The 1992 Rio Earth Summit mandated all countries to establish National Sustainable Development Strategies (NSDS) and develop the necessary national governance structures to put them in place (Agenda 21, Chapter 8, paragraph 7). In many cases, this also led to the creation of NCSDs. A major role in the creation of NCSDs during this period was played by the Earth Council, an international NGO founded to mobilise and support a network of citizen groups, NGOs, and other organisations committed to achieving the goals of the 1992 Earth Summit. From 1992 to 1998, the the Earth Council helped establish and facilitate the exchange of information between a network of more than 80 NCSDs in developing countries, however whilst a small number of these remain today, the majority are no longer operational.

The call for NSDSs and NCSDs was repeated in the preparation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, 2002) and resulted in a clear commitment in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPoI). Today, many NSDSs and NCSDs still in existence are of a 'second generation': They were created in the run-up to or after the WSSD, have learned from the failings of past Councils, and are therefore more robust.

In the Rio +20 Outcome Document, ‘The Future We Want’, world leaders re-emphasised in several places the key role that Major Groups and all parts of civil society have to play in achieving the transformation to a more sustainable pattern of development in the countries of the world.

Specifically, they underlined the need for more coherent and integrated planning and decision-making at the national, sub-national and local levels and called on countries to ‘strengthen national, sub-national and/or local institutions or relevant multi-stakeholder bodies and processes, as appropriate, dealing with sustainable development, including to coordinate on matters of sustainable development and to enable effective integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development’ (Para 101).

A recent survey undertaken in 2011/12 by Stakeholder Forum identified approximately 60 NCSDs of varying nature across the world, although several of these are not fully operational at present. Included in this figure are a small number of older established national Economic and Social Committees (ESCs) which have in recent years been extending their remit to include the environmental dimension and thus in effect to become sustainable development councils.


The Global Network

Most existing NCSDs have been established to focus primarily on sustainable development issues within their own country. But since many sustainability challenges are global in character, individual NCSDs need to be fully abreast with global developments, of the scope for international or regional action on key issues, and of the work of NCSDs elsewhere. Furthermore, there is a clear need for greater alignment between global commitments, national policy and on the ground delivery. The new Network is intended to help fulfil these needs.

Conscious of the need for improving information exchange between NCSDs, for developing the potential for collaboration between NCSDs and for encouraging the formation or strengthening of NCSDs where they do not exist, several NCSD representatives from around the world came together during the Rio+20 process in a series of exchanges and meetings facilitated by Stakeholder Forum to explore possibilities for creating a Global Network.

It soon became clear that there was significant support for this concept from a wide range of countries. The Global Network was accordingly launched at an event in New York in April 2012, operational in the form of a website for all NCSDs to input to and use, with the Network currently remaining administrated by Stakeholder Forum.

At a further meeting convened by Stakeholder Forum as a side event at Rio in June 2012 there was a strong consensus of support from NCSDs present for further developing the Network over the next three years.