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Basics of SD Strategies
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According to Agenda 21 (Chapter 8.7), a National Strategy for Sustainable Development “should build upon and harmonize the various sectoral economic, social, and environmental policies and plans that are operating in the country”. By specifying the purpose of SD strategies, the next sentence clearly refers to the Brundtland Report’s classic definition of sustainable development (SD): Country-driven NSSDs should “ensure socially responsible economic development while protecting the resource base and the environment for the benefit of future generations” (Agenda 21, paragraph 8.7).
SD strategies go back to Agenda
21, an important policy document for sustainable development that was
adopted at the Rio world summit in 1992. Agenda 21 was not only the first
document that specified the character of SD strategies (see the definition
above), but was also the first document that called on all countries to develop
such a strategy together with a broad variety of stakeholders.
In June 2001, the Gothenburg European Council reiterated this call by inviting “Member States to draw up their own national sustainable development strategies” (European Council, 2001, 4). Consequently, most EU Member States adopted their SD strategy prior to the Johannesburg World Summit for SD in late 2002. Thus, the Gothenburg European Council proved to be another major driver towards SD strategies in Europe.
In June 2006, the European Council adopted a renewed EU SD Strategy. This decision provided further impetus for the SD strategies across Europe, in particular in the new EU Member States. For an overview of the development of SD strategies in Europe, see Table xy in the ESDN Quarterly Report on “Objectives and Indicators on SD in Europe”.
In order to make sure that SD strategies live up to their ambitions, the UN and the OECD formulated respective guidelines (for links to the guideline documents click here). The guidelines describe SD strategies as ongoing strategic processes, combining aspects of formal planning and incremental learning. According to the Resource Book for SD strategies,
“Being strategic is about developing an underlying vision through a consensual, effective and iterative process; and going on to set objectives, identify the means of achieving them, and then monitor that achievement as a guide to the next round of this learning process. […] More important than trying unsuccessfully to do everything at once, is to ensure that incremental steps in policy making and action are moving towards sustainability – rather than away from it, which is too frequently the case.” Thus, SD strategies “move from developing and implementing a fixed plan, which gets increasingly out of date […] towards operating an adaptive system that can continuously improve”.
Overall, the guidelines for SD strategies put a strong emphasis on procedural and institutional aspects of an iterative governance process in which networks ought to play an increasingly important role. By synthesising several guideline documents (for links to the guideline documents click here) and research findings on SD strategies, the ESDN Office has identified the following principles and governance challenges that should be addressed by SD policies in general, and by SD strategies in particular:
All in all, SD strategies are an important step from grand rigid planning schemes to flexible strategy processes, accompanied by a transition from clear-cut sectoral authorities to cross-cutting competencies, from pure hierarchies to an amalgamation of hierarchies and networks, from top-down control to process and policy assessments, and from knowing to learning.