National Strategies for Sustainable
Development: The Challenge Ahead
|This paper is based on research conducted by IIED and others and the
experience of many countries in developing and implementing a range of
strategic planning approaches over the past 15 years. In particular, it
builds on analysis and ideas about the need for national strategies for
sustainable development (nssds) to focus on strategic analysis, debate
and action set out in Dalal-Clayton
et al. (1998). It also draws from discussion and case studies presented
at the OECD DAC Scoping Workshop on National Strategies for Sustainable
Development, Sunningdale, UK: 18-19 November 1998.
It is a key discussion document for the first project workshop held
in Arusha in April 2000.
The full text is given below, you can also view and print it
as an Acrobat PDF file.
International Institute for Environment and Development
NATIONAL STRATEGIES FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT:
THE CHALLENGE AHEAD
Barry Dalal-Clayton and Stephen Bass
Draft: 17 March 2000
|A background paper prepared in support of
Donor-Developing Country Dialogues on National Strategies for Sustainable
Development – an initiative of the OECD/DAC Working Party on Development
Cooperation and Environment (October 1999 – February 2001).
Strategies, Planning and Assessment Programme
3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H ODD, England, UK
Tel: +44-171-388-2117; Fax: +44-171-388-2826
Acronyms and abbreviations
1. Background to the OECD/DAC donor-developing country
dialogues on nssds
1.1 Summary of the
2. Sustainable development and strategies to reach this
2.1 Is there
really an understanding of what sustainable development is all about?
2.1.1 Defining sustainable development
2.2 What is a national
stratagey for sustainable development ?
2.2.1 Why sustainable development needs a strategic response
2.2.1 Defining a national strategy for sustainable development
3 Five key problems with past approaches
3.1 Need for a new
4 Some continuing challenges
4.1 An nssd
does not necessarily mean something new
4.2 Political and
4.3 Ownership and
4.5 Scoping the
dealing with key areas of change
the Brundtland definition of sustainable development
2.2 Strategic planning
processes for sustainable development
2.3 Why recommendations
of past reviews have not been addressed or implemented
4.1 The challenge
of globalisation for strategy-making
1. Challenges for
more effective strategic analysis, debate and action for sustainable development
2.1 The systems of
2.2 Suggested elements
of the cycle of developing and implementing a national strategy for sustainable
4.1 Formal strategies
ACRONYMS AND ABBREVIATIONS
CDF Comprehensive development framework
DAC Development Assistance Committee (of OECD)
DFID Department for International Development (UK)
EC European Commission
HIPC Highly indebted poor countries
IIED International Institute for Environment and Development
IMF International Monetary Fund
IUCN World Conservation Union
NGO Non-governmental organisation
OECD Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
NEAP National environmental action plan
nssd National strategy for sustainable development
PRS Poverty reduction strategy
SIDA Swedish International Development Agency
UNCED United Nations Conference of Environment and Development
UNEP United Nations Environment Programme
WCED World Commission on Environment and Development
WP/ENV Working Party on Development Cooperation and Environment
(of the DAC)
WTO World Trade Organisation
WWF Worldwide Fund for Nature
This paper is based on research conducted by IIED and
others and the experience of many countries in developing and implementing
a range of strategic planning approaches over the past 15 years. In particular,
it builds on analysis and ideas about the need for national strategies
for sustainable development (nssds) to focus on strategic analysis,
debate and action set out in Dalal-Clayton et al. (1998). It also
draws from discussion and case studies presented at the OECD DAC Scoping
Workshop on National Strategies for Sustainable Development, Sunningdale,
UK: 18-19 November 1998.
Many of the key documents cited will be available (either
as full text or in abstract) on the project website (currently under development)
and its associated CD Rom.
1: Background to the OECD/DAC donor-developing country
dialogues on nssds
In support of the UN target on nssds and the objectives
for donors set out in the DAC’s Shaping the 21st Century
policy document, the DAC Working Party on Development Co-operation and
Environment (WP/ENV) decided, at its meeting in June 1998, to work towards
elaborating ‘good practices for donors in assisting developing countries
with the formulation and implementation of nssds and mainstreaming sustainability
in socio-economic development strategies’. WP/ENV members agreed that
this work should draw on informal dialogues with developing country partners.
The work will ‘identify key institutional processes, factors of effectiveness,
indicators of implementation progress and priorities for donor support
and improved coordination’. A Task Force, led by the UK Department
for International Development (DFID) and the European Commission (EC),
was established for this purpose.
A scoping workshop involving Task Force members and developing
country representatives was held at Sunningdale, UK, on 18-19 November
1998, to help define broad directions for the work. The workshop was hosted
by DFID with technical and logistical assistance provided by IIED. It recommended
systematic in-country consultations with developing country partners. These
would involve donors, government and a wide range of stakeholders in order
to examine and elaborate good practice for donors in supporting nssds.
The report of the workshop was discussed and approved
by the DAC Working Party at its meeting in Paris on 24-25 February 1999.
The report highlights some of the key challenges involved in developing
and implementing nssds and priority issues to be addressed in future
work. It also sets out proposals for dialogues based on discussions at
the scoping workshop, and on subsequent consultations with Task Force members
and developing country participants.
At its November 1999 meeting, the DAC/WP/ENV approved
a project to take forward the recommendations of the Sunningdale workshop.
This project initiates the minimum number of dialogues (5 at country level,
1 regional) thought necessary to ensure sufficient depth and geographical
representation to enable a thorough review of experience with nssds
and to develop effective guidelines for donors.
As well as contributing to generic guidance for donors,
the dialogues aim to make a concrete contribution to nssd processes
and donor coordination in the participating countries.
A range of donors committed funds to enable the dialogues
and associated activities to proceed. IIED was engaged to provide technical
support and to coordinate the overall process.
1.1 Summary of the project
Five dialogues will be held at a country level (Bolivia,
Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Nepal and Thailand) and one at regional level (the
Sahel). Each of the dialogues will be implemented by a country or regional
institution. The dialogues will involve a status review of all the significant
strategic planning processes for sustainable development that are recent
or current in the country, followed by the dialogues themselves. The latter
will involve stakeholder consultations, workshops and roundtables (their
exact nature will vary).
Support to parallel strategy learning processes
The project will also collaborate with, learn from and
build on existing reflective and analytical work on strategic planning
supported by DAC members/observers in Ghana, Namibia and Pakistan.
There will be three workshops: an initial planning workshop,
a mid-term review workshop, and a final workshop. These will be attended
by donors, lead organisations from the developing countries involved, and
resource persons on nssds.
Publications and dissemination of outputs
An issues paper on challenges for nssds (this paper),
a status report and dialogue report for each country/region involved, and
an overall synthesis report will be published through IIED. A sourcebook
(bringing together the main issues and lessons from these reports) and
guidelines for donors will be published by the OECD DAC Secretariat.
International coordination and technical support
The Task Force has engaged IIED to facilitate and coordinate
at the international level the implementation of the dialogues and to identify
and synthesis lessons from three parallel strategy learning processes in
Ghana, Namibia and Pakistan. IIED weill provide assistance in planning
the approach, tracking progress (ensuring adherence to the timetable and
agreed approach), reviewing and editing mid-term and final reports, drawing
out generic and country-specific lessons, developing an initial draft of
DAC policy guidance and a draft sourcebook, and networking, liaison and
administrative support. IIED will also be responsible for convening three
The project is being implemented through four phases
(a) Phase 1: (October 1999 - February 2000). Preparation:
identification of lead teams (5 in-country and 1 regional); securing commitment
of government and key stakeholders in the country/region for dialogues;
establishing Steering Committees in countries/regions; preparation of an
issues paper (by IIED) highlighting key nssd challenges; establishment
of a document collection on strategic planning; convening an initial planning
workshop, developing ToRs for the lead institutions and identifying in-country/regional
(b) Phase 2 (March - April 2000). Status
reviews: will be conducted by the lead teams using a topic
guide (to prompt discussion) developed by the DAC WP/ENV Task Force.
will provide support for planning the approach for the status reviews;
reviewing and editing status reports; and information sharing on emerging
nature of dialogues.
(c) Phase 3 (May - October 2000). Dialogues:
This phase will commence with a mid-term review workshop to consider the
status reports and to plan and agree the nature of the dialogues. On the
basis of the lessons arising from Phase 2, the final outputs of the initiative
and mechanisms for their production and dissemination will be further defined
at this stage. A progress report will be prepared and fed into the June
2000 meeting of the DAC WP/ENV.
Each dialogue will be organised by the lead institutions,
and will be based mainly on stakeholder consultations, and a 2/3-day round
table attended by a wide range of stakeholders and donors, possibly with
(d) Phase 4 (November 2000 - February 2001). Drafting
of Guidance: involving synthesis by IIED, in consultation with
lead organisations, of individual dialogue final reports in the form of
an overview report drawing out common themes and lessons. A final workshop
will review the results, develop an initial draft of policy guidance, and
consider the possible contents and format of a sourcebook.
2: Sustainable Development and Strategies to Reach
In preparing to launch the DAC/WP/ENV project on national
strategies for sustainable development, it has become evident that there
is some uncertainty about what constitutes such a strategy. In order to
discuss this, we must first consider what we mean by sustainable development.
2.1 Is there really an understanding of what sustainable
development is all about ?
There is an ever-growing volume of literature on sustainable
development. The most well-known international reports on the subject are
those of the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland
Commission) (WCED, 1987) and Agenda 21 (UNCED, 1992). These reflect political
consensus and are therefore necessarily rather general and open-ended.
Each year, numerous institutions publish shelves full of academic papers,
reports, books and analytical reviews that deal with all aspects of sustainable
development in greater detail. These tend to reflect the specifics of certain
sectors, stakeholders and countries and therefore differ considerably.
The rhetoric about sustainable development is becoming omnipresent with
weighty speeches given at UN-sponsored and other international conferences
and at national and local events, and with politicians literally promising
‘the earth’ and making all kinds of commitments to a sustainable future.
The term ‘sustainable development’ seems to jump from every page and trips
off the tongue with increasing ease.
But despite this burgeoning use of the term, it is becoming
evident that most stakeholders (apart perhaps from a small number of enthusiasts)
have not fully grasped what it is potentially all about. Sustainable development
is still seen as an environmental issue (wrapped in the ribbons of international
accords). This is well illustrated by the fact that these sustainable development
conventions are usually made the responsibility of environment ministries
and departments – amongst the weakest and least influential in government.
Sustainable development is not seen as an important goal uniting government,
civil society and market players. This is one reason why so many attempts
to develop sustainable development strategies (or at least their precursors
such as conservation strategies and environmental action plans) have not
been taken seriously by other government departments. It also explains
why it is only the ‘environmental’ precursors which are considered when
undertaking an nssd as opposed to, for example, poverty alleviation
strategies. Sustainable development is not yet embedded at the core of
government thinking and action. This is one of the key challenges to developing
and implementing any national strategy for sustainable development and
is an issue we shall return to.
2.1.1 Defining sustainable development
If we are to consider the challenges that face those tasked
with developing and implementing a national strategy for sustainable development,
it is vitally important to restate what we mean by sustainable development.
It is, of course, much easier to pinpoint what constitutes unsustainable
development (for example, that leading to increased poverty, the depletion
of natural resources, pollution or growing indebtedness) than to define
what might constitute sustainable development. The issue of sustainable
development is explored in some detail in an article "What is sustainable
development ?" on the project website and CD Rom.
Many of the ideas that are now embedded in the idea of
sustainable development have been around for a long time – from as long
ago as the work of Malthus on population growth in the late 1700s. But
the concept appears really to have emerged during debate in the early 1970s
following of a range of key publications drawing attention to man’s over-exploitation
of the environment, focusing on environmental constraints to development
objectives, and examining the inextricable links between environment and
Barbier (1987) distinguishes two strands of debate at
this time about economic development: one focusing on basic needs with
emphasis on helping the poor; the other stressing that real development
was impossible without consideration of the environment and without taking
into account local social and cultural values and enabling stakeholder
The following statement from the World Conservation Strategy
(IUCN/WWF/UNEP, 1980) appears to be the first actual attempt to define
"For development to be sustainable, it must take account
of social and ecological factors, as well as economic ones; of the living
and non-living resource base; and of the long-term as well as the short-term
advantages and disadvantages of alternative action"
The World Conservation Strategy was frequently criticised
for being concerned mainly with ecological sustainability rather than sustainable
development per se. The most universally quoted definition is that
produced in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development
(WCED), otherwise known as the Brundtland Commission:
"Economic and social development that meets the needs
of the current generation without undermining the ability of future generations
to meet their own needs".
Box 2.1 offers an interpretation of what this means.
Box 2.1: Interpreting the Brundtland Definition
A commitment to meet the needs of present and future generations
has various implications. "Meeting the needs of the present" means satisfying:
Economic needs – including access to assets providing
an adequate livelihood or productive economic activity; also economic security
when unemployed, ill, disabled or otherwise unable to secure a livelihood.
Social, cultural and health needs - including a shelter
which is healthy, safe, affordable and secure, within a neighbourhood with
provision for piped water, drainage, transport, health care, education
and child development, and protection from environmental hazards.
Meeting such needs "without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs" means:
Political needs - including freedom to participate
in national and local politics and in decisions regarding management and
development of one's home and neighbourhood, within a broader framework
which ensures respect for civil and political rights and the implementation
of environmental legislation.
nSustainable use of
renewable resources - including using freshwater, soils and forests
in ways that ensure a natural rate of recharge.
Minimising use or waste of non-renewable resources
- including minimising the consumption of fossil fuels and substituting
with renewable sources where feasible. Also, minimising the waste of scarce
mineral resources (reduce use, re-use, recycle, reclaim).
At present, these 'preconditions' are rarely being met. As
a result, the world appears to be locked into a number of downward trends,
which are moving away from, rather than toward, sustainability. The roots
of this decline are many, but can be clustered into two broad groups: market
failures, where economic transactions fail to take account of social
or environmental costs, and policy failures, where governments inadvertently
encourage environmental degradation or social problems. The issue is thus
not one of whether governments should intervene to steer development
towards sustainability, but how.
Keeping within the absorptive capacity of local and global
sinks for wastes – including the capacity of rivers to break down biodegradable
wastes as well as the capacity of global environmental systems, such as
climate, to absorb greenhouse gases.
Following the publication of the Brundtland report, there
was a rapid escalation of alternative definitions of sustainable development
and lists are given by several authors (e.g. Pezzey 1989, Pearce et
al. 1990, and Rees 1989). Mitlin (1992) notes that, in general, definitions
involve two components:
Despite the wealth of references to Brundtland’s political
consensus, it is not supported by professional consensus. As Banuri (1999)
observes, "there is considerable professional disagreement about this definition,
mostly on how to put the idea of sustainable development into operation,
but also to do with questions of definition and on its claims to synthesis".
the meaning of development (i.e. what are the main goals
of development: economic growth, basic needs, rights, etc.);
the conditions necessary for sustainability.
Sustainable development is perhaps best seen as aspirational
goal, now endorsed by governments, business and civil society.
"Rather than focusing on economic growth in isolation,
sustainable development requires the integration of the social, economic
and environmental dimensions in corporate and public decision-making, within
a governance framework that ensures full participation and accountability"
It is now widely agreed (at least amongst those promoting
and studying the concept) that there are three pillars to sustainable development:
Economy: The creation of wealth and livelihoods;
Society: The elimination of poverty and improvement
of quality of life;
The relationship between these triple objectives is commonly
illustrated by three overlapping rings (see Figure 2.1). Traditionally,
societies have attempted to set social, economic and environmental goals,
but often in isolation from one another. Thus, nature conservation targets
have been set without regard to the goals for economic growth or poverty
reduction. The result has been the creation of short-lived 'green islands'
in a sea of unsustainability. Decision-makers are now becoming aware that
environmental goals can only be achieved by integrating them into mainstream
social and economic policy-making.
Environment The enhancement of natural resources for
Thus, sustainable development will entail integration
of these three objectives where possible, and making hard choices and negotiating
trade-offs between objectives where integration is not possible. These
negotiations will be greatly influenced by factors such as peace and security,
prevailing economic interests, political systems, institutional arrangements
and cultural norms. Achieving these objectives is essentially a task of
transforming governance in the public sector, private sector and
society more broadly to achieve a more balanced and integrated approach
to development. This ensures that it is defined to meet and respect the
particular needs and circumstances of individual countries, societies and
Figure 2.1: The Systems of Sustainable Development
2.2 What is a national strategy for sustainable development ?
2.2.1 Why sustainable development needs a strategic response
Urgency of the issues
When the world’s leaders met in June 1997 at the Special Session of
the UN General Assembly to review progress since the landmark Earth Summit,
the assessment they faced was a sombre one. There had been a significant
increase since 1992 in the total number of people living in poverty and
huge growth in inequality both within and between countries. There had
been continued deterioration in the state of the global environment. Looking
ahead, the UN forecasted that "the next quarter century is likely to be
characterised by declining standards of living, rising levels of conflict
and environmental stress" unless hard choices were made to break these
seemingly remorseless trends away from sustainable development (UNDPCSD
For the last decade or more, there has been growing awareness that moving
towards sustainable development will require often deep structural changes
in the economy, society, resource management and political life. Policies
that subsidised resource depletion and marginalised the poor would have
to be curbed. Markets would need to reflect the social and environmental
costs or production and consumption. Governments and corporations would
also have to become more open and accountable for their actions. Decision-making
would have to become more prudent, with extended time-scales to respect
the interests of future generations. And power would need to be redistributed
to give those countries and communities currently excluded from critical
resources and decisions the capacity to negotiate a better deal. In other
words, sustainable development would require a strategic response of a
quite unprecedented kind.
Need to avoid blueprints
At the Earth Summit in 1992, the governments of the world had progressed
some way to meeting this challenge by agreeing, as part of the Agenda 21
action plan, that all countries should introduce a national strategu for
sustainable development (nssd) (UNCED, 1992). Many governments responded
to this call, building on the mainly environment-focused national conservation
strategies (NCSs) and national environmental action plans (NEAPs). Five
years later, the growing urgency of the global situation led governments
to set a target date of 2002 for introducing such strategies in
all countries (UNGASS, 1997). And the OECD’s new strategy for development
cooperation, Shaping the 21st Century (OECD-DAC, 1997a), sets a
target date of 2005 for such strategies to be in the process of implementation
in every country and commits donor agencies to supporting developing countries
to introduce these strategies -- a commitment confirmed by the UK, for
example, in its White Paper for International Development (DFID, 1997).
Yet, for all this apparent faith in national strategies, little has
been done to examine whether these processes have so far had any impact
in practice. Nor has there been official guidance on how to develop such
strategies or to implement them effectively. Such guidance that does exist
implies the generation of entirely new frameworks rather than building
on locally tried and tested decision-making processes. Having set themselves
new targets, it is apparent that most governments and donor agencies had
given little thought to what to do next. This initiative of the OECD DAC
is a timely response to this challenge. There is a general awareness that
blueprint strategies across the world should be avoided. This approach
has not worked in the past, failing to recognise the imperative of fine-tuning
strategies to the diverse conditions that exist across the world. Today,
adopting a blueprint model would be even more irrelevant and positively
counter-productive as nations, industries and citizens across the world
struggle to cope with the implications of globalisation.
Dealing with change – locally and internationally
It is no longer possible to view strategies for sustainable development
as somehow focused solely on the social, economic and environmental conditions
within a nation’s borders. In an increasingly liberalised global economy,
trade and investment flows impinge critically on a country’s resources
and its ability to manage them fairly and sustainably: this particularly
affects poor countries faced with unequal terms of trade, a high ratio
of trade to national income, and large debt burdens.
International rules for trade, aid, investment, intellectual property
and the environment now set the frame of reference within which national
sustainable development strategies can be conceived. And the worldwide
shift to market-based approaches to the economy, exemplified in structural
adjustment programmes, along with democratic styles of governance requiring
popular participation at every level of decision-making, require a rethinking
of the traditional planning process, still resounding with the echoes of
the corporatist 1970s and 1980s.
But it is not just that the global context within which nations develop
strategies that has been transformed in recent years: most governments
have been faced with a combination of intensifying obligations to sustainable
development and diminishing resources at local levels. There are huge pressures
for ‘localisation’ as well as globalisation. All this is leading to a syndrome
of ‘policy inflation and capacity collapse’. It is no surprise therefore
that those involved in sustainable development are desperately overworked.
This means that the strategic analysis, debate and action so essential
for sustainable development has to be done differently than in the past.
It has to be smarter and more cost-effective, politically appealing and
economically viable - thus better targeted and more responsive to real
needs locally, while enabling countries to contribute better to international
2.2.2 Defining a national strategy for sustainable development
It is clear that sustainable development demands a long-term view, addressing
issues such as economic inequality and poverty, social instability and
environmental degradation. It means providing opportunities to all stakeholders
(including poor and marginalised people) for meaningful participation in
the decisions that affect their livelihoods, and helping to build capacity
to enable such participation. It is the responsibility of governments to
provide the right political, institutional, legislative and economic framework
to address these and a wide range of related issues.
Therefore, in this paper, a national strategy for sustainable development
(nssd) is taken to mean a process or system (whatever its construct)
that puts in place the strategic framework and activities that provide
a response to these challenges.
In a recent paper, IIED has re-examined the experience of strategies
to date, considering why recommendations of past reviews of nssds
have not been addressed or implemented, drawing out some key lessons and
identifying a range of challenges (Dalal-Clayton et.al.1998). We
explore some of these challenges later. The paper also argues for a new
focus and approach which places less emphasis on the production of a strategy
document and focuses on processes or continuing systems which can facilitate
strategic analysis, debate and action. It suggests that such an approach
should be more cost-effective, politically appealing and economically viable,
and respond to real needs locally, while enabling countries to contribute
better to international decisions.
Recognising this need, and in response to pressure from some donors
to clarify the DAC target on nssds, the DAC High Level Meeting endorsed
the following definition of an nssd in May 1999:
"A strategic and participatory process of analysis, debate, capacity
strengthening, planning and action towards sustainable development."
This definition implies that an nssd should be seen as a process
or mechanism that can:
Enable better communication and informed debate amongst stakeholders;
Seek to build consensus about environmental, social and economic objectives,
and allow for negotiating trade-offs where consensus cannot be achieved;
Improve existing strategic planning processes;
Facilitate integration and coherence between these processes and provide
the missing elements;
Facilitate improved ways of working;
In an ideal world, an nssd could be seen as an umbrella for all
strategic planning. As such, it could provide a broad vision of the development
objectives and directions for the nation over a particular time period,
and a framework within which sector policies, plans and supporting legislation,
procedures and actions could be developed, reviewed and harmonised. But,
for many countries, a new umbrella initiative will not be a realistic option
and would serve only to add to the plethora of existing policies and action
plans. Here, the nssd approach would usually seek to build synergy
and coherence between them, identifying gaps and prioritising further actions.
Lead to more effective action in building towards sustainable development;
Review and continually improve the approach.
Thus, unless a country decides otherwise, an nssd should not
be viewed as a completely new planning process to be conducted from the
beginning. Rather, we need to recognise that in an individual country there
will be a range of initiatives that may have been taken in response to
commitments entered into at the Rio Earth Summit (UNCED) or as part of
commitments to international treaties and conventions and that these may
be regarded in that country, individually or collectively, as the nssd.
Box 2.2 sets out a range of such strategic planning processes that individual
countries may be engaged in. But the challenge is: to gain clarification
on what initiative(s) make up the nssd; and then to identify what
improvements need to be made to these initiatives – or developed between
them such as umbrella frameworks, systems for participation and national
sustainable development forums – so that they meet the (above) definition
of an nssd.
Box 2.2: Strategic Planning Processes for Sustainable
Over the last 15 years, countries have responded to the
challenge of planning strategically for sustainable development in different
ways. For example:
Many governments may see any one of these individual strategies/plans
or the aggregate of several or even all of them as representing the country’s
response to the imperative to develop a national strategy for sustainable
development. But such documents have usually focused on sectoral issues
or on mainstreaming the environment into national development planning.
Very few countries have attempted to integrate all the dimensions of sustainable
development (environment, social issues, economic aspects, governance,
etc.) and as such, very few of these documents– on their own - can properly
be considered as a strategy for sustainable development. Nevertheless,
all of these plans and strategies provide key ingredients for an nssd.
But there remains a need for connectivity and synergy between them, for
instituting enduring processes of debate amongst stakeholders on the key
dimensions of sustainable development in the country, for building consensus
(where possible) on development options and for setting priorities for
Some countries built on earlier or existing processes such
as national conservation strategies (NCSs) and national forestry action
Others developed national environmental action plans (NEAPs),
usually with World Bank support.
To date, very few countries have set out to prepare something
actually labelled as a national strategy for sustainable development.
More recently, there has been a trend to sub-nationalise
such approaches with attention being given to provincial strategies and
plans and more local processes such as district environmental action plans
(DEAPs) and Local Agenda 21s, usually at the city level.
Some countries have prepared National Agenda 21s and others
have developed national "visions" for the future – usually for a generation
In addition, under the Rio conventions (Climate, Biodiversity,
Climate), countries are required to develop national action plans.
A recent initiative is the Comprehensive Development Framework
(CDF), introduced by the World Bank in October 1998 as a concept for an
holistic approach to development, and proposed in January 1999 to be piloted
in a number of countries.
Another key initiative being promoted by the IMF/World Bank
in a number of Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) is the development
of Poverty Reduction Strategies as a vehicle for debt relief.
Apart from all of this, all developing countries undertake
national development planning and sector policy-making and planning and
many other initiatives.
Most countries will already have in place some of the elements (individual
boxes) shown in Figure 2.2; others will have elements of the whole system
or cycle, e.g. a national conservation strategy). An nssd will identify,
strengthen, harmonise and support them, and provide the links.
Figure 2.2: Suggested elements of the cycle of developing and implementing
a national strategy for sustainable development
3: Five key problems with past approaches
Analysis of experience to date in developing and implementing
strategies reveals five main lessons of relevance to developing countries
(Dalal-Clayton et al. 1998):
Most nssds have continued to be environment-driven,
rather than encompassing sustainable development (as defined in section
2.1.1); and sector-based strategies have been little concerned with environmental
or sustainable development dimensions.
The focus has often been bureaucratic, focused on a document
rather than a process of change.
There has been a lack of consideration given to future needs.
Participation has been weak and as a result, strategies have
been poorly linked to real development trends.
The donor role has been ambiguous: providing resources, but
often dominating the process.
To date, almost all strategy initiatives which countries
have cited as their response to the challenge of developing an nssd
have been coordinated or undertaken by environment ministries and departments.
This has immediately characterised the process as being preoccupied with
environmental issues. It also places responsibility for the strategy in
a ministry which is usually weak and of low influence within the government.
Almost without exception, sector-based strategies are
pre-occupied with their own areas of responsibility and pay inadequate
attention to the environmental dimensions and have almost no consideration
of the links with other sectors and the broader concerns of sustainable
ii. Bureaucratic focus
Approaches to date have been dominated by environment
officials and experts preparing papers and drafting chapters of a strategy
document or action plan, workshops (again often restricted to officials
and experts) and weak inputs from across government, political parties,
the private and business sectors, NGOs and other interests, or from the
public. The emphasis has usually been placed on delivering a document (often
in a limited time). This has meant both rather sketchy analysis – or an
unchallenged repeat of previous analyses - and an inadequate process of
building consensus on the key issues and possible solutions or ways forward.
As a result, many of the actions recommended in strategy documents have
iii. Ignoring future needs
Virtually all strategy processes have based their policy
recommendations on an assessment of past and current trends. Few have generated
scenarios which consider environmental and developmental goals and conditions
in the future and develop policies that respond to the challenges, blind
spots and priorities identified in these scenarios. In effect, most strategies
continue to respond to historical problems rather than the issues in a
rapidly changing world. At best, some strategies have set environmental
targets for the future (e.g. reduced pollution levels), but such targets
have been based on present day problems. In addition, past strategies have
generally failed to deal with issues such as risk and uncertainty which,
for example, would have led to them including approaches to ‘climate change
iv. Weak participation and links to real development
Few strategies have yet been adequately participatory.
Although many countries are struggling with this issue by trying to involve
as many stakeholders as possible, civil society participation is not always
easy to achieve; and in most countries there has been little effective
involvement of the private sector. Equally, there are usually a multitude
of political, market and civil society processes which are not included
in the strategy which turn out to be highly significant for (or against)
sustainable development. Thus, few if any countries have made sustainable
development the centrepiece of their long-term planning exercises: this
means shifting the focus to ensuring that sustainable development is contained
in the strategies that count, and not just those produced by the environment
v. An ambiguous donor role
The pressure for strategies in developing countries has
often come from donors as a requirement for the release of aid or to generate
a menu of projects from which they can choose. Seldom have such strategies
been prepared as a result of a domestically-driven agenda or a general
concern about broader international obligations and pressures other than
aid. Frequently there has been little conviction in their utility. In principle,
donor agencies now recognise that this needs to change. For example, the
OECD’s Principles for Capacity Development in Environment (CDE) stress
the importance of strategies which provide a framework for donor coordination
(OECD-DAC, 1997b). Some development assistance agencies - such as the EC
and SIDA - have also tried to evaluate how their aid portfolios support
sustainable development through the hosting of open, participatory round
table exercises with developing country partners. The OECD/DAC initiative
that this paper is supporting is an important step in defining what role
donors can play.
3.1 Need for a new approach
It is no surprise, therefore, that strategies for sustainable
development are still seen as internationally-generated precepts which
seldom exert much influence on the key decision-making processes and notably
on political and business development processes. Relatively little advance
has been made in providing lessons for better and more effective approaches.
Over the last few years, numerous conferences, workshops and reviews have
assessed strategies and made recommendations. But they tend to repeat basic
conclusions about best practice which have been well accepted for several
years, but are not practised in reality - for example, the need to be holistic,
integrated, cyclical and participatory. Few of their recommendations have
been addressed or implemented: the various reasons for this are suggested
in Box 2.3.
In conclusion, there is now a need to shift from a focus
on fine-tuning internationally-generated national strategies for sustainable
development, or their equivalents, to a richer mix of effective processes
of strategic analysis, debate and action for sustainable development,
to move towards the definition of an nssd given in section 2.2.2.
Box 2.3: Why Recommendations of Past Reviews have
Addressed or Implemented
The key players involved in developing nssds have
had no ‘handle’ on the pros and cons of market issues/forces as a means
of achieving sustainable development; or on the politics that surround
Lack of institutional memories (within government departments
and in donor agencies);
Staff turnover - with loss of valuable experience of individuals;
Nssds in developing countries were seldom, if ever,
designed to be continuing (cycling) processes, and therefore mainly ended
with the completion of a strategy document and set of project proposals;
Nssds seldom fitted with the resources (financial,
skills, etc.) available;
Ownership of most nssd processes was perceived to
be, or was in practice, outside the country concerned;
Nssd fragmentation, particularly through identifying
fundable individual projects which were often ‘cherry-picked’ by donors,
leaving important strategy elements unfunded;
Nssd recommendations were often flawed due to a lack
of or inadequate ground-truthing;
Nssds often set no priorities and gave no guidance
to assist prioritisation.
Nssds have not matched the level of institutional
capacity in individual countries - they have often been too comprehensive/complex
for the prevailing institutional climate;
No clear targets for communication and advocacy (lack of
Some review documents have been too generic for decision-makers
(lacking a clear "hook");
Some reviews have been very descriptive with too little analysis;
Reviews have been too focused on environmental issues;
Lack of indicators;
Lack of ownership within countries/agencies - and thus reviews
perceived as the opinion of their authors;
Need to look at all policies (i.e. is a NEAP the right tool
?) and to include countries with no NEAP when undertaking a review;
Reviews have not asked if NSDSs/NEAPs have been effective;
Reviews have not adequately addressed how to incorporate
NSDS/NEAP outputs into other policy processes;
Reviews have not adequately examined situations where people
have been motivated to change (i.e. determining the effective points of
Reviews have not adequately addressed the issue of NSDS teams
having capacity to address inter-related issues; and
Lack of a follow up by IIED/IUCN to their 1994 Strategies
Source: Dalal-Clayton et al. (1998)
4: Some continuing challenges
4.1 An nssd doesn’t necessarily mean something
We have already argued in section
2 that sustainable development requires a strategic approach and
that such an approach should not necessarily emphasise the production
of a strategy document. Being strategic – in contrast –may actually
mean promoting and building on processes (whatever they are) which
can facilitate strategic analysis, debate and action that makes
progress towards sustainable development. This need is well recognised
in the definition of an nssd endorsed by the High Level
DAC (see section 2.2.2).
But there is still a widespread concern
that an nssd necessitates embarking on a completely new
planning process to be conducted from the beginning (i.e. undertaking
all of the elements and steps shown in Figure 2.2), and this appears
to be an impediment to progress. If an nssd did have this
implication, it would be a legitimate worry given the plethora
of existing domestic national planning processes as well as those
required under international agreements (e.g. the Rio conventions)
and others being promoted by multilateral development banks (e.g.
Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRS) by the IMF, and Comprehensive
Development Frameworks (CDFs) by the World Bank) – many of which
overlap and all of which absorb the time and skills of civil servants
(as well as others) and divert them from dealing with their routine
There is, therefore, a serious challenge
to inform and convince people (in government departments, multilteral
organisations; aid agencies and other bodies) that an nssd
would only occasionally need to be seen as a new process (an individual
country should decide for itself if it should be). Rather, to
repeat ourselves (see section 2.2.2), an nssd would seek
to set in place, and build support for, mechanisms that can build
synergy and coherence between existing strategic planning processes
(e.g. identifying where existing strategies are in conflict with
each other and seeking to smooth the differences), identifying
gaps and prioritising further actions. The full set of desirable
mechanisms is currently missing in all countries - the main reason
why a strategic response to sustainable development is still lacking.
This means that it is vital for any nssd process to be
established so that it works in close cooperation and harmony
with existing strategies (be they sectoral, national visions,
convention-related plans, PRS, CDF, NEAPs or whatever) – helpfully
providing lubrication and linkages.
4.2 Political and stakeholder support
Many past strategic planning processes
have made little effective progress towards sustainable development.
They lacked genuine committed support amongst politicians, key
and influential government ministries such as those responsible
for finance and national planning, and more broadly amongst stakeholders
in the private sector and civil society. It is now increasingly
understood that to achieve balance (where possible) and trade-offs
(where balance is not possible) between a nation’s social, economic
and environmental objectives, it is necessary for the so-called
development triad (the public sector, private sector and civil
society) to work together. For such a partnership approach to
be successful, new governance structures may be needed.
Thus, a major challenge is to build
support and commitment from key stakeholders to engage in processes
that offer a chance to identify the challenges of sustainable
development, discuss the issues and build consensus for the necessary
actions. An nssd should be promoted as a seeking to provide
mechanisms for facilitating just this.
4.3 ‘Ownership’ and stakeholder
poor participation by development
triad stakeholders has led to a lack of ownership within the country
of the aims, objectives, processes and final outputs. This is
a contributing factor to the poor record of implementation of
past strategies. As we have previously noted, so many strategies
have been no more than documents which have merely sat on shelves.
There is a balance to be struck between
an nssd and ‘participation’. It is all too easy to over-emphasise
the former. This is because ensuring and facilitating participation
(not just consultation) is perhaps the most difficult challenge
facing those responsible for managing an nssd process.
Participation can be difficult when it is not an established practice
- some governments may find it difficult to open up a process
and allow others to have an influence over it; while other stakeholders
may not be accustomed to participating. There are many challenges
to participation in nssds, for example:
is often difficult to engage the private sector in nssds,
and there can be high suspicion between the different stakeholders.
is a need to strengthen the involvement of political actors
and parties in nssds.
Approaches to participation
in the nssds process should create opportunities for negotiation
between stakeholders, and acknowledge sensitive issues of inequalities
in political or economic power. Participation can reveal
expectations and needs; provide a forum for those who do not traditionally
have a voice; raise the profile of key issues; elevate local issues
to the national level; help to overcome government inefficiencies;
and reawaken and expand democratic processes.
integration is often hindered by the tendency of government
departments to protect their sectoral ‘turf’.
Some useful ideas on methods and approaches
to participation are given in Bass et al. (1995). A key
starting point will be a thorough stakeholder analysis.
One area where progress could be made
is in building bridges between national and local levels. Most
current strategies are still controlled by central government
institutions and experts, with occasional participation of NGOs.
However, the Local Agenda 21 movement has achieved considerable
momentum amongst local authorities, citizens’ groups, NGOs and
businesses. However, there is often little linkage between the
efforts at national and local levels. In developing countries,
there is now considerable experience of participatory development
activities at local levels, but national strategies have yet to
find ways to adequately and effectively interface with the existing
local experience. There continues to be a lack of trust and dialogue
between central governments and local communities in a context
of advancing decentralisation in many countries. Bridging this
national-local divide is a major challenge for nssds.
Engagement in an nssd process
will require a wide range of skills and capacities. For example,
those managing the process will require skills in facilitation
and diplomacy - and endless patience. Those undertaking strategic
analysis will need to understand the linkages between disciplines
(environmental. social, economic) and sectors, as well as vertical
interactions (e.g. between international, regional, national,
district and local levels) including cross-border issues. Others
will need to be concerned with institutional, legislative and
administrative dimensions of development.
The necessary skills and capacties
are usually in short supply in developing countries, and those
which exist are usually already heavily committed and overstretched.
empowerment should be critical components of nssd processes.
Institutions and individuals engaging
in debate will need to have access to and understand key information
important to the issue(s) being discussed. Many stakeholders will
be able to engage as part of their existing roles and responsibilities
(i.e. through their existing jobs). Others will need to take time
from their livelihood activities (e.g. those in civil society
and particularly those from local communities) and this has a
cost implication – so ways of compensating for this or of providing
assitance may need to be found if they are to be enabled to participate
fully and effectively.
Future approaches will need to redress
the ‘policy inflation/capacity collapse’ problem by emphasizing
capacity development for the various nssd processes, notably
- information generation;
- analysis, especially cross-sectoral (e.g. for assessing
- adaptive decision-making;
- conflict resolution; and
improvements in capacity should suit particular forms of political
and institutional environment and be applied individually or in aggregate.
important to note that the capacity to act strategically is more
important than the formal process of producing a strategy document.
This necessitates quick reflexes for decision-making, and flexible
donor support, characteristics which are not facilitated by current
planning frameworks and mentalities.
4.5 Scoping the nssd – dealing with key
areas of change
The real challenge is to seek a new focus: shifting
from the framework of formal strategies as such to the broader issue
of improving decision-making processes in a time of rapid change.
Figure 4.1 loosely illustrates three things:
- There is an immense and fluctuating arena of
change, including: major trends of globalisation, privatisation
and decentralisation; significant changes in the expectations
of stakeholders; and huge swings in all sorts of systems from
markets to the global climate (see Box 4.1).
- There are existing policy-making processes and
other decision-making processes such as the market) which have
been able, to some extent only, to keep track of change
and to make appropriate responses. These responses will vary from
ignoring change, to adapting, to actively trying to influence
the change process itself. Many of these processes will be long-standing,
e.g. development planning mechanisms and traditional village governance.
- Finally, there are the recent formal strategies
that have been adopted a the response to the call for a sustainable
development strategy in many countries - NCSs, NEAPs, NSDSs, etc.
These have been better able to deal with some aspects of change
than the above decision-making processes, but not with others.
For example, they have been quite good at handling environmental
matters, but less so social and economic matters. Furthermore,
these strategies have only partially incorporated existing decision-making
processes (development planning and budgetary processes have often
been excluded). And there is the need to ensure synergy between
related national plans for biodiversity, climate, desertification,
forestry - this challenge has also been identified by UNDP (1997)
in its report on an expert meeting in Israel on synergies in national
implementation of the Rio agreements.
Figure 4.1: Formal strategies in context 1
Box 4.1: The Challenge of Globalisation for
The process of globalisation has been driven
by a variety of factors: trade liberalisation, increasing
foreign investment, falling costs of communication, rapid
technological innovation, the spread of economic reform programmes
and the proliferation of multilateral institutions and agreements.
But the impacts of globalisation have been weakly addressed
in national strategies for sustainable development so far.
Yet globalisation has profound implications for sustainable
development in developing countries and there is an urgent
need for a new approach to the international dimension of
Trade and investment provide a critical source
of capital for driving economic growth in developing countries,
and are becoming increasingly important with the decline in
aid flows. Increased trade and investment in developing countries
could have a significant impact on the environment if increased
productive activity -- such as mineral extraction and new
manufacturing processes -- is not accompanied by robust social
and environmental controls. Inequalities within developing
countries could also widen as poor people find themselves
less able to exploit new economic opportunities and become
more vulnerable to a loss of access to resources and environmental
degradation associated with privatisation and industrialisation.
Steering globalisation towards sustainable
development depends on the capacity of governments to stimulate
and regulate market access arrangements that prevent environmental
degradation and ensure that benefits are widely distributed.
Critical policy areas include:
National sustainable development strategies provide
an opportunity for developing countries to anticipate the adverse
social and environmental effects of globalisation and benefit
from its advantages. Addressing the international dimension
in national strategies will require greater dialogue and partnership
at two levels: internally, between central government
ministries, the private sector, local authorities and communities
to identify global impacts; and externally, with foreign
governments, corporations and NGOs to negotiate new deals for
- Structural Adjustment:
Stabilisation and adjustment can exacerbate unsustainable
use of natural resources and environmental degradation due
to weak institutional capacity and regulatory frameworks
and lack of clear tenure over resources. In many cases,
the poor are the worst affected by these impacts. This remains
a central issue for national strategies for sustainable
- Trade: Export-led development is
now regarded as a major route to prosperity for poor nations,
but the least developed countries still stand to lose out
from the Uruguay Round of trade reforms. Furthermore, the
wider implications for resource use and sustainable development
of trade liberalisation have yet to be fully assessed. Strategic
analysis is required to enable countries to understand the
wider implications and use these to negotiate countervailing
- Foreign Investment: Recent OECD
negotiations for a Multilateral Agreement on Investment
have highlighted the need for developing country governments
to take a strategic perspective on the how to balance the
need for a secure investment regime to attract and retain
foreign capital with mechanisms to encourage corporate responsibility
for social and environmental performance.
- Development Assistance: Aid levels
are now at their lowest levels for 25 years with little
sign of reversal. This stagnation means that strategies
for sustainable development are critical for deciding priorities
for donor support and providing the framework for donor
- Policy Coherence: The long-term
prospects for sustainable development in poor nations are
often highly dependent on decisions in other countries,
for example, on agriculture and fisheries policies. Sustainable
development strategies could help to identify the costs
of policy incoherence in other countries as a first step
to policy reform.
The implication is that a better exploration of the
arena of change is required, and of the role of all key policy-
and other decision-making - processes (including strategies) in
dealing with change. If we remain confined to an examination of
a particular strategy's efficiency, we may both lose sight
of areas of change in which they have not yet been effective, and
ignore other processes that might be more efficient and can be incorporated
in strategic approaches in future. Furthermore, we might make the
mistake of attributing progress to a strategy alone, as opposed
to other processes that have been going on in parallel.
A real challenge will be to explore strategic approaches
around ingredients that can be seen to have worked (‘practices
that work’) for the particular state of institutional development
in any given country. For example, existing forms of participation
can readily be employed, but a more complex or comprehensive approach
to participation might be inappropriate at present. Information
on this should surface through stakeholder dialogues at all levels
and be agreed - to the extent possible - by consensus.
Further perceived challenges can be identified from
international experience in developing and implementing nssds
over the last decade (see Annex 1). Many of these perceptions need
to be refined and others identified and addressed.
Challenges for More Effective Strategic Analysis,
Debate and Action for Sustainable Development
A number of perceived challenges were identified
during a workshop held at IIED in November 1997.
(a) Scoping of Need - a
needs assessment is required which:
(b) Conceptual Framework -
- provides a baseline assessment of conditions
and needs at national to local levels;
- identifies available skills & training needs;
- identifies the pre-conditions for a strategy
- enables the bureaucracy to look at the ‘big picture’
rather than its own domain.
- provide a strategy design which reflects the
- ensure clear relationship between objectives
- makes sure that the strategy process is integrated
into macro- and micro-economic framework(s);
- ensures the strategy process adapts and builds
of existing plans and strategies for coherence; and is synergistic
with other on-going strategic planning processes;
- ensures that the strategy process is cyclical
( not a one-off project), is not too product-oriented, and sets
(i) Communications strategy is required which:
(ii) Participation (stakeholders) - the strategy
process needs to be:
- captures and systematically shares experiences
- seeks to sensitize government and raise awareness
- ensures written outputs are easy to read and
accessible to all;
- provides for communication with all interested
and affected parties; and
- ensures the strategy is an iterative and learning
(d) Analytical and Policy Content - strategies
- truly participatory involving as many stakeholders
- build alliances and partnerships;
- bring stakeholders on board from the beginning;
- improve environmental management at the sub-national
and local level; and there is a need to
- develop indicators for effective and relevant
(e) Institutional Arrangements/Cross-Sector Linkages
- nssd processes should
- address the poverty and social agenda;
- pay more attention to changing consumption and
- involve better use of economic analysis;
- integrate gender issues in their analysis and
- provide for a link between the needs of the Rio
- provide for greater coherence with international
policies, e.g. trade, investment, aid, etc;
address both horizontal (H) and vertical (V) linkages,
(f) Resources (Funding + Human resources) -
there is a need to:
- be integrated with other decision-making and
planning and policy processes [H];
- offer a programme approach to avoid fragmentation
of the process and implementation [V +H];
- put in place support systems through decentralisation
processes and extension processes [V];
- be developed by strategy teams which take a broader
vision [V + H];
- manage co-ordination at all levels [H];
- bridge between levels [V] ;
- address sub-regional environmental problems [V];
- manage/address global issues in national context
- focus locally and on ground strategies in local
(g) Political Considerations/Issues -
strategies need to:
- avoid heavy reliance on external funding (need
to ensure long-term sustainability of process and implementation);
- develop appropriate skills for strategy management,
development and implementation
- deal with problems of high staff turn-over and
- assess value-added and opportunity costs for
(h) Donor issues: - strategies need to:
- be inspiring for all, and particularly for national
- generate domestic political will and government
buy-in to the process;
- mobilise public support;
- build new alliances and constituencies; and
- develop mechanisms for resolving conflicts with
(i) Learning (including Monitoring & Evaluation
- there is a need for:
- Provide a framework within which donors’ contributions
can be co-ordinated
- Identify precise areas where donors can help
- Include mechanisms for minimising donor-driven
- Recognise the reality of donor conditionality;
- Stimulate donors to take a longer term and more
- Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems for
strategies including clear performance goals and targets, and
indicators for sound environmental management;
- Mechanisms for M&E to trigger change or adjustment
of strategy process and implementation;
- Measure impact (what works, what doesn’t);
- Link to pilot demonstration(s) for action and
- Strong monitoring of performance capacity; and
- Effective M&E for learning from implementation.
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