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National Councils for Sustainable Development

- information as of March 2001 -

Processes Developing National Strategies for Sustainable Development: National Councils for Sustainable Development (NCSD) / Earth Council and Regional NCSDs

Issues: Planning/implementing sustainable development strategies

Goals: NCSD’s are seeking to strengthen civic society participation in local and multi-stakeholder decision-making mechanisms and activities related to the implementation of the UNCED agreements. The Earth Council (an independent, international body) has, since 1992, been instrumental in promoting the creation and strengthening of NCSDs through greater civil participation. It has also facilitated the organisation of regional networks of NCSDs (and similar entities) through a series of regional meetings held in Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Participating stakeholders: governments, private enterprise, NGOs, civil society.

Time Frame: Idea introduced at Earth Summit 1992 – on going

MSP Contact Details; URL etc: www.ncsdnetwork.org


Level: National, regional and ultimately global

Procedural Aspects:

Designing the MSP
Most countries have some form of focal point or mechanism at the national level to oversee the implementation of the Earth Summit agreements. Many of these are structured as multi-stakeholder and participatory mechanisms, usually referred to as National Councils for Sustainable Development (NCSD). The composition of each NCSD and the way it operates varies widely, reflecting the circumstances of each individual country. But key common features are their multi-stakeholder character and integrative approach.

1. Processes are designed through regional coordination. For example, in Latin America, there was national consultation after Rio+5 and some sub-regional groups.

2. Specific Multi-Stakeholder processes are underway in two specific arenas:
a)   “Based on resolutions agreed at the International Forum for NCSDs (April 2000), the global network is preparing to undertake a multi-stakeholder assessment of the Earth Summit commitments” to feed into Rio+10 process.
b)   With funding from GEF-UNDP, a pilot project is underway to “ develop methodologies to integrate global environmental priorities into sustainable development plans”. It will involve developing capacity-building strategies, as appropriate to address weaknesses and barriers to change. The project is founded on the concept of Multi-Stakeholder Integrative Sustainability Planning (MISP) – based on principles of broad participation, flexibility, dynamic and promoting vertical and horizontal integration and empowerment. Countries involved include Mexico and the Phillipines. Draft guidelines and information promoting good practice are available on the NCSD Knowledge Network Internet site. 

Identifying the issues to be addressed in an MSP
The stakeholders identify the issues for the NCSD.

Identifying relevant stakeholders
Initial contact occurs at global and regional meetings, through existing contacts with Earth Council.

Identifying MSP participants
1. The Regional Coordinator makes unilateral visits to different groups within a country, then sets up a first group meeting.

Setting the goals of an MSP
1. The NCSD sets the goals and identifies priorities under the heading of sustainability, Agenda 21 and Earth Charter. Goals develop over time, within a broad framework and it usually takes over a year to develop strong foundations. As part of this process, participants need to check back with their constituencies. Continuity is hardest with governments.

Setting the agenda

Setting the timetable
1. It is an on-going process. Setting clear time-bound strategies for implementation of priority areas is one of the most difficult aspects of process.
2. Rio+10 Assessment: Preliminary results to be presented to CSD April 2001. International NCSD Forum December 2001.

Preparatory Process
1. The dialogue process is defined by the group, in consultation with, and via feedback from their constituencies, municipalities etc. There is on-going (internal) monitoring and reports of workshops (limited only by funds). The Regional Coordinator follows up issues and progress periodically.
2. Rio+10 Assessments: NCSDs will decide the most appropriate ways to conduct these via workshops, working groups, issue identification techniques and national forums. 

Communication process
1. Communication by the Regional Co-ordinator (RC) is initially through face to face meetings, then phone contacts and mailing, with visits at critical points, e.g. the RC always re-visit when there is a change of government.
The need for additional support to engage and enable participation of Indigenous communities and other marginalised groups is addressed from the outset of a NCSD. The RC raises questions about NCSD and sub-national groups resources (including financial) to enable their inclusion.
An Internet resource – NCSD Knowledge Network – has been developed to facilitate information exchange between NCSDs. 
Experiences and lessons learnt are shared between countries within the region. Some countries have been in the process longer than others. Mexico is frequently cited as a good example for a region, with strong sub-national groups and NCSD. The NCSD in Mexico is 50% sub-national representatives and 50% national-level MSP. (Previously Bolivia was seen as the region’s “best practice” example). 
The Philippines is perceived by many as the best global example. The Philippine Council for Sustainable Development  (PCSD) was set up in 1992. It is a multi-stakeholder body involving government, civil society, business and labour sectors, practicing consensus building processes in decision-making. It already had a national plan for sustainable development before the development of the Philippine Agenda 21 (PA21). Through the PCSD, PA21 has been adopted as the nation’s blueprint for sustainable development. This was published in 1996 after an extensive  multi-level, multi-stakeholder consultation process. It covers a broad span of issues, including urban poverty, agriculture and labour, as well as a range of topics related to economics and technology. Specific reference was made to global governance and the need for financial assistance to developing countries to implement Agenda 21 commitments.
In 1995, a regional NCSD meeting facilitated by the Earth Council and hosted by the PCSD, led to the formation of a network of NCSDs in Asia and the Pacific, called the Asia-Pacific National Councils for Sustainable Development (APNCSD). Outputs from this inclusive network include feedback into the Rio+5 Forum. It is currently investigating how it could strengthen existing mechanisms for communicating its message.

Decision-making process: procedures of agreement
Initially government driven but this is now evolving in many Latin American countries to be a more representative MSP. It is, by its very nature, a gradual process as it requires a change in the decision-making culture for many countries in the region.
The political, historical, traditional, and cultural make up of a country is crucial to how the NCSD MSP structure is initiated and progresses. The move towards truly multi-stakeholder process in decision making for a region is a gradual one and requires considerable determination and belief in the underlying principles for the NCSD.
As most NCSDs report back to a high-level position in government, often the head of state, they are in an ideal position to conduct participatory assessments of progress since Rio.

Implementation process
Using climate change as one example, the NCSD works together, often in sub-groups to build a strategy to implement key the principles in the Convention, and also to undertake research, implement and monitor progress.

Closing the MSP
The NCSD is an on-going structure, although priority issues may “close”. 

Structural Aspects:

Structures/Institutions of the MSP & Facilitation
Each NCSD has its own secretariat. The Secretariat and a steering committee or board meet regularly (3-4 months). They receive input from the sub-national grouping (where they exist).
Both secretariat and board are involved in facilitation.
The Earth Council is tasked “to design, strengthen and facilitate funding to establish national secretariats” to support civil society participation within NCSDs and similar entities. It also facilitates regional networks of NCSDs.

1. The secretariat reports on the meetings. It produces National A21 (equivalent to National Strategies for Sustainable Development Reports). 

Relating to not-participating stakeholders
This issue is taken seriously. For example, in Mexico there are larger meetings and sub-national meetings to incorporate views additional to NCSD.

Relating to the general public
Mexico produces occasional leaflets on key issues e.g. climate change as a strategy to help change public behaviour/attitudes. There is little money for massive outreach campaigns and wider public engagement. Work is dependent on government and stakeholder budgets.

Linkage into official decision-making process
There is a national link to Agenda 21; UN CSD and national reporting. There are also links to UNEP and UNDP links; C21 (DESA). 
Experience highlights that in the initial stages, stakeholders are usually very sceptical/critical of large institutions and require clear reasons for getting involved, and need a deeper understanding of process and their role in it.  Developing an NCSD is by nature transparent. Stakeholders can impact the process considerably and challenge it throughout.

GEF, Governments e.g. Netherlands, Canada, Scandinavian countries, C21 (indirectly), UNEP.

Additional information
Discontinuity and inadequate funding is an on-going problem, especially for engaging more local level input. e.g. to get sub-national representatives to a meeting in Brazil, participants must fly to one location, and on top of this resourcing, there is all the necessary reporting, administration and monitoring required. Local participants do so on a voluntary basis. One suggestion is to ensure that funding from external sources gets distributed evenly through each stakeholder groups and not channelled through government first (as is current practice). This would also encourage each grouping to ensure that the other is managing their finances according to agreed strategies and programmes.
Some conflict exists with “alternative processes” e.g. Bolivia, where the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper PRSP (set up separately by the World Bank is directly linked to Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) funds. This financial incentive detracts attention from NCSD process when actually it should be seen as one of the key elements for sustainable development.


Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.