The June 1997 Special Session of the UN General Assembly to
review implementation of Agenda 21 provides a unique opportunity to assess the
progress made and the difficulties and challenges of implementing the action
programme adopted at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development
(UNCED). NGLS has published this collection of contributions from NGOs around
the world in order to highlight dimensions of Agenda 21 implementation at the
local level that might not otherwise be captured by the international dialogue.
In their articles, contributors describe NGO projects and other activities
focused on UNCED follow up and how UNCED's new approach to sustainable
development affected thinking, programmes and strategies.
The most common theme running through all the articles is the
real impact of post-UNCED activities at the local level, as well as civil
society's strong commitment to Agenda 21 follow up, despite often difficult
institutional and political challenges. Many contributors stress that
"successful" follow-up activities are ones that link environmental protection
with the goal of enabling local people to improve their livelihoods and their
control over natural resources.
Almost all contributors to the book discuss the many challenges
of implementing Agenda 21, such as limited financial resources and those related
to institutional, political and other issues at the national and international
levels. Articles from contributors in developing countries and those in
transition from centrally-planned to market economies shed light on the
opportunities and special challenges civil society faces within these contexts.
Many of the articles underline the importance of public
information campaigns and all acknowledge the Earth Summit's impact in helping
to popularize many issues related to sustainable development which some NGOs
have been promoting for many years.
Several contributors to the book describe the way in which some
social groups, despite heavy odds or conventional attitudes about their roles,
have historically played an important role in promoting sustainable development,
such as indigenous people and practitioners of some traditional religions in
Perhaps the most striking message of the book is one that can
only be discovered by reading between-the-lines of every article: civil society
organizations around the world, no matter the national setting or specific
social, institutional and political context in which they operate, arc deeply
committed to achieving many of the goals of the Agenda 21 programme of action.
Their perseverance and optimism in the face of many difficulties underpin the
day-to-day struggle to promote sustainable livelihoods and protect natural
resources. The experiences of civil society organizations described in the
following articles are truly inspiring and demonstrate the potential of civil
society to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development when
supported by genuine partnerships, institutional recognition and respect, and an
Tony Hill, NGLS Coordinator, March