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Asia-Pacific civil society members test new engagement mechanism 

Civil society representatives meeting in Bangkok, Thailand
to find ways to better engage the UN on post-2015 SDGs.
On November 12-13 a coordination meeting of the transitional Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism (RCEM) took place in Bangkok, Thailand.

The main objectives of the meeting were to discuss key elements of the RCEM’s structure and governance mechanisms for the period up to 2015 and beyond. Other important agenda items included to reflect and identify achievement, challenges, gaps and lessons learned from the work of the current transitional RCEM – related to both advocacy and organisational activities – for the recent period of May to November 2014.

Participants also worked to develop a common understanding and advocacy strategy for the current process of engagement with the UN on SDGs and Post 2015 and other related processes. The group also debated how to further improve the transitional RCEM’s structure, operations and outreach within the next six months.

The RCEM is a result of conversations among a number of individuals in 2011 and 2012 and experiences with CSO engagement in preparatory processes leading up to the Rio+20 conference in 2012. In 2013 a Conference Room Paper outlining the concept was presented at UNESCAP’s Committee on Environment and Development (CED-3). The idea was then taken forward and the RCEM was formally established by CSOs at the regional Asia-Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development in Pattaya in May 2014. From that point on, a transitional period was introduced to enable a gradual testing of the RCEM to facilitate better and more effective engagement of civil society as partner for shaping and implementing the future sustainable development goals.

The mechanism is a result of regional CSOs’ own bottom-up initiative to establish and test a mechanism for better civil society engagement with the UN and in countries in the region. The general feeling has been that there is an emerging need not only to better represent the Asia-Pacific region and its subregions, but also that more constituency groups than the current nine Major Groups, which are the current CSO participation model in the UN, should be heard in key processes.

Taking into account the diversity of the Asia-Pacific region and the limitations of existing institutional structures for civil society engagement, the CSO Forum in Bangkok defined 16 constituencies*, as well as five sub-regional groupings. A Transition Committee comprising 18 members has been appointed based on constituency (13) and sub-regional (5) representation to test the role and functions of the RCEM. The Transition Committee’s work is assisted by a small Advisory Group with good knowledge on sustainable development and civil society engagement.

Since May 2014, transitional RCEM has been working as a team to consolidate its position and engage with various opportunities and intergovernmental processes at the regional and international level, such as: Regional Consultation on Accountability of SDGs/Post2015 Development Agenda; 12th and 13th Sessions of the Open Working Group (OWG); Stocktaking exercises of SDGs and the Post 2015 Development Agenda; and also the ESCAP 70th Commission Session. The Transitional RCEM has also finalised a concrete Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Transition Committee and Advisory Group to strengthen RCEM operations and structure.

As such it is promising to see civil society take matters into their own hands and strategically design new engagement modalities to prepare for the period post 2015. It is hoped that the modalities of the RCEM will not be limited to engagement with the UN in the region, but that it can evolve to become a useful way of engagement in other environment and development forums within and beyond the region. The Latin American region has indicated interest and is looking into options for replicating or designing their own mechanism for civil society engagement.

* Fisherfolk; migrants; people living with HIV; LGBTIQ; people displaced by disasters and conflict; SMEs; persons with disability; elderly