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 What are National Strategies for Sustainable Development?

"a strategic and participatory process of analysis, debate, capacity strengthening, planning and action towards sustainable development" (OECD Development Assistance Committee 1999)


The call for National Strategies for Sustainable Development (NSSDs) came out of discussions at the first Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992). There is no internationally agreed definition, nor official guidance on how to prepare an NSSD. However NSSDs should define the process by which countries will commit to meeting Sustainable Development targets or “Agenda 21" at a national level.


NSSDs should not require a completely new planning process but rather a reorientation of existing activities. An individual country may have a range of initiatives/strategies (e.g. Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, Comprehensive Development Frameworks, Vision 20:20) in response to international commitments or agreements. These strategies may contribute to or even individually reflect what is considered an "NSSD".


Goal of NSSDs


The aim is for countries to develop on-going strategies toward reducing economic inequality, social instability and environmental degradation.

"to ensure socially responsible economic development while protecting the resource base and the environment for the benefit of future generations." (OECD DAC 1999)

Agreed Time frame

2002    NSSDs introduced in all countries and reviewed at UN CSD 10    

            (agreed at UNGASS “Rio +5" 1997)

2005    NSSDs to be in a process of implementation 

            (OECD DAC 1996)

2015    Strategies to have reversed loss of environmental resources 

            (OECD DAC 1996)




Taking the OECD DAC definition of NSSD as a basis, the following list might be seen as key (but not the only) elements of an NSSD:


1. Analysis

2. Debate

3. Capacity strengthening

4. Planning

5. Action


1. Analysis

Review of national economic, social and environment trends to give baseline picture of current national situation. Assessment of existing and relevant strategies e.g. Local Agenda 21. Regional and international links to identify common challenges between neighbouring countries and more widely.


2. Debate

Engagement of people from many disciplines e.g. government and society, NGOs, academia, local authorities, women’s and indigenous groups and the private sector. Development of ownership through effective communication and consultation over the choices and dilemmas facing a country and discussion over alternative actions to address them.


3. Capacity building

Mobilisation of society as a whole requires an expansion of knowledge and skills amongst all relevant actors to enable them to get involved e.g. formal/informal education, public awareness campaigns and training.


4. Planning

Outline of participative processes. Framing of approaches for policy coordination and coherence, institutional reform. Definition of key issues, goals and processes in order to frame and outline how the strategy will be implemented.


5. Action

Implementation phase of NSSD at national and local levels. Coordination and coherence between sectoral operations and administration of incentives. Regulation, negotiation, conflict management and crisis prevention, as well as review and amendment of NSSD. International partnerships for knowledge, information sharing, as well as sharing and development of best practice and indicators.


International Support for NSSDs


UNESCO and Earth Council have a proposed programme for "Education, Public Awareness and Training in National Strategies and Action Plans for Sustainable Development"


The OECD DAC Working Party on Development Cooperation and the Environment (WP/ENV) have a task force, co-led by the European Commission and the United Kingdom (Department for International Development and International Institute Environment and Development). This will aim to produce guidance on best practice for developing countries, to assist them with the formulation and implementation of NSSD processes.


References/ Links


DFID White Paper, Eliminating World Poverty: A Challenge for the 21st Century


OECD/DAC (1999) Donor-Developing Country Dialogues on National Strategies for Sustainable Development. Executive Summary of the Project


OECD/DAC (1999) Assisting Developing Countries with the Formulation and Implementation of National Strategies for Sustainable Development.