Frequently Asked Questions
There are a range of definitions of sustainable development, and how it is defined will in many cases depend on who you talk to. However, there is a general consensus that sustainable development entails the three pillars for development: economic, social and environmental.
The most commonly used and widely accepted definition of sustainable development is from the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, which was published in 1987 as the outcome report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED)chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland:
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
In its broadest sense, a stakeholder is any individual, organisation, sector or community who has a ‘stake’ in the outcome of a given decision or process. In the context of international decision making processes, such as those at the UN level, the term stakeholder usually refers to a global constituency or group such as farmers, NGOs, trade unions and workers etc. It is also important to note that contrary to the term ‘civil society’, which remains a very vague term in the context of international processes, the term stakeholder can help to define different constituencies within civil society.
Stakeholder engagement has become an often used but seldom defined phrase in the context of intergovernmental processes. Indeed, in a number of contexts it has been used to refer to any relations with external stakeholder groups, which in the context of the UN system, usually means any constituency other than a Member State. Stakeholder Forum defines the term to mean a series of activities that seek to inform, consult and ensure the participation of stakeholders. An effective engagement strategy is usually one that defines a set of stakeholder groups, allows more than six months for stakeholders to prepare themselves, provides predictable spaces for stakeholders to formally contribute to the content of the meeting or the working groups, and involves a programme of activities and events to ensure a broad base of participation. For more information please see the Stakeholder Empowerment Project.
At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 it was recognised that ‘one of the fundamental prerequisites for the achievement of sustainable development is broad public participation in decision-making’ Agenda 21. As a result, a number of key stakeholder groups were recognised for achieving sustainable development namely; Business and Industry; Trade Unions; Indigenous Peoples; Children and Youth; Women; Farmers; Local Government; Non-governmental Organisations; Science and Technology community. These stakeholder groups have become known as the Major Groups, and are officially recognised within the Commission on Sustainable Development, a two year policy cycle at the UN for developing and reviewing policies on sustainable development In this context, each Major Group has a number of coordinators whose role it is to reach out to their global constituency, prepare them for the coming CSD cycle, and prepare position papers and inputs. The Major Groups system has also been recognised by a number of other UN processes including UNEP and the UN Forum on Forests.
The main ongoing policy processes relating to sustainable development at a UN level are:
The Commission on Sustainable Development – responsible for enhancing progress towards and reviewing action taken in relation to the commitments outlined in Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (see below)
The Commission on Social Development – this Commission under the UN seeks to focus on primarily social issues that are critical for achieving sustainable development on a global level
The Millennium Development Goals – the MDGs focus more heavily on more traditional development issues – including poverty, hunger, infant mortality etc. However, the 7th MDG commits countries to ‘ensuring environmental sustainability’, and within that includes a target on biodiversity and management of natural resources. There are ad hoc reviews of progress towards them MDGs, and there will be a Millennium Summit in 2010
Earth Summit 2012 – this will take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, twenty years on from the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and ten years on from the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. Focus areas include the Green Economy, Global Environmental Governance. Stakeholder Forum is conducting stakeholder engagement and outreach for the Summit. For more information please visit www.earthsummit2012.org.
There have been a series of milestones in sustainable development at the international level. The following are widely considered to be the most significant developments:
1987: The Brundtland Commission, formally known as the World Commission on Environment and Development, publishes ‘Our Common Future’ and identifies the actions required to achieve sustainable development.
1992: World Conference on Environment and Development, aka Rio Earth Summit – Agenda 21 - the outcome document of the Summit - outlines the policy changes needed and the means of implementation and finance to deliver sustainable development for the 21st century. This also resulted in three important Conventions – the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
2000: Millennium Summit – this conference resulted in the now famous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with the aim of enhancing progress towards major development objectives. There are eight MDGs, and the 7th Goal (MDG7), commits countries to ‘ensuring environmental sustainability’.
2002: The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD): This conference was conceived to enhance global political momentum towards achieving the commitments outlined in Agenda 21 ten years beforehand. It also sought to identify commitments in relation to emerging issues. The outcome document, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) is characterised by its focus on ‘Partnerships’ for delivering sustainable development objectives, as opposed to legally binding commitments or Treaties. These partnerships became known as ‘Type II Partnerships.
2002 – 2012: The Commission on Sustainable Development - responsible for enhancing progress towards and reviewing action taken in relation to the commitments outlined in Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.
Earth Summit 2012 – this will take place in Rio de Janerio in 2012, twenty years on from the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and ten years on from the World Summit on Sustianabel Development in 2002. Focus areas include the Green Economy, Global Environmental Governance. Stakeholder Forum is conducting stakeholder engagement and outreach for the Summit. For more information please visit www.earthsummit2012.org
Stakeholder Forum’s agenda is to advance progress towards internationally agreed commitments on sustainable development. It believes that open, informed and transparent decision-making at a global level is critical in achieving this goal, which is why it focuses on stakeholder engagement. Rather than advancing any one particular stakeholder position, it seeks to identify areas of consensus as well as priority issues identified by a range of stakeholders. It does not advance positions or opinions for which there is little consensus, or where they flagrantly contradict the principles of achieving sustainable development.
To view Stakeholder Forum's Green Policy click here
Stakeholder Forum is funded by a combination of Foundations, charitable trusts, governments and UN agencies. Stakeholder Forum only takes money from organisations and institutions who can demonstrate a commitment to advancing progress towards the achievement of sustainable development.