National Council for Sustainable Development
"National council for sustainable development" or NCSD is a generic term for multi-stakeholder mechanisms that bring together representatives of civil society, private enterprise and governments to ensure mass-based participation in planning and policymaking, and in integrating the social, cultural, economic, environmental and other dimensions of sustainable development into national action plans.
NCSDs are called by various names, usually based on the form, and mandate. For instance, Canada has the national Round Table on Environment and Economy, Mexico has National Consultative Council for SD, while Korea has Presidential Council for Sustainable Development.
NCSD Forms and Functions
There is a wide variation in the form and functions of NCSDs. There are those who make decisions, some provide advice, and others serve as discussion forum. Typically, they assume the following roles:
- Voice for sustainability and advocate of integrated policies
- Mechanism for policy coordination and integration
- Forum for problem-solving
- Venue for cooperative action, forging commitment and faithful implementation
- Vehicle for promoting awareness and information dissemination
- Reviewer of national compliance to Agenda 21
|"The National Councils for Sustainable Development...almost mirror the CSD's mandate (trustee of the "Spirit of Rio") at the national level. They monitor the state of affairs in national sustainable development efforts; keep sustainability, as a key national priority; enable broad-based partnerships towards sustainable development; generate participatory processes in national sustainable development decision making; and ensure that sustainable development actions taken in their countries are in harmony with each other as well as in harmony with similar actions taken by other countries in their regions and around the world... A missing link for the CSD since its creation has been its lack of direct connection with national sustainable development coordination mechanisms and efforts. National Councils for Sustainable Development...have the potential to help close this gap."
Undersecretary-General Nitin Desai
UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs
The last role has emerged more recently. It emanated from the First International Forum of NCSDs that was co-hosted by UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the Earth Council on April 2000 in New York. It is believed that the assessment of national commitments would be more comprehensive and balanced if undertaken by combined efforts of stakeholders groups.
See also Brief overview: Report of the Meeting of National Councils for Sustainable Development in Asia and The Pacific
The most appropriate and effective role of an NCSD depends largely on the needs of the country. It is important that it has well defined and focused roles and responsibilities so as not to duplicate, but instead enhance, those of other related entities in the country.
There are no hard and fast rules in establishing an NCSD and making it work well. The national or local contexts largely dictate the resultant form and substance of the NCSD. The NCSD's success and effectiveness depends on how well it has adapted and harnessed the prevailing situation, and on how much support it gets from the stakeholders. In general, following are key success factors as observed in the experiences of NCSDs all over the world (go to www.ncsdnetwork.org for details):
- Status and mandate. The NCSD must have an official status and clear mandate, preferably from the highest authority in government. An official mandate provides legal personality to the NCSD thus allowing it to work well with its constituents, to make its outputs or advocacies carried officially, and to access funds, among others. A legislative fiat is generally desirable as it ensures stability. If this is not feasible, the next best option is for the highest authority in the country to issue the official or legal instrument that forms NCSD.
- Leadership and influence. Inasmuch as the NCSD must be composed of people from different sectors and strata of society, it is always useful to have a leader that has high rank and stature, a comprehensive and oversight view and responsibility, and is neutral and credible. The leader can come from any of the stakeholder groups. The general situation among existing NCSDs is that either the President or Prime Minister serve as the chairpersons. The NCSD must also have decision-making and implementing powers or, at the very least, have influence on decision-making.
- Composition and participation. Participation by as many stakeholders as possible must be a major consideration in the establishment of an NCSD. Participation, however, must be balanced with manageability. This means that members of the NCSDs must truly represent the majority and have the capability to carry their causes and concerns. In terms of membership composition, there should also be a good balance of representation from the major groups, i.e., government, civil society and business.
- Reach. The NCSD must have an extensive reach, i.e., the capability to allow participation of stakeholders in various parts of the country to ensure wide coverage and generate mass support. The creation of counterparts or chapters at the local levels has been proven useful.
- Agenda. It is also important that the NCSD tackles substantive and high-impact agenda and has good technical support that allows it to handle complicated matters. An NCSD that produces well-grounded recommendations or decisions could command respect and wield influence.