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 deal with these issues: Millennium development goals, the UN Commission on sustainable development, Poverty Reduction Strategies, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Global public goods network…
Some other processes deal with the public private relationship: Global Compact, Global reporting initiative, Marrakech Process on Production and Consumption Patterns which just met in Costa Rica, standard-setting processes for the environment (ISO 14001 and ecolabelling), social responsibility through ISO 26000 process, geographical indications for products… And we can also mention a great number of private initiatives on fair trade, organic agriculture, social responsibility and accountability…

Integration of theses processes at national and local level can be done through NSDS and local Agenda 21.

The present seminar will deal more deeply with NSDS framework and peer review process, so I will focuss my talk on the issues of the interaction with some others processes:
– 1. Stakeholders mainly through Councils for sustainable development
– 2. Local strategies known as local Agenda 21
– 3. Scientific advices for sound decisions
– 4. Mainstreaming environment in development goals
– 5. Economic issue: enterprises and Corporate Social Responsibility

1 – Stakeholders and Councils for sustainable development

Stakeholder participation is a recurrent issue since Rio. According its experience the network of European environment and sustainable de development advisory councils [[Ingeborg Niestroy, EEAS (2005), a benchmark study on national strategies toward sustainable development and the impact of councils in nine EU member state, European environment and sustainable development advisory councils, EEAC series, Backgrounds study n°2considers]] that the “ participation of stakeholders and civil society needs to be fostered and spread more widely» and recommend countries to create councils for sustainable development. Such councils “are a specific mechanism for fostering dialogue among different stakeholders, which has the potential for innovative approaches and solutions, which has the potential for innovative approaches and solutions, and for achieving (unexpected) agreements.”

The workshop [[Atelier de concertation des conseils nationaux du développement durable de l’espace francophone, Paris, 11 au 13 mai 2005, organisé par l’Institut de l’Énergie et de l’Environnement de la Francophonie (IEPF) et le Conseil National du Développement Durable (CNDD) de France.]] organized with French-speaking countries councils for sustainable development made also statements to implement proposals of Johannesburg Summit [[Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August-4 September 2002, A/CONF.199/20, §166-167.]] “to enhance national institutional arrangements for sustainable development, including at the local level. (…) encouraging participatory approaches”, and enhancing “the role and capacity of local authorities as well as stakeholders in implementing Agenda 21”.

We can note, that the French NCSD was involved in the peer review process as representatives of such councils from the peer’s countries.

2 – Local strategies known as local Agenda 21

The coordination between NSDS and local Agenda 21, known as vertical integration, appears of great importance. It can be interesting to quote the definition of local Agenda 21 in Rio program Action 21 [[UNCED (1992) Agenda 21 – Report of the United Nations Conference on environment and development, Rio de Janeiro, §28.3]] which remain in advance 13 years later and is not far from the most mature approaches on NSDS: “each local authority should enter into a dialogue with its citizens, local organizations and private enterprises and adopt « a local Agenda 21 ». Through consultation and consensus-building, local authorities would learn from citizens and from local, civic, community, business and industrial organizations and acquire the information needed for formulating the best strategies. The process of consultation would increase household awareness of sustainable development issues. Local authority programmes, policies, laws and regulations to achieve Agenda 21 objectives would be assessed and modified, based on local programmes adopted. Strategies could also be used in supporting proposals for local, national, regional and international funding.

We can identify in this definition, among others, the importance of sharing information between different stakeholders.

3 – Scientific advices for sound decisions

This subject has been often addressed by indicators approaches. Without hindering the importance of such tools the question is to bring knowledge in decision-making. Some composite indicators, as ecological footprint, have more controversial scientific basis, but strong political mobilisation capacity has we observed with the address by the President of the French Republic Jacques Chirac made in Johannesburg.

The knowledge of the links between development and ecosystems was clearly established by an outstanding work published last march, known as Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report [[Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report, Strengthening capacity to manage ecosystem sustainably for human well-being, Pre-publication Final Draft Approved by MA Board on March 23, 2005, www.millenniumassessment.org]]. 1.360 experts from 95 countries were involved as authors at different stage of this assessment.

The assessment focuses on the linkages between ecosystems and human well-being and, in particular, on “ecosystem services.” (which) are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food, water, timber, and fiber; regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality; cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits; and supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient cycling. The human species, while buffered against environmental changes by culture and technology, is fundamentally dependent on the flow of ecosystem services.” This assessment established “that approximately 60% (15 out of 24) of the ecosystem services examined (…) are being degraded or used unsustainably, including fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water purification, and the regulation of regional and local climate, natural hazards, and pests”. “The degradation of ecosystem services could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century and is a barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
This approach in term of ecosystem services gives new arguments for integration of environmental concern in the Millennium development goals and the core concern of NSDS. Therefore we must foster the integration role of NSDS for sectorial approaches and specialized policies and programmes.

4 – Mainstreaming environment in development goals

Such strategies in perspective with other processes is unclear, considering for example the recent 2005 World Summit Outcome [[2005 World Summit Outcome, Draft resolution of the fifty-ninth session of the General Assembly]] that propose (§22a) “to adopt, by 2006, and implement comprehensive national development strategies to achieve the internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals;” and in §34 “long-term national development strategies

The text refers several times to those development strategies for different sectoral issues: §47 poverty reduction strategies, §56h integrated water resources management, water efficiency plans, access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, §60c human resources and science and technology, §114 elimination of supply and demand for illicit drugs.

The only use of the term national sustainable development strategies was on §55(c) for the adaptation to the effects of climate change.

According to most text on sustainable development, and more precisely the ecosystem assessment, we must read in the 2005 summit: national development strategies and long-term national development strategies as close to NSDS.

The question is the coordination of the comprehensive national development strategies of the 2005 World Summit and the national sustainable development strategies of 2002 Johannesburg summit. Beyond that issue, the question is the mainstreaming of environmental concern in development concern international strategies.

5 – Economic issue: enterprises and Corporate Social Responsibility

In conclusion I would like to address the economic pillar of sustainable development, business and national and local strategies on sustainable development. It is a major issue even for traditional vision of development.
The recent “2005 World Summit Outcome” in its §25 address investment. “We resolve to encourage greater direct investment, including foreign investment, in developing countries and countries with economies in transition to support their development activities and to enhance the benefits they can derive from such investments. In this regard:

(a) We continue to support efforts by developing countries and countries with economies in transition to create a domestic environment conducive to attracting investments through, inter alia, achieving a transparent, stable and predictable investment climate with proper contract enforcement and respect for property rights and the rule of law and pursuing appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks that encourage business formation;

(b) We will put into place policies to ensure adequate investment in a sustainable manner in health, clean water and sanitation, housing and education and in the provision of public goods and social safety nets to protect vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors of society;

In this vision the issue is to create a domestic environment favourable to economic development. Sustainable development ad the reverse issue: how can business contribute to sustainable development, and local and global public goods.

Since CSD 6, in 1998, it becomes clear that the contribution of business is essential to sustainable development. In 1999 an initiative was lunched by the Secretary general of United Nations Koffi Anan, the Global compact, with engagements of business on social and environmental objectives. The firms that have signed the Global compact were mobilised, last June, in Paris to contribute to the Millennium Development Goals. The §18(a) of Johannesburg plan of implementation “encourage industry to improve social and environmental performance through voluntary initiatives, including environmental management systems, codes of conduct, certification and public reporting on environmental and social issues, taking into account such initiatives as the International Organization for Standardization standards and Global Reporting Initiative guidelines on sustainability reporting.” This evolution evolves presently in context of corporate social responsibility.

The benchmark done by network of European environment and sustainable development advisory councils [[Ingeborg Niestroy, EEAS (2005), a benchmark study on national strategies toward sustainable development and the impact of councils in nine EU member state, European environment and sustainable development advisory councils, EEAC series, Backgrounds study n°2]] has considered three bottom line approaches of CSR as the contribution of business to sustainable development strategies. It is present in most countries but not in coordination with NSDS.

Important next steps are ahead in this matter, mainly through ISO Guidance Standard on Social Responsibility – ISO 26000 – which has been discussed in Bangkok one week ago. The guidance standard should be relevant to all organizations and not only to enterprises.

The main issue is the relation between voluntary initiative and conventions and mandatory obligations at global, national and local level. For international labour standards, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between ILO and ISO “with a view to ensuring that any ISO International Standard in the field of SR, and any ISO activities relating thereto, are consistent with and complement the application of international labour standards world-wide, including fundamental rights at work” [[ILO/ISO (2005) Memorandum of understanding between the International Labour Organization and the International Organization for Standardization in the field of social responsibility. ISO/TMB/WG SR N 18, 4th March 2005]]. Other international organizations are also part of the process as category D liaison organization with the Working Group on Social responsibility: UNEP, UNCTAD, UNIDO, WHO, OECD and other organizations as UN Global Compact and GRI.

According to the present discussion we should consider, in addition, the relation between national strategies on sustainable development, and as appropriate local Agenda 21, and the enterprises operating at those levels.

The negotiations conditions and design specification structure has been fixed in Bangkok. Things are only beginning, but it can be interesting to put in perspective the design specification structure and identify how it could be the concern of NSDS implementation specialists present here.
The scope of the Guidance Standard, which will be discussed in the 1st section of the DS, shall define the subject of the guidelines, its coverage and the limits of its applicability.

The 2nd section wills refers to normative references and documents, which must be read in conjunction with the guidance standard. The international conventions should be addressed here. But we can also have in mind the national legislations and the objectives identified in the national strategies on sustainable development. If so, the NSDS should address this issue, and identify the main issues and objectives for public authorities, and the business operating in the country. It appears to be a new issue for NSDS, and a challenge for policy makers.
Section 4 will develop “the SR context in which organizations operate” in providing the historical and contemporary contexts for social responsibility. It appears important to raise in this section the fact that sustainable development is the context of SR process.
Section 5 will develop “SR principles relevant to organizations”. As all organisations are concerned those principles should be consistent also with NSDS and local Agenda 21. It is a really innovative issue to conceive some general principles that should be implemented in both public and private organisations.

Finally the section 6 will provide “guidance on core SR subjects/issues” and section 7 “guidance for organizations on implementing SR” including, for example, policies, practices, approaches, issue identification, performance assessment, reporting and communication.