more needs to be done?"

Good questions. I wish I could give you a few quick, concise and meaningful answers that would make immediate sense. Actually, one of my objectives in making this trip is to find out. So if you stay with me, I'll do what I can over the next few days.

For years the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has been trying to work out the mechanics for developing the ideal relationship with civil society, although in the past year they have somehow decided to distance themselves from the term "civil society" and instead use the concept and consequences of "major groups," following the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) usage. While all this verbiage may seem a bit quaint or stodgy to some, there are some important questions and concerns here that need to be adequately addressed. Is this confusing? Don't feel alone. This path is studded with zen paradoxes.

One of UNEP's methods for reaching out to civil society around the world has been to hold regional consultations, hosted by each of their regional offices.  For me it was the Regional Office of North America, headed by Amy Fraenkel. Our North American civil society meeting took place here in Washington, DC last January 8. At that meeting, Maria Ivanova and I were elected as the two representatives to go to the international meetings, carrying with us the statement that came out of our group discussions on the topics that would be addressed by the "GMEF." I will talk about those topics and the meeting more later.

For now, we are back on the plane after the stop over in Singapore. I am typing quickly before I;m told to "please close all electronic devices."  This stop-over was relatively mild compared to the eight-hour stop in Doha. Altogether the flight time was 32 hours. We are now in a time zone that is completely opposite of home. Stepping off the plane it will be evening, around the same time my family at home will be starting to wake up. I know the jet lag is going to be a real challenge. On this flight are more NGOs, trade union and UNEP people also attending this meeting. The environment ministers and delegates will come later in the week.

More later.

February 19, 2010. Singapore