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Reforming the institutional framework for environment and sustainable development: Rio+20’s subtle but significant impact

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Reform of the institutional architecture for environment and sustainable development was one of the two main agenda items at the Rio+20 Conference. In the environmental field, Rio+20 provided a new impulse of power for the United Nations Environment Programme to fulfil its well-thought-out visionary mandate rather than motivation for creating a new institutional structure. In the sustainable development field, it offered an opportunity to formally launch a transformational reform process across several United Nations institutions – most prominently, the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – and begin a new effort at establishing global goals for sustainable development. The results are significant as they concluded a multi-year intergovernmental effort at reforming the environmental institutions and provided a solid political launching platform for the sustainable development reform process. This was possible because there was a clear mandate for reform. Leadership was consistent, and, over the years, systematic accumulation of information and knowledge about the substance and the process of reform took place. The confluence of these elements combined with the concrete political opportunity that Rio+20 provided, allowed for institutional learning through an iterative process and pushed for political outcomes.

Keywords: CSD; ECOSOC; Rio+20; UNEP; institutional governance; sustainable development

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Massachusetts, Boston

Publication date: September 1, 2013

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