Since the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 – known as the Earth Summit, it was recognized that achieving sustainable development would require the active participation of all sectors of society and all types of people. Agenda 21, adopted at the Earth Summit, drew upon this sentiment and formalized nine sectors of society as the main channels through which broad participation would be facilitated in UN activities related to sustainable development. These are officially called “Major Groups” and include the following sectors:
- Children and Youth
- Indigenous Peoples
- Non-Governmental Organizations
- Local Authorities
- Workers and Trade Unions
- Business and Industry
- Scientific and Technological Community
Two decades after the Earth Summit, the importance of effectively engaging these nine sectors of society was reaffirmed by the Rio+20 Conference. Its outcome document “The Future We Want” highlights the role that Major Groups can play in pursuing sustainable societies for future generations. In addition, governments invited other stakeholders, including local communities, volunteer groups and foundations, migrants and families, as well as older persons and persons with disabilities, to participate in UN processes related to sustainable development, which can be done through close collaboration with the Major Groups.
Major Groups and other stakeholders (MGoS) continue to demonstrate a high level of engagement with intergovernmental processes at the UN. The coordination of their input to intergovernmental processes on sustainable development has been led by UNDESA/Division for Sustainable Development (DSD).
Member States ultimately decide upon the modalities of participation of MGoS. Thus, the engagement and participation of MGoS in intergovernmental processes related to sustainable development varies depending on the particular sustainable development topic under discussion.
How to get involved
The Division of Sustainable Development, through the Major Groups Programme, collaborates closely with MGoS through a coordinating body of facilitators known as the Organizing Partners, comprised of accredited organizations that are invited to be facilitators between the Major Group constituencies and DSD. Organizing Partners are tasked with coordinating inputs and streamlining communications from their particular constituencies. To get involved and learn more about the activities of your Major Group, please contact the corresponding Organizing Partner directly (click on the tab “Organizing Partners” for more information).
First steps – Earth Summit and the Commission for Sustainable Development
To implement the Major Groups structure formalized by Agenda 21, the Major Groups Programme was set up within UN DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development with the objective of incorporating the views of these sectors of society into intergovernmental processes.
The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), established by the UN General Assembly in December 1992 to ensure effective follow-up to the Earth Summit, provided generous access to Major Groups and was at the forefront of experimentation in this domain.
From its inception, the CSD was highly participatory in structure and outlook, by engaging in its formal proceedings a wide range of official stakeholders and partners through innovative formulas. The first multi-stakeholder dialogue segment was introduced in 1998, as a unique participatory mechanism enabling direct interaction between Major Groups and Member States on specific topics.
The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) succeeded in integrating Major Groups even further into the intergovernmental process. The post-WSSD time was also characterised by a growing intra-Major Groups collaboration that led to some tangible partnerships and new forms of cooperation.
At the Earth Summit+5, the UN General Assembly decided that the CSD should conduct "a high-level policy debate aimed at consensus-building on sustainable development". As an integral part of that effort, it was agreed that the CSD should "strengthen its interaction with representatives of major groups, including through greater and better use of focused dialogue sessions, and round tables."
The Program of Work for CSD-6 through the WSSD (1998-2002) implemented the above decision by pioneering diversiform engagement through multi-stakeholder dialogues, which informed the deliberations of the Commission on different topics between 1998 and 2003.
Multi-stakeholder dialogues helped to promote meaningful participation among Major Groups and Member States in the intergovernmental decision-making process. The dialogues emerged as a significant component of the official meetings, and grew to become accepted as part of the political process, rather than as ancillary events taking place on the margins of negotiations.
The Chair's Summary of the multi-stakeholder dialogue segments reflected the areas of discussion covered during the dialogues and highlighted recommendations made by the Major Groups. Chair's summaries were included in the official report of each meeting.
Integrated participation (2003-2012)
The post-WSSD phase built on the multi-stakeholder dialogues experience and provided innovative formats for interactive participation. Major Groups were integrated in the various activities planned throughout the official CSD sessions, including thematic discussions, expert panels and interactive discussions during the High-level Segment. Major Groups contributed their expertise to technical discussions on thematic issue areas, offering solutions for implementation of sustainable development and highlighting the importance of partnerships.
The importance of substantively engaging the nine Major Groups was reaffirmed in the lead-up to and during United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20. The outcome document of the Conference “The Future We Want” expressly addressed Major Groups role in pursuing sustainable societies for future generations. In addition, other stakeholders, such as local communities, volunteer groups and foundations, migrants and families as well as older persons and persons with disabilities, were also invited to participate in UN processes related to sustainable development. Today, this involvement can be achieved through close collaboration with the nine Major Groups, making use of its consolidated institutional structure approved and endorsed by Member States.
The Rio+20 Conference also decided to conclude the CSD after its twentieth session and subsequently inaugurate a high-level political forum on sustainable development (known as the HLPF) that would build on the practices of the CSD to enhanced the engagement of Major Groups and other stakeholders in the follow-up and review of sustainable development commitments.
Also, Major Groups enjoyed a heightened level of participation during the intergovernmental Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, which agreed on a proposal for 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to guide and inform the Post-2015 development agenda. The OWG experience served as an example of how Major Groups and other stakeholders can actively engage and contribute even in an informal deliberative process within the UN. Such examples will continue to be vitally important in the context of the new HLPF, and in the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda in the forthcoming years.
Milestones in the evolution of self-organization mechanisms and collaboration of Major Groups
- International Facilitating Committee (IFC): established by NGOs and other stakeholder from civil society in the lead-up to UNCED to provide non-political organizational support, including organizing the Global Forum. It dissolved after Rio.
- International Non-Governmental Organizations Forum (INGOF): also established by NGOs, creating an international "space" to develop common political positions (not including industry). It dissolved in 1995.
- CSD-1: A facilitation mechanism was needed to assist NGOs and Major Groups in maximising their participation. NGO working groups from Rio - which had already formed again -, convened to discuss how NGOs might best organize themselves. The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) facilitated a series of follow-up regional telephone conferences and a meeting for NGOs attending the Down to Earth conference in Copenhagen (December 1993)
- CSD-2: The results of these discussions were brought to CSD-2 in 1994, where NGOs and Major Groups' representatives established the NGO Steering Committee to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. The CSD NGO Steering Committee (a multi-Major Groups structure) had a Southern and Northern Co-Chairs and two representatives from each of the identified regional caucuses, issue-based caucuses and Major Groups sectors.
1996: rejuvenated interest in the intergovernmental sustainability process leading up to Rio +5; increased number of Major Groups participating in the Preparatory Committee of the 19th Special Session of the General Assembly (Earth Summit +5) in September 1997
- UN General Assembly (GA) decides to include stakeholder dialogue as part of preparations for the 1997 Earth Summit + 5, inspired by the UN Habitat Conference in Istanbul 1996, and by various stakeholders active at CSD.
- CSD Secretariat convenes a meeting with Major Groups in Geneva, and agreement is reached to proceed with stakeholder dialogue sessions at CSD-5, which served as the preparatory meeting for Earth Summit + 5 review.
- Earth Summit + 5: stipulated that the CSD should conduct a high-level policy debate aimed at consensus-building on sustainable development. As an integral part of that effort, the CSD should strengthen its interaction with representatives of Major Groups, including through greater and better use of focused dialogue sessions, and round tables.
- CSD-6 through CSD-10: To support the coordination and preparation for the multi-stakeholder dialogue segments, the CSD Secretariat broadens its interfacing beyond the CSD NGO Steering Committee and opens to a greater multi-sectorial coordinating mechanism (the early stages of the Organizing Partners) to respond to the new mandate and the focus of each multi-stakeholder dialogue segments. The content of the multi-stakeholder dialogues was determined in consultation with the CSD Bureau and the Steering Committee/organizing partners, facilitated by the CSD Secretariat. The Organizing Partners engaged in consultations with each Major Group sector to draft a 'dialogue starter paper' (a position paper) and determine who would speak for the sector during the dialogue. The dialogue papers were released as part of the official documentation in languages without editing the content.
- CSD-8 Preparation: In the meantime, the CSD NGO Steering Committee experiences internal challenges linked to fundraising and accounting for the finances and election procedures, representativity and participation leading to its disintegration in June 2001.
- Preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD): In 2001 SDIN - the Sustainable Development Issues Network is created, with the aim to support a broader NGO alliance of issue networks, caucuses and groups. In the lead up to WSSD, SDIN overcame the stalemate in the Steering Committee, and provided financial assistance and facilitation to those groups travelling to the Preparatory Committee's meetings and Johannesburg, in addition to training on the WSSD process (the core group included ANPED, TWN, ELCI, the Danish 92 Group and the Heinrich Böll Foundation). SDIN was entrusted by the CSD Secretariat to organise the multi-stakeholder dialogues at the WSSD and coordinate the daily NGO driven morning information meeting open to all Major Groups.
- WSSD gave CSD a renewed mandate in 2003 which resulted in CSD-11 adopting a new multi-year work programme and devising enhanced modes of engagement of Major Groups.
- CSD-11 to CSD-19: the Organizing Partners system is the operating mechanism that allows the Secretariat and Member States to consult Major Groups in a timely fashion, throughout the preparatory phase as well as during the CSD sessions, and to organize multi-stakeholder participation in a harmonious, inclusive, targeted and coordinated fashion.
- Rio+20 inherits the Organizing Partners structure from CSD-19, which incidentally overlaps with the Intergovernmental Preparatory Meetings for the 2012 Conference. Given the great surge in public attention to sustainable development, additional Organizing Partners are invited by the Bureau to join the coordination architecture for the Rio+20 Conference, thus boosting international participation and outreach to record levels. Major Groups interface directly with the Bureau during every informal meeting of the preparatory process, organize side events and press conferences, and hold meetings with the UN Secretary-General and other world leaders in the margins of the Conference.
- 2012 – 2014: Four main work streams are launched by the Rio+20 Conference, designed to reconvene Member States with the active participation of Major Groups and other stakeholders around ad hoc processes to elaborate the forward agenda and feed directly into post-2015 planning. Member States negotiate the format and organizational arrangements for a new high-level political forum on sustainable development (known as the HLPF), designed to replace the CSD and build upon its strengths and modalities of broad and inclusive stakeholder engagement. Rio+20 also launches an open working group of governments to develop a set of SDGs, which endeavours to adapt the Major Groups format of participation to an informal deliberative process within the UN, and set a new standard for transparency and inclusiveness. The General Assembly establishes an intergovernmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing that includes multi-stakeholder dialogues, open briefings and regional outreach meetings. A series of multi-stakeholder workshops is organized to deliver options for the development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies.
- The post-Rio+20 era has been led by an evolving cast of long-standing Organizing Partners as well as leaders from other civil society stakeholders who have not traditionally engaged with the sustainable development process. However, the advantages of these more flexible arrangements have also necessitated a fresh look at issues of governance and inclusion within the Major Groups structure. The post-Rio+20 period can also be characterised by a growing inter-sectoral collaboration between Major Groups and other stakeholders that has yielded some tangible partnerships and new forms of cooperation.
In order to establish and maintain effective coordination between MGoS and the intergovernmental process, each Major Group organizes autonomously according to its membership profile and areas of focus. To facilitate communication and streamline its outreach, the Division for Sustainable Development consults with key actors from MGoS as well as relevant UN system entities to solicit recommendations of Organizing Partners, or focal points who volunteer the time and resources of their organizations to collaborate with the intergovernmental process on behalf of their constituencies.
These Organizing Partners typically represent long-standing and credible networks from each sector, are committed to maintaining transparent and inclusive working methods, and possess the requisite institutional and legal personality to engage with the UN at a high level. They facilitate outreach and assist the Secretariat in generating and guiding the engagement of MGoS with specific political processes, which is often done in close collaboration with other entities of the UN development system.
The working methods of these arrangements are continuously under review to reflect the most current thinking and configuration of actors, and often serve as an example for other multi-stakeholder processes convened under the UN.
To learn more about the activities of Major Groups and other Stakeholders, and how to get involved, please contact the Organizing Partners directly.
Roles, Responsibilities and Criteria for Eligibility
||Women in Europe for a Common Future
|| Ms. Sascha Gabizon
|GFC Global Forest Coalition
||Ms. Isis Alvarez
|WEDO Women's Environment and Development Organization
||Ms. Eleanor Blomstrom
|Children and Youth
||Ms. Sarah Hynes
|European Youth Forum
||Mr. Lloyd Russell-Moyle
|Pacific Youth Council
||Ms. Tahere Siisiialafia
|Children and Youth International
||Mr. Aashish Khullar
||Tebtebba - Indigenous Peoples' International Centre for Policy Research and Education
||Ms. Galina Angarova
|International Indian Treaty Council (IITC)
||Mr. Roberto Borrero
||European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
||Ms. Leida Rijnhout
|CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
||Mr. Jeff Huffines
||Mr. Philipp Schönrock
| Local Authorities
||nrg4SD - Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development
||Ms. Susanna Rivero Baughman
|ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability
|| Mr. Yunus Arikan
|United Cities and Local Governments
||Ms. Natalène Poisson
|Workers and Trade Unions
||International Trade Union Confederation
||Mr. Matt Simonds
||Ms. Laura Martín
|Business and Industry
||International Chamber of Commerce
||Ms. Louise Kantrow
|Scientific and Technological Community
||International Council for Science
||Ms. Anne-Sophie Stevance
|World Federation of Engineering Organisations
||Mr. Reginald Vachon
|International Social Science Council
||Ms. Heide Hackmann
||World Farmers Organisation
||Ms. Luisa Volpe
|Canadian Federation of Agriculture
||Mr. Drew Black
|La Via Campesina - International Peasant Movement
||Ms. Jessica L. Roe
|La Via Campesina - International Peasant Movement
||Mr. Carlos Marentes
The preparation of multi-stakeholder participation within UN intergovernmental processes is in itself a multi-stakeholder process. The organizations serving as Organizing Partners (often up to 5 organisations per sector) are facilitators working through and with large global constituencies. They are accountable to the UN Secretariat, the HLPF and their constituents, although they do not represent them.
The UN Secretariat, represented through the Major Groups Programme within UN DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development, chairs the facilitating group and supports its work throughout any given preparatory process.
The criteria for an Organisation’s eligibility include:
- expert knowledge and competency in areas related to sustainable development
- demonstration over time of their competence and commitment to work in collaboration with the UN Secretariat
- recognized and well respected in their communities and by other organizations in the same sector, and have contacts reaching into different branches of their respective sectors
- global or regional geographical scope and membership
- representative structures and appropriate mechanisms of accountability to members
- solid understanding of intergovernmental decision-making processes, and in particular of intergovernmental sustainable development processes
- knowledge of respective regional players and regional groupings
- commitment to remain engaged over time
- organizational means, time and responsibility to perform the required tasks unpaid, including participation in official meetings in New York
- a membership that exercises effective control over its policies and actions through the exercise of voting rights or other appropriate democratic and transparent decision-making processes
- preferably in consultative status with ECOSOC
The Major Groups Organizing Partners' main responsibilities include:
- Consultation with networks to prepare written inputs in the form of discussion papers and priorities for action papers addressing themes of specific intergovernmental processes related to sustainable development
- Organize, manage and disseminate data and information on Major Groups and UN processes and activities related to sustainable development
- Consultation with networks to identify participants able to serve on their sector's delegation
- Provide and develop logistical and process understanding so that Major Groups will be able to maximise their presence at the UN in accordance with the official engagement practices and procedures
- Provide guidance and find expertise to develop policy positions representing the best from the Major Groups’ constituencies relevant to the agenda points of the specific processes
- Coordinate and facilitate the participation of representatives of their respective sector throughout intergovernmental meetings and sessions, working in collaboration with other stakeholders and Major Group sector representatives
- Have proper and valued knowledge of the UN in general and the sustainable development processes in particular to provide the Major Group constituency with background information and/or capacity building