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 8: Are Partnerships for Sustainable Development Democratic and Legitimate?

Karin Bäckstrand


Karin Bäckstrand The aim of this chapter is to examine critically whether transnational public–private partnerships can be regarded as democratic and legitimate. The empirical focus in this chapter is on the partnerships for sustainable development adopted at the WSSD, which are framed as voluntary multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable development under the auspices of UNCSD. The question on the democratic credentials of partnerships for sustainable development taps into larger debates in International Relations on the ‘democratic deficits’ of international organizations and global governance arrangements and how to make these more accountable, transparent and inclusive. The language of democracy has gained currency in debates on the reform of global institutions and efforts to counter the democratic deficit in the European Union (Moravscik 2004). Democratic values, such as participation, representation, deliberation, inclusion and accountability are parts and parcel of the mainstream rhetoric of multilateral institutions and global governance mechanisms. Critics of the utopian cosmopolitan agenda to democratize global governance along statist lines argue that democratic theory has to be adjusted to fit real-world international institutions in a non-ideal world beyond the nation states. Consequently, democracy has to be rethought in the era of ‘new multilateralism’, represented by the emergence of transnational networked governance. Moreover, a recurrent argument is that democracy is only one source of legitimacy. The relationship between democracy and global public–private partnerships cannot be isolated from questions of environmental performance, effectiveness, societal effects or output legitimacy of public–private partnerships. If partnerships for sustainable development do not live...

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