Advancing role of non-governmental organizations in sustainable development

Furthering non-government environment activity
Strengthening role of non-governmental organizations in sustainable development
Making full use of the expertise of international organizations for sustainable development

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.


1. This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro 1992, now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.

2. At UNCED, NGOs made great strides in advancing their ideas and perspectives and in drawing the world's attention to the need for sustainable development. They influenced the UNCED process directly in a number of ways: (a) NGOs were often the source of accurate and timely information - from data and statistics, to analyses of policy opinions, to newsletters reporting the progress of negotiations; (b) some NGO representatives were invited to participate in Secretariat working groups and helped 'set the agenda' by drafting text that government delegates would use as a basis for negotiations; (c) some NGO representatives who served on national delegation were directly involved in formulating positions; (d) NGOs forcefully lobbied their national governments as well as delegates at the preparatory committee meetings and at UNCED itself.

This diverse group of NGOs excelled at public education and public relations, mobilized support for addressing environment and development problems, generated awareness of the political debates surrounding UNCED, and spurred support for the future implementation of the agreements reached in Rio. Equally important, they helped galvanize popular support for international campaigns on environment and development issues already under way around the world.

3. The process of preparing a yearly national report for the UN Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development (DPCSD) offers new opportunities for NGO-government partnerships. Besides helping create a frame of reference for a concerted national effort and providing data and information that might otherwise be missed, NGOs can use the process to strengthen dialogue with national and international government bodies.

4. The Special NGO Committee on Development (under the auspices of CONGO) also assists and promotes the work of NGOs in Consultative Status with ECOSOC, UNCTAD and other UN agencies in relation to ongoing work in the field of development. It: provides a forum for discussion of ideas and experience on development; acts as a forum for sharing information about the work of NGOs and the UN system on activities relating to and concerning development; promotes NGO contribution to the work in the field; promotes links with local, national and regional NGOs working in the field and maintains a two-way communication with them.



NGOs have had a major impact of the international development discourse. The definition of development goals and strategies used to be firmly in the hands of international development agencies and their epistemic communities of agricultural scientists, engineers, and economists. Development was largely framed in terms of technical possibilities and economic efficiency, as a matter of making 'the pie' grow as fast as possible. Tension over the distribution of the benefits or how 'the pie' was divided, have long been felt within the agencies and their epistemic communities. But serious concern for the environment and the sustainability of development, for women, for traditional peoples, for the incorporation of traditional knowledge, for cultural diversity, and for civil rights and justice have been forced upon the international development agencies, their national counterparts, and their epistemic communities by nongovernmental organizations. These are neither concerns over how to speed development nor over how what development has wrought should be divided. These are concerns over whether experts know pie from cow paddy.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal