A Sustainable Development Council: The way forward in sustainable development governance

Birgit Lode, Marianne Beisheim, Nils Simon • Nov 4th, 2011
A Sustainable Development Council:  The way forward in sustainable development governance

At the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), the UN institutions dealing with sustainable development are to be restructured. This offers an opportunity to implement long overdue reforms. There is an obvious need to improve the visibility and priority of sustainability themes in the UN system. An important building block of a restructured governance system should be a Sustainable Development Council (SDC) replacing the weak UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). The outcome document of the UNCSD could recommend the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution establishing such a council as its subsidiary organ.

We argue that high-level proactive leadership and political guidance is a prior condition for strengthening the UN institutions’ ability to successfully implement effective sustainability policies. Moreover, decisions need to be implemented more consistently, calling for effective mechanisms of monitoring and compliance management.

Based on the CSD’s past deficits, four proposals for its transformation are being discussed, of which its transition to a so called Sustainable Development Council (SDC) might be the most promising solution to the present predicament – at least politically. Greater detail is supplied on the new SDC’s membership and voting rights as well as the Council’s internal structure, consisting of a bicameral system. Such an array could help to further integrate thematically relevant bodies and, thus, improve coordination within the UN system, and enable tailor-made political governance. The civil society's involvement should be strengthened, inter alia, by creating binding provisions for early participation in all relevant processes, and by setting up informal forums so as to be able to regularly put the SDC’s work up for discussion before a wider public.

An SDC has to deliver improved management and monitoring of its partnerships from the very beginning. In order to enable the objectives and agreements on sustainable development to be implemented more reliably, innovate accountability tools are required, e.g. a voluntary peer review mechanism, closely aligned to the UN Human Rights Council’s stakeholder peer review process. Last but not least, the imperative of the new SDC has to be vested with adequate own financial resources, and thus the proposal is to interlink the Council with the Global Environment Facility. Finally, if the proposed completion of the existing Millennium Development Goals with Sustainable Development Goals is met with approval in Rio 2012, the SDC, right from the start, could assume the prominent position of accompanying and monitoring the operational implementation of these new Goals in the medium term.

Op-ed for by Birgit Lode, Marianne Beisheim, Nils Simon – German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Berlin, Germany. This text is based  on SWP Comment 2011/C28: A Sustainable Development Council. In the Run-up to Rio 2012: Options for Reforming the UN Sustainability Institutions, available at: and

Tags: Council for Sustainable Development,proposals for reform,United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)