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close this bookImplementing Agenda 21: NGO Experiences from around the World (NGLS)
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View the documentNGOS and the UN system since the earth summit: The NGO steering committee for the commission on sustainable development
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Introduction


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 Africa.

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 enabling environment.

Tony Hill, NGLS Coordinator, March 1997