in: Michael von Hauff / Claudia Kuhnke (eds), Sustainable development policy: a European perspective, London: Routledge, 24-45
National strategies for sustainable development (NSDS) go back to the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro 1992: they were seen as a major instrument for implementing the Agenda 21, by national governments, and cities. In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and this document again mentions NSDS as important implementation instruments, alongside with national development plans. Is this warranted by the diffusion and performance of such strategies? In 2008, the UN reported that 82% of UN member states had some sort of NSDS. In 2014, however, a Bertelsmann Foundation report counted only 24 NSDS. In the deliberation process that preceded the 2030 Agenda, the debate focused very much on goals and indicators but ignored experiences with NSDS. NSDS tried to promote integrated policy approaches for economic, social and environmental objectives, as does the 2030 Agenda.
The article presents conceptual approaches developed by UN and OECD for NSDS, and describes the main features of selected pre-2030 Agenda NSDS from rich and poor countries. It then discusses the literature on integrated policy approaches, with a specific focus on policy coordination and governance arrangements for sustainable development, and how they contribute to reforms and structural change. The article concludes that NSDS are not an instrument for triggering transformation but rather to establish a long term direction for change. Experiences made in the 20 years between Rio and New York show that governance for sustainable development needs to move from rigid plans to flexible strategy processes, from clear-cut sectoral authority to shared objectives and joined-up action and cross-cutting competences.