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Mainstreaming sustainable development: Evolving perspectives and challenges from the Philippine experience

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National sustainable development strategies (NSDSs) play a vital role in pursuing sustainable development (SD) at the country level. These strategies help in clarifying priorities and in focusing efforts to more effectively address relevant SD issues. Since its establishment in 1992, the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development has urged its members to formulate and implement their respective NSDS. The Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 (1997) provided a more aggressive push to this advocacy by setting 2002 as the deadline for the formulation of NSDS while the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (2002) targeted 2005 as the year by which all countries should have started implementing such strategies. Many countries have heeded this call, albeit the strategies have taken a variety of forms: some took the route of formulating National Agenda 21s (as in the Philippine case), while others built on existing national environmental action plans, poverty strategies, sustainability plans, so-called green plans, policy statements, or legal frameworks.

The UN/DESA crafted some guidelines for NSDS formulation but, and rightly so, countries are given freedom of choice as to the scope, substance and form best suited to their own unique circumstances. As varied as the formats of these strategies turned out, so too were the processes that were adopted in their formulation. All these elements could reflect varying degrees of understanding and differing perspectives about the nature of sustainable development and how the concept could be made operational. Consequently, such an understanding could ultimately define a country's success in mainstreaming and achieving sustainable development. In this connection, it would be worthwhile examining how an NSDS has actually played out its role in the national pursuit of sustainable development. Are there creative insights, lessons or guidelines that can be drawn from practical, countrywide experience in NSDS formulation and implementation? What are the emerging challenges and problematic areas in using an NSDS as an instrument for integrating sustainable development in mainstream decision-making? Are there nascent considerations that could be useful in developing design parameters for NSDS? This paper explores the foregoing questions in the Philippine context, given its decade-long experience in implementing its NSDS, the Philippine Agenda 21 (PA 21). In so doing, it hopes to distill potentially valuable perspectives that can inform UNCSD and country-level efforts at crafting, refining and mainstreaming national strategies for sustainable development.
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Keywords: Agenda 21; Decision-making; Environment; Governance; Integration; Mainstreaming; Planning; Strategy; Sustainable development

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Philippines’ National Economic and Development Authority and Division for Sustainable Development, UN/DESA

Publication date: 01 May 2006

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