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Institutional Change for Sustainable Development

Robin Connor and Stephen Dovers

Institutional Change for Sustainable Development presents a flexible, accessible, yet robust conceptual framework for comprehending institutional dimensions of sustainability, emphasising the complexity of institutional systems, and highlighting the interdependence between policy learning and institutional change. This framework is applied and developed through the analysis of five significant arenas of institutional and policy change: environmental policy in the EU; New Zealand’s landmark Resource Management Act; strategic environmental assessment; emerging National Councils for Sustainable Development; and transformative property rights instruments. From these explorations, key principles for institutional change are identified, including the institutional accommodation of a sustainability discourse, the interdependence of normative and institutional change; reiteration and learning; integration in policy and practice; subsidiarity; and legal change.
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Chapter 5: National Councils for Sustainable Development: Experiments in National Policy Development and Integration

Robin Connor and Stephen Dovers


BACKGROUND Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 many countries have established some form of inclusive body dealing with sustainable development policy at the national scale. These are generally termed national councils for sustainable development (NCSDs), although precise titles, roles, functions and status vary. The general intent of NCSDs is to continue, at the nation state scale, the widely shared policy discourse that occurred around UNCED and similarly shared discourses around national sustainable development policy that occurred in many countries in the years after UNCED. In short, the principle of partnership common to most discussions of sustainability policy is manifested at a national scale in something like an NCSD. As well as continuing dialogue and communicating the logic of sustainability NCSDs are intended to further the implementation of Agenda 21, the core policy outcome of UNCED, through national level sustainable development policy. Agenda 21 and numerous other statements argue that furthering the sustainable development agenda will require ongoing, purposeful collaboration between (loosely) governments, the private sector and community organizations (civil society) in development and implementation of national policy that integrates ecological, social and economic dimensions over the long term.1 In NCSD quarters this is referred to as a multi-stakeholder approach. Although not specified as an institutional response at UNCED, NCSDs have been promoted in many quarters as one core element of such an approach for particular purposes and at a particular scale. That is, NCSDs are necessary but not sufficient and would complement other policy...

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