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The UN Commission on Sustainable Development Contesting Claims of (Il)-legitimacy and (In)-effectiveness Södertörn University College 25 September 2008 Sylvia Karlsson Finland Futures Research Centre Turku School of Economics Finland. Outline. Introducing the CSD

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The UN Commission on Sustainable Development

Contesting Claims of (Il)-legitimacy and (In)-effectiveness

Södertörn University College

25 September 2008

Sylvia Karlsson

Finland Futures Research Centre

Turku School of Economics




  • Introducing the CSD
  • Locating CSD among global norms and institutions
  • Effectiveness and legitimacy as analytical criteria
  • CSD post Rio
  • CSD post Johannesburg
  • CSD 14/15
  • Conclusion and the future of CSD?

Introducing the CSD

The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)

Created by General Assembly in 1992 at the

request of UNCED (the Earth Summit in Rio) after

heavy opposition from e.g. UK, US, Sweden

Set up as a functional Commission of ECOSOC

with 53 Member States and rotating membership

Meets two weeks every year

(in New York in April-May)


Introducing the CSD

  • Functions include:
  • monitor progress in the implementation of Agenda 21

and activities related to integrating environment and

development goals throughout the UN system

  • review progress in the implementation of the

commitments of Agenda 21 including provision of

financial resources and technology

  • receive and analyze relevant input from competent

NGOs, including scientists and the private sector

  • provide appropriate recommendations to ECOSOC

and GA on e.g. the need for new cooperative arrange-

ments related to sustainable development (sd)


Norms and institutions

Norms are developed in different types of institutions

and come in various shapes and forms along the

soft-hard continuum

The CSD can be called a:

  • a semi-universal institution (but in reality

universal) bringing the baggage of ECOSOC weakness

and General Assembly 2nd committee style negotiations

  • which generates an outcome in the form of non-legal soft law (and later some other diffuse stuff)

Analytical criteria I:

Mechanisms of norm effectiveness

Influencing the motivation to comply


changing material incentives

(rationalism, logic of consequences, actor interests not assumed to change)

hard sanctions (-)

soft sanctions (?)

systems of reward


changing identities or preferences

(constructivism, logic of appropriateness, actor interests are assumed to be changeable)

webs of dialogue (++)

legitimacy pull (+?)

Influencing the ability to comply

capacity of intervention

technical and human capacity building (-)

political capacity building (?)


Analytical criteria II: Components of legitimacy

Source of legitimacy


Source based legitimacy

expertise (+-?)

tradition (+-)

discourse (+-)

host organization (+)

Input legitimacy

(process based)

governmental participation (+)

non-governmental participation (+)

transparency (+)

accountability (-)

Output legitimacy

(substance based)

effectiveness (+-)

equity (?)


CSD post Rio (1993-2001)

  • Major achievements:
  • Recommended a legally binding status for PIC (1994)
  • Established an Intergovernmental Panel on Forests

(1997) which led to the UN Forum on Forests (2000)

  • Set a date for governments to produce their NSDSs
  • Put three new themes on the sd agenda; energy,

transport and tourism (1997)

  • Institutionalised multistakeholder dialogues (1998)
  • Included sd in the UN Consumer Guidelines (1999)
  • Supported the Washington Declaration on the Global

Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine

Environment from Land Based Activities (1999)

  • Elicits (some) reporting from countries and IGOs
  • Encourages system-wide coordination (first years)

CSD post Rio (1993-2001)

  • Reported problems:
  • Overburdened agenda, lack of prioritising
  • Limited funding for secretariat etc.
  • ”Development plays second fiddle”
  • Limited or no use of submitted reports (which are

too general anyway)

  • ”When one is living in a glass house one does not throw


  • No links to the follow-up of other conferences
  • Symbolic multistakeholder dialogues

(no real listening)

  • Weak involvement of IFIs and weak monitoring of

financial and tech transfer committments


CSD post Johannesburg (2003-2017)

In Johannesburg in 2002 format changed, now

two year cycles on specific themes;

Review Year followed by a Policy Year

Regional dimension strengthened

More major group dialouges

New elements in partnership fair, sharing and

learning centre

Two and a half cycles have run so far. Mixed outcome.


CSD 14/15


energy for sustainable development

industrial development

atmosphere/air pollution

climate change

Cross-cutting themes (same every year):

poverty eradication, changing unsustainable

patterns of consumption and production, health,

SIDS, Africa, institutional framework, gender

equality, education and more...


CSD 14/15

  • A day at the CSD:
  • Morning briefing by delegation (or your major group)
  • Picking up the daily programme, ENB etc.
  • 10-13 Statements, dialogues or negotiations (or

partnership fair, learning center, partnership


  • 15 minutes for lunch
  • 13.15-14.45 Side-events (or networking, interviewing or


  • 15-18 (same as before lunch)
  • 18.15-19.45 Side-events
  • Dinner (if you are lucky)

Conclusions effectiveness

Very mixed picture on effectiveness:

  • effective in giving some new issues an institutional

space and the beginning of a normative framework

  • partially effective in strengthening sd in the UN System

and strengthening inter-agency coordination

  • largely in-effective in reviewing implementation and

eliciting ’compliance’ at national level (although this is



Conclusions legitimacy

Legitimacy points from:

  • United Nations setting
  • Strong multi-stakeholder involvement
  • Focus on partnerships (for some)

Illegitimacy points from:

  • Dominance of the environment agenda (for some)
  • Weak monitoring (specially of financial commitments

and tech transfer)

  • Being a talkshop with little influence (for some)
  • Lack of CSD 15 outcome
  • CSD 16 Chair election

The future

A show case of strengthening global deliberative

democracy or a complete waste of time and resources?

Eternal reform the future is open


Thank you!