Report of the International
National Sustainable Development Strategies
Ghana, 7-9 November
report is also available for download in the following formats
At the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), governments
made a commitment to adopt national strategies for sustainable development:
Governments, in cooperation where appropriate with international
organisations, should adopt a national strategy for sustainable development
This strategy should build upon and harmonise the various sectoral,
economic, social and environmental policies and plans that are operating
in the country.
Five years later, the 1997 Special Session of the UN General Assembly
set a target date of 2002, when the formulation and elaboration
of national strategies for sustainable development that reflect the
contributions and responsibilities of all interested parties should
be completed in all countries, with assistance provided, as appropriate,
through international cooperation, taking into account the special needs
of the least developed countries.
It confirmed the approach and purpose of national sustainable development
strategies as important mechanisms for enhancing and linking national
capacity so as to bring together priorities in social, economic and
environmental policies. It also reaffirmed that all
sectors of society should be involved in their development and implementation.
More recently, 147 Heads of State signed the Millennium Declaration
in September 2000. The associated Millennium Development Goals include
one relating to environmental sustainability, to: integrate the
principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes
and reverse the loss of environmental resources
no target date). Initiatives towards
national sustainable development strategies should, therefore, also
contribute to the achievement of this goal.
In view of the ongoing preparations for the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable
Development (WSSD), the International Forum on National Sustainable
Development Strategies was held in Accra, Ghana. Seventy-three expert
participants from 31 countries, drawn from government, civil society,
the private sector and international agencies, were convened by the
UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) in collaboration
with the Government of Ghana, Department for International Development
(DFID) of the UK, the Danish Government and UNDP/Capacity 21. The Forum
reviewed experience to date in national sustainable development strategy
development and implementation, shared lessons learned and best practices,
and recommended approaches to integrate the principles of sustainable
development into the policies and programmes of both developed and developing
countries. In this way, the Forum aimed to reinvigorate the dialogue
on national sustainable development strategies, and to encourage all
countries, both developing and industrialised, to continue advancing
their efforts in this regard.
participants at the Accra Forum agreed on the following conclusions
of a national sustainable development strategy
5. A national
sustainable development strategy is the way in which a country is addressing
the challenge of progressing towards its goals of sustainable development.
It is a plan or method for achieving these goals and, thus, reflects
an ongoing process and not a one-off document. The
Forum confirmed that effective national sustainable development strategies
have common characteristics, but that they take different forms depending
on national and local conditions. These common characteristics are
elaborated further in paragraph 7 below. For example, established frameworks
such as a National Vision, National Agenda 21, or a Poverty Reduction
Strategy can all provide a good basis for strategic action towards sustainable
development. The particular label applied to a national sustainable
development strategy is not important as long as the common characteristics
of the strategy are adhered to (see paragraph 7 below).
The Forum further highlighted the important functions of a national
sustainable development strategy:
effective national sustainable development strategy will help to address
priority problems with complex causes and complex implications. All
countries should, therefore, consider a national sustainable development
strategy as a priority. Countries need to understand the complex dynamics
surrounding poverty reduction and environmental degradation. This requires
integrated analysis of the underlying causes of problems, and integrated
solutions and coordinated action. A national
sustainable development strategy can help to organise the process efficiently.
A national sustainable development strategy will
help to encourage and facilitate institutional and behavioural
change for sustainable development. Although a national sustainable
development strategy is a process, it should demonstrably focus on tangible
sustainable development outcomes and lead directly to concrete actions.
The strategy should focus on the local level, as well as the national
level and improve co-responsibility at the international level. A national
sustainable development strategy therefore needs both to generate as
well as to reflect expressed demand from the grassroots fully
embracing and complementing any local level initiatives for sustainable
development, such as Local Agenda 21s. A national sustainable development
strategy should also reflect national obligations, commitments and needs
at the global level, to improve national resilience in relation to rapidly
changing international conditions. This emphasis on real change will
entail a national sustainable development strategy articulating short-term
or immediate priority needs, as well as medium- and long-term objectives.
c) A national
sustainable development strategy will help to improve integration, coordinating
and mainstreaming of policy goals that are important to stakeholders
and lead to sustainable development. This covers several dimensions:
integrating multiple stakeholder perceptions, needs, and
integrating economic, social and environmental objectives
(or making informed trade-offs between them where full integration is
integrating technical planning concerns in political decision-making
linking national sustainable development strategy processes
with budget processes;
linking different sectoral strategies; and
linking national to local-level and global-level strategies.
of a national sustainable development strategy
Recognising that a national sustainable development strategy can comprise
multiple, coordinated processes to move towards sustainable development,
and that it will take different forms depending on national/local conditions,
a document entitled Guidance on Preparing a National Sustainable
Development Strategy was reviewed and revised by the Forum.
The Guidance document may usefully be applied to sub-national strategies
as well as to the national level and should be interpreted in light
of prevailing economic, social and political realities by relevant stakeholders.
To be fully effective, it was also suggested that the recommended process
in the Guidance document be continually tested, and consequently readjusted,
at the national level.
Guidance on Preparing a National Sustainable Development Strategy
features the following recommended elements:
Integration of economic, social and environmental objectives, and balance
across sectors, territories and generations
local, national, regional and global priorities and actions
the short term to the medium and long term.
the national, regional and global levels
between budgetary and strategic priorities
Broad participation and effective partnerships
channels for communication
to information for all stakeholders and effective networking
and mutual respect
amongst government, civil society, private sector and external institutions
Country ownership and commitment
political and stakeholder commitment
leadership and good governance
strategic and pragmatic vision
institution or group of institutions spearheading the process
of the national sustainable development strategy process
Developing capacity and an enabling environment
on existing knowledge and expertise
on existing processes and strategies
Focus on outcomes and means of implementation
means to assess and agree on priority issues in place
between budget, capacity and strategy priorities
to private sector investment
in sound technical and economic analysis
mechanisms for assessment, follow-up, evaluation and feedback
There are considerable challenges in implementing these recommended
elements. Although an effective national sustainable development strategy
will both encourage, and depend on, integration, this has proven
the most challenging task faced by countries to date. This is partly
because many previous related initiatives tended to focus on producing
large documents laying out numerous projects/plans and/or comprehensive
aspirations, while largely neglecting the principal need for institutional
change. True and effective participation and partnerships can also
be challenging to achieve. In addition, few national sustainable development
strategies have been adequately assessed and evaluated, especially in
terms of their outcomes. The difficulties which countries face in attending
to these critical tasks warrant improved networking and support.
arrangements for an effective national sustainable development strategy
A multitude of similar comprehensive frameworks for sustainable development
would be burdensome, especially for countries with limited capacity.
The recommended elements in the Guidance document in paragraph 7 above,
define some common characteristics of a national sustainable development
strategy. Individual countries as well as the international community
should make every effort to build on, and/or to harmonise, different
existing country frameworks including those promoted by the different
international development institutions, in line with the recommendations
in this Guidance document.
Strong institutional leadership is required to launch, drive, build
on and sustain the national sustainable development strategy process.
Whether a single government institution such as the Ministry of Planning
should lead the process or whether numerous institutions collectively
or individually should promote it depends upon each countrys
situation. A single body can be an important champion, particularly
in the early stages. There is a general consensus that this should
be an authority with a cross-sectoral mandate, such as a Planning or
Finance ministry. However, in other contexts, such as countries with
several levels of government, a number of bodies at different levels
could provide leadership. After a while, the inclusive approach of
the national sustainable development strategy process can encourage
shared leadership, with different institutions taking the lead on specific
issues. Ultimately, a multiplicity of efforts is desirable, but strong
coordination will be required.
Country-driven, multi-stakeholder ownership is crucial
to the development and implementation of an effective national sustainable
development strategy. Because it presents a potentially huge agenda,
there is an inherent risk that a national sustainable development strategy
may be perceived, by many stakeholders, as primarily serving other
peoples needs. It is essential to communicate the national
sustainable development strategy as a means or opportunity to meet each
stakeholders own needs, through collective debate, solution finding
and action. It may be necessary to include incentives to encourage
stakeholders to bridge the institutional walls that separate
them, particularly along sectoral and functional lines. A national
sustainable development strategy should, therefore, be presented as
a mechanism to harness options, partnerships and innovation.
A national sustainable development strategy should serve as an overall
comprehensive framework for formal national planning and budgetary systems.
Formal planning systems are potentially valuable means for
providing the integration, balance and participation required of national
sustainable development strategies. Many planning systems commonly
employ a number of approaches to integration consultation, dialogue,
committees/councils, and methods such as environmental impact assessment
and cost-benefit analysis. However, ultimately the planning authorities
themselves tend to make the decisions; and the integrating approaches
used may be one-off, rather than a regular process. Successfully integrating
budgetary processes and investment programmes under the umbrella of
the national sustainable development strategy is essential and a test
of the effectiveness of the strategy. This has, however, tended to
be weak in many countries, at best showing some links with certain investment
budgets rather than with the recurrent budget.
Institutions at the local level could be a stronger driving force
for a national sustainable development strategy than they have been
so far. There has been a tendency to design integration on
paper at centralised levels, with inadequate commitment to implementation.
In contrast, people at the local level can have very real incentives
for forging integration. Decentralisation processes can present key
opportunities to introduce the institutional changes necessary for sustainable
development, provided resources are made available locally. However,
local authorities may need to be strengthened to produce an enabling
environment and to empower local stakeholders to call for integrated
approaches. The experience of Local Agenda 21s has been valuable in
identifying needs, and in producing integrated plans, empowerment and
action at local levels. Thus, more effective links should be made between
Local Agenda 21s and national sustainable development strategies.
Other means to improve institutional integration should be sought
and built on. In addition to the planning and budgetary systems
and decentralisation, a number of methodologies could also be part of
implementing the national sustainable development strategy. These include
integrated scenarios for the future, and use these to test the resilience
of policy options;
and apply rigorous protocols on achieving consensus;
new ways of working by piloting appropriately funded and integrated
activities to cross institutional divisions; and
on shared tasks, e.g., shared reporting, planning and assessment
in relation to sustainable development priorities (rather than this
being done by sectoral agencies, followed by rationalisation by a
central body, as often happens at present).
Trade-offs cannot be ignored. Consensus building should be a
key factor in the national sustainable development strategy process,
however, trade-offs must be faced particularly in the short term
for a national sustainable development strategy to be credible
and effective. Where potential conflicts are identified, efforts should
first be made to find creative solutions including reviewing
goals and re-evaluating options. Trade-offs should be made transparent
and accessible and be accompanied by mitigation, compensation, training,
etc. Where trade-off cannot be dealt with immediately, it is also important
to make this transparent.
Participation and partnerships in a national sustainable development
Multi-stakeholder participation is needed at all stages in a national
sustainable development strategy process (i.e., analysis, debate,
planning, implementation, reporting and assessment). A participatory
process of informing, involving and engaging various sectors of society
should drive this iterative, cyclical process. The views
and concerns of all stakeholders should have an equal opportunity to
impact on the actual decision making process.
The Government has a key role to play in creating an enabling and
equitable environment for participation. This may require legislative
support. However, there are limits to central government leadership
in promoting participation, which tends to be based on a consultative
process. A decentralized process can facilitate broader-based participation
in the various stages of the national sustainable development strategy
Capacity-building and availability of the same information base for
all stakeholders, particularly the less privileged groups, should be
ensured. The role that each stakeholder can play should
be recognized and mutually respected in order to achieve equal participation.
Most strategy processes have faced the issue of who represents each
stakeholder group. In one successful case, each group had its own selection
mechanism and has over time developed the capacity needed for effective
Partnerships among different stakeholders should be built around
concrete initiatives that make the best use of stakeholder capabilities,
offer incentives and ensure their commitment. In this way,
the business sector, for example, could bring in its pragmatic, solution-seeking
abilities into public-private partnerships. Civil society could contribute
its community-based experiences and networks. Counter-parting of resources
whether financial, human or physical provides for stronger
ownership by the partners involved.
Capacity requirements for an effective national sustainable development
The capacity needs of a national sustainable development strategy are
manifested at the human, institutional and systemic levels.
The human dimension of capacity building relates to a variety of
abilities, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary and process skills.
It includes the acquisition of technical skills on both an individual
and a collective basis. It encompasses abilities for negotiation, conflict
resolution and consensus building, through teamwork and effective communication
(demystifying the complex codes, symbols and jargon that
are often associated with sustainable development). It also includes
the capability to internalize diverse experiences and perspectives,
to enable effective learning. The dynamics associated with this level
of capacity development are often influenced by subjective determinants
such as attitude, perception, cultural orientation and intuitive faculty.
Institutional capacity requirements focus on collective learning
and institutional change. In addition to tangible skills associated
with programme and project development, the principal requirements include
institutional capacities to:
and deal with multiple perceptions;
a common vision and sense of purpose that binds stakeholders;
internal change processes;
incentive mechanisms to enhance capacity development;
effective monitoring and evaluation capabilities for learning purposes;
and mobilize activities at different levels; and thus
to new contexts and challenges
The systemic dimension of capacity building is closely associated
with the enabling environment i.e., appropriate
policy and legal frameworks, a clear definition of institutional roles
and mandates, widespread access to information, upstream/downstream
linkages, the availability of a culture of dialogue and
enhanced networking capabilities linking diverse stakeholders. These
attributes are essential to sustain the growth of institutions and individuals,
as well as to generate learning dynamics.
Innovation is important. The testing of new approaches at
the local level can often assist learning processes through validation,
and thus facilitate integration at the policy level.
Indigenous knowledge needs to be taken into consideration. Indigenous
knowledge systems, as growing bodies of locally relevant experience
and means for resilience, can also make positive contributions to a
national sustainable development strategy, and institutional processes
need to be able to value and encourage them.
Whereas conventional tools such as manuals, guidelines, and formal
training and research are of key importance, other means of education
and awareness should also be promoted. Different approaches and
entry points can be utilized to achieve such improvements. This will
include the promotion of built-in performance-based incentive
mechanisms that encourage continuous improvement. Traditional organizational
models based on hierarchy and compartmentalization should be complemented
by more inclusive approaches in order to stimulate greater interaction
and shared learning. Institutions should focus on learning from failures
as well as from successes. Finally, time and patience are key ingredients
it takes time for capacity-building to evolve and mature into
Local governments, private sector, and civil society need to play
a stronger role in national sustainable development strategy development
and implementation. Capacity-strengthening exercises and resources
that are made available need also to be relevant to the local levels
and not only be confined to the national level.
Financial requirements of a national sustainable development strategy
Adequate, predictable and regular financial resources are required
to implement the national sustainable development strategy in order
for it to be part of an effective, iterative and inclusive process,
rather than having a one-off project producing a document.
Such financial resources are required to initiate a national sustainable
development strategy process, to operate the systems necessary for continuous
improvement, and to implement resulting policies and programmes. This,
in turn, could potentially make a national sustainable development strategy
expensive, however, by improving integration, priority settings and
institutional roles, the strategy could effectively enhance efficiency,
effectiveness and equity.
The ability to internally reallocate available resources improves
ownership of the national sustainable development strategy. Such
flexibility will result in a greater chance that the strategy will end
up better integrated with budget/investment processes in addition to
fundamentally improving the financial flows towards the national sustainable
development strategy. It is important, therefore, to assess current
finance flows within the country in relation to the national sustainable
development goals, and to identify entry points whereby the national
sustainable development strategy can influence finances to flow into
sustainable development investments. This is unlikely to be achieved
in a single effort a continuous improvement approach is more
likely to succeed. Given that investors are seeking clarity of goals
and evidence of priorities, excellence in the national sustainable development
strategy process is likely to elicit more funding than the unprioritized
wish-list strategies of the past.
The role of external partnerships
Many developing countries will need external funding to help start,
implement, coordinate and/or maintain the national sustainable development
strategy process. Whereas good communication with external agencies
is essential, national ownership can be adversely affected
if external agencies impose a particular process and/or dictate the
strategys outcomes. Development assistance approaches by international
institutions engaging in the national sustainable developments strategy
process should be fully consistent with the recommendations in the Guidance
document (paragraph 7 above), to ensure national ownership.
Development assistance consultative groups can assist
in forming good partnerships for the development and implementation
of a national strategy for sustainable development. The consultative
groups and round tables, that are standard mechanisms
for donor coordination in most developing countries, have proven effective
in forging good partnerships for a national sustainable development
strategy, when based in the developing country concerned and having
a multi-sectoral orientation.
A national sustainable development strategy development and implementation,
when engaged in by both external agencies and developing countries,
can strengthen partnerships, based around shared objectives, clear responsibilities,
and mutual accountability for agreed indicators. To be most effective,
international partnerships need to move from micro-managing projects,
to supporting policy, strategic processes, programmes and capacity development.
A national sustainable development strategy is a principal means
for articulating and acting on national aspirations and fulfilling obligations
internationally. This has been inadequately acknowledged in national
sustainable development strategies to date. Foreign relations, trade,
aid, debt and ecological footprints need to be considered.
Networking among those involved in a national sustainable development
strategy from different countries
also be useful. A strategy presents complex and new challenges,
and is realising different potentials; thus there could be utility in
twinning countries for mutual support and learning.
Assessing progress in a national sustainable development strategy
Assessments play a central role in a national sustainable development
strategy as part of the cyclical process of continuous improvement towards
sustainable development. Both process assessment and outcome/impact
assessment are needed. Countries need to be able to assess the effectiveness
of their national sustainable development strategy, allowing them to
move toward continuous improvement through a learning process. Assessment
of process quality addresses the question: is the strategy going
to be effective? Assessment of outcomes and impacts addresses
the question: has the strategy been effective? A good assessment
system will be able to link the two since the quality of the
process can often be correlated with successful (or problematic) outcomes
The relative mix of process assessment and outcome/impact assessment
will change according to the maturity of a national sustainable development
strategy. Process assessment has been very useful in the
formative years of a national strategy development when issues of participation,
in particular, affect credibility, ownership and practical chances of
success. There are, however, diminishing returns to process assessment.
Stakeholders soon need to know what the impacts are on the ground, which
is important for maintaining political support. In addition, an emphasis
on process assessment may not be politically acceptable in many developing
countries, where the overwhelming priority is to make a demonstrable
difference to livelihoods rapidly. Furthermore, a continuing, heavy
focus on process assessment can give a false sense that the process
is achieving something purely because the process appears to
be going well. Outcome/impact assessment may, therefore, provide the
biggest feedback effect and one that can less easily be ignored.
The assessment criteria are best established at the time of designing
the national sustainable development process making them
entirely consistent with the national sustainable development objectives.
Indeed, a consideration of process assessment criteria can help tighten
the goals of the national sustainable development strategy process.
In the same way, a consideration of outcome/impact assessment criteria
can help to tighten the policy decisions being made through the strategy
process. Local development or interpretation of such criteria is, therefore,
As far as possible, assessments should be participatory and forward-looking.
They might, therefore, be connected to multi-stakeholder groups that
are set up to manage the national sustainable development strategy,
e.g., National Councils for Sustainable Development (NCSDs), and involve
a range of participatory exercises that address the changing context.
Although assessments are retrospective evaluations of performance, the
goal of assessment should be promoted as not to prove, but to
Few national sustainable development strategies have been assessed
to date and a number of difficulties are commonly faced with strategy
assessment, such as:
of a culture of assessment within a country
driven by external sources these can be politically difficult
as well as involve assessment skills not conducive to participatory
assessment by local stakeholders (for example, stressing third party
assessments because of the need to ensure accountability for funds)
that assessment may lead to inappropriate comparisons internationally
of agreement on definitions and indicators, which would result in
inconsistency of data
access to data and (especially for process assessment) access to concerned
different assessments, e.g., civil society and government assessments,
or those of different ministries and ensuring complementarities between
Summary of recommendations
To summarize, the Forum adopted the Guidance document to serve as a
tool in national sustainable development strategy development and implementation.
In addition, the following specific recommendations were made:
efforts to build on, and to harmonize, different existing integrated
frameworks for sustainable development in each country, including, where
relevant, those supported by international development institutions.
that the national sustainable development strategy process is driven
by a multiplicity of efforts of various groups and entities within the
country, effectively coordinated by an authority with a cross-sectoral
mandate, such as the planning ministry or a multi-stakeholder National
Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD).
local empowerment through effective decentralization efforts and local
capacity-building, in order to enhance the enabling environment for
an effective and participatory national sustainable development strategy.
equitable multi-stakeholder participation at all stages of the national
sustainable development strategy process. Formal mechanisms such as
NCSDs could be helpful in this regard.
capacity-building and equal access to information by all stakeholders,
particularly for the less-privileged groups, in order to ensure equitable
participation in the national sustainable development strategy process.
Undertake concrete initiatives (e.g., joint projects and pilot
projects) to promote and facilitate partnerships among different stakeholders.
adequate financial support for the national sustainable development
strategy on a regular basis, especially through internal mobilisation
to improve ownership. Whilst many developing countries need external
funding support, this must not compromise national ownership of the
national sustainable development strategies as a principal means of
articulating and acting on a nations international obligations
and aspirations, and as a means for developing international partnership
and improving co-responsibility.
Develop mechanisms for networking amongst those involved in national
sustainable development strategies, to maximize opportunities for mutual
support, learning and review.
Ensure that assessment mechanisms for both process and outcomes/impacts
are participatory and made an integral part of the national sustainable
development strategy process.
To be effective, a national sustainable development strategy should
be integrative, participatory, nationally owned, built on existing knowledge
and processes, and focused on outcomes. Furthermore, it should be based
on timely action, and recognize and reconcile necessary trade-offs while
constantly seeking win-win outcomes. To achieve this, national capacities
need to be utilized and strengthened.
A national sustainable development strategy should not be seen merely
as a set of government plans, programmes and projects, but as an embodiment
of commitments to action by all stakeholders concerned. A national
sustainable development strategy should recognize that, ultimately,
sustainable development is not something that governments do for people;
it is something people achieve for themselves through individual and
21, Chapter 8, paragraph 8.7
Programme of Action for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21, paragraph
Programme of Action for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21, paragraph
A/56/326, Report of the Secretary General: Road map towards the implementation
of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, Goal 7, target 9.