Experiences of National Sustainable Development Strategies

Expert Group Meeting
Reviewing National Sustainable Development Strategies
United Nations Headquarters
New York, 10 – 11 October 2005

I will develop in my intervention the context and the experiences of National Sustainable Development Strategies and their interface with some other processes.

International context

The first call for NSDS implementation was made at Rio in 1992 for the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The program of action for sustainable development states “each country should aim to complete, as soon as practicable, if possible by 1994, a review of capacity- and capability-building requirements for devising national sustainable development strategies. (…) As an important aspect of overall planning, each country should seek internal consensus at all levels of society on policies and programmes needed for short- and long-term capacity-building to implement its Agenda 21 programme. This consensus should result from a participatory dialogue of relevant interest groups”[[UNCED (1992) Agenda 21 – Report of the United Nations Conference on environment and development, Rio de Janeiro, §37.4 and 37.5.]]

Five year later, the 1997 Special Session of the UN General Assembly reinforce this effort by setting a new delay of 2002 for “the formulation and elaboration of national strategies for sustainable development”[[UN DSD (2004) Division for Sustainable Development]]. The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) of Johannesburg called on all countries “to make progress in the formulation and elaboration of national strategies for sustainable development and begin their implementation by 2005” [[Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August-4 September 2002, A/CONF.199/20]]. It encourage (§19): “relevant authorities at all levels to take sustainable development considerations into account in decision-making, including on national and local development planning, investment in infrastructure, business development and public procurement. This would include actions at all levels to: Provide support for the development of sustainable development strategies and programmes, including in decision-making on investment in infrastructure and business development;
The Johannesburg delay being over, it seems the right time now that the Commission on Sustainable Development take advantage of the experience of countries on the implementation of NSDS for reviewing the whole process. France strongly support that the CSD serve as a focal point to share good practices, provide a framework for analysis and organise the sharing of experiences as it was proposed in the 1997 UN General Assembly [[Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole of the Nineteenth Special Session, Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21, 27 June 1997, General Assembly, Nineteenth special session Agenda item 8, §133c]] that the CSD “should provide a forum for the exchange of experience on regional and subregional initiatives and regional collaboration for sustainable development. This could include the promotion of the voluntary regional exchange of national experience in the implementation of Agenda 21 and, inter alia, the possible development of modalities for reviews within regions by and among those countries that voluntarily agree to do so.

Experiences on NSDS

On those recurrent bases some countries have implemented strategic approaches in developing, planning, implementing, and monitoring a mix of specific policy initiatives. Others are just beginning, or are yet to begin, this complex strategic process.
Different documents have proposed definitions and frameworks for NSDS. Based on the outcome of the International Forum on National Sustainable Development Strategies held in Accra in 2001 [[United Nations (2002), Guidance in Preparing a National Sustainable Development Strategy: Managing Sustainable Development in the New Millennium, Background Paper, Outcome of the International Forum on National Sustainable Development Strategies, Accra, Ghana, 7-9 November 2001, n°13, DESA/DSD/PC2/BP13, New York]], the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs defined NSDS as: “a coordinated, participatory and iterative process of thoughts and action to achieve economic, environmental and social objectives in a balanced and integrated manner at the national and local levels”. At the same time, considering that sustainable development cannot be limited to fragmented success stories, OECD [[OECD (2001), Strategies for Sustainable Development: Practical Guidance for Development Co-operation]] proposed strategic planning approaches and defined NSDS as: “a co-ordinated set of participatory and continuously improving processes of analysis, debate, capacity strengthening, planning and investment, which integrates the economic, social and environmental objectives of society, seeking trade offs where this is not possible”.

Beyond those definitions, actual experiences must be considered. We can refer to a report , from among other IISD, which identifies some recurrent key challenges through the study of 19 country NSDS:
– The feedback mechanism – including monitoring, learning and adaptation. It aims to implement a continuous improvement approach to manage sustainable development strategies and change the values and visions through a cognitive process
– Co-ordination of strategy objectives and initiatives with the national budgeting process. It aims to implement what we can call: horizontal integration.
– Co-ordination with sub-national and local sustainable development action. This refers to the concept of vertical integration.
– Implementing a mix of policy initiatives, and in particular, environmental fiscal reform initiatives.

In the context of this study of 19 countries, 4 kind of approaches are observed:
– Comprehensive strategies: 15 countries as U.K., Philippines strategy process
– Cross-sectoral strategies: 4 countries as Cameroon and Madagascar PRSPs
– Sectoral strategies as Canada
– Integration with existing planning as Mexico, India
On a wider basis it is interesting to consider the recent report of good practices on NSDS in OECD countries that was presented last week in Paris [[National strategies for sustainable development: god practices in OECD countries, Paris, 3-4 October 2005, OECD, SG/SD(2005)6]]. It identify 8 components:

1. Policy integration – national strategies should give consideration to environmental, economics, and social concerning integrated approaches and plans.

2. Intergenerational timeframe – national strategies should adopt long term time frame which enable inclusion of intergenerational principles and indicators

3. Analysis and assessments – strategies should be based on structured indicator systems to assist in monitoring progress and to serve as quantitative targets.

4. Indicators and targets – strategies should be based on structured indicator system to assist in monitoring progress and serve as quantitative targets.

5. Co-ordination and institutions – a wide range of government departments and agencies should be involved in the formulation and implementation of national strategies, with overall responsibility in the office of Prime minister or equivalent.

6. Local and regional governance – local and regional authorities should be fully involved in the development of national strategies, with certain delivery aspects devolved to sub national levels.
7. Stakeholder participation – stakeholder (e.g. business, unions, non-governmental organisations) should participate with government representatives in commissions responsible for developing and implementing national strategies.

8. Monitoring and evaluation – independent bodies or processes should be established to act as watchdogs monitoring implementation of national strategies and providing recommendations fir their improvement.

From this diversity of definitions, frameworks and experiences emerge some constant components. They mostly appear as a transition from the traditional fixed plan and traditional policies, towards operating an adaptive system that can continuously improve as noted by Barry Dalal-Clayton. They are processes involving a large panel of stakeholder and not only strict frameworks applied by governments. Most approaches emerge from experience, and we cannot propose a “one fits all” approach. So any reference, must be adapted to the context, in this respect, the peer review mechanism can help to adapt the generic process and the proposals to each specific context.

Another question is how to coordinate all the processes that consider sustainable development, launched by different institutions, conventions, or networks that do not communicate between one another. For the UN system itself we can be impressed by the number of global initiatives, in addition to all the multilateral agreements, that d