The UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) has been criticized for lack of effectiveness since its establishment in 1993. The main objective of this article is to describe and explain the mechanisms that affect the work of the CSD, in order to understand how it would be possible to enhance the potential for effectiveness. The study aims to apply the perspectives of “distribution of capabilities” and “institutional design” to evaluate the CSD's accomplishments during its fırst ten-year period. I conclude that the CSD has achieved some results in monitoring and reviewing the process on the implementation of Agenda 21 and promoting dialogue and building partnerships for sustainable development, due to the role of the secretariat and nongovernmental organizations. However, the member states' positions and interests have contributed to the CSD's low goal attainment, especially in the area of policy guidance.

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Author notes

Stine Madland Kaasa is working at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on environment and sustainable development issues. Previously she was a research assistant at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Norway. She holds a Master in Political Science from the University of Oslo.

This case study is part of the research project “The Role of the UN in Global Environmental Governance: Potential for Increased Effectiveness?” at The Fridtjof Nansen Institute at Lysaker, Norway, fınanced by the Research Council of Norway. I gratefully acknowledge useful comments and suggestions to earlier drafts from Steinar Andresen, Lars H. Gulbrandsen, Kristin Rosendal, Jørgen Wettestad, Peter Johan Schei and Elin Lerum Boasson at The Fridtjof Nansen Institute.