Partnerships for Sustainable Development Research Project, 2009 - 2011

Multi-stakeholder partnerships have become a much applied new mechanism in global environmental governance. At the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development the idea of multi-sectoral partnerships was taken to the intergovernmental stage — with the so-called Partnerships for Sustainable Development presented as an official outcome of the summit. These partnerships usually bring together governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector; in contrast to the traditional outcomes of international summits such as intergovernmental treaties or declarations. Thus far, more than 300 partnerships have been formally registered with the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.

This offers the opportunity for new, extensive, and comparable empirical research as well as renewed theoretical insight. The PARTNERS project hosted by the Department of Environmental Policy Analysis at the VU University of Amsterdam is interested in three interrelated questions: first, under what conditions did partnership arrangements emerge in global environmental politics? Second, how do they influence global environmental politics? And finally, how do partnerships perform in terms of democratic legitimacy and accountability or transform these concepts? To answer these questions, the research project developed a methodological approach that brings together quantitative and qualitative elements. The quantitative part consists of the Global Sustainability Partnerships Database (GSPD) which profiles the partnerships regime in the sphere of United Nations, as well as structured surveys that reflect the assessment of different sectors on the influence of partnerships. The qualitative part includes in-depth qualitative case studies, semi-structured interviews, as well as text and discourse analyses.

The project is now focusing further on two specific areas of investigation. Discourses around the Partnerships for Sustainable Development, specifically the discourses of privatisation of governance, sustainable development, and participatory democracy, are analysed from a historical, post-structuralist perspective. Also in-depth studies are conducted on partnerships in the Asian, in particular Chinese, context; in collaboration with the EU Science and Technology Fellowship Programme in China (STF-China) and the Renmin University in Beijing.

Contact information: Dr. Philipp Pattberg