Public–Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development
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Public–Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development

Emergence, Influence and Legitimacy

Edited by Philipp Pattberg, Frank Biermann, Sander Chan and Ayşem Mert

The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg is remembered mainly for the promotion of a novel form of global governance: the so-called ‘partnerships for sustainable development’. This book provides a first authoritative assessment of partnerships for sustainable development, ten years after the Johannesburg Summit.
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Chapter 2: The Politics of Partnerships for Sustainable Development

Ayşem Mert and Sander Chan


Ayşem Mert and Sander Chan Partnerships for sustainable development have been negotiated, endorsed and implemented in a contested political arena, serving a multitude of political goals. While partnerships for sustainable development explicitly refer to sustainable development objectives, they generate effects beyond their explicit goals. Only a part of these effects are intended. New political challenges may result from these implicit, unintended consequences. Partnerships, therefore, are not neutral implementation tools: they are employed in a political context, serve political goals and generate political challenges. Interviews with partnership experts from different sectors reveal that partnerships are predominantly understood as short-term projects aimed at implementing the Millennium Development Goals, in which different sets of actors share risks and contribute their expertise. This common view of partnerships is difficult to support with factual evidence: 30 per cent of partnerships for sustainable development have an undetermined duration or take the form of open-ended projects. Many do not focus on specific implementation goals. Most importantly, there is little evidence to suggest that risks are shared among partners. The lack of written protocols, contracts and memoranda of understanding among partners make accountability and risk-sharing particularly difficult. As instruments that bring partners together with different interests, goals, abilities and priorities, partnerships do not only represent collaborative arrangements, they also become a ground for competition over meanings, resources and ultimately hegemony. However, even if the process of building partnerships is flawed, or if partnerships themselves are ineffective, it does not mean that they do not exert influence. This...

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