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
- 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 also participate in UN processes related to sustainable development.
Subsequently, the resolution on format and organizational aspects of the high-level political forum on
sustainable development (67/290
) identified also private philanthropic organizations, educational and
academic entities and other stakeholders active in areas related to sustainable development as relevant
The 2030 Agenda also underlined the important role of major groups and other stakeholders in its
Major Groups and other stakeholders (MGoS) continue to demonstrate a high level of engagement with
intergovernmental processes at the UN.
Their engagement with HLPF has been within the parameters set up in the paragraph 15 of the resolution 67/290
, namely that they
(a) To attend all official meetings of the forum;
(b) To have access to all official information and documents;
(c) To intervene in official meetings;
(d) To submit documents and present written and oral contributions;
(e) To make recommendations;
(f) To organize side events and round tables, in cooperation with Member States and the Secretariat.
The coordination of their input to intergovernmental processes on sustainable development has been facilitated
How to get involved
UN DESA, 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 Groups
and other stakeholders and DESA. 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 (contact information under each
The resolution 67/290
has also encouraged MGoS "to autonomously establish and maintain effective
coordination mechanisms for participation in the high-level political forum and for actions derived from that
participation at the global, regional and national levels, in a way that ensures effective, broad and balanced
participation by region and by type of organization". Subsequently, a coordination mechanism has been
established with two co-chairs and and is a central channel for engagement with HLPF on sustainable
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
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
- 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
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 +
- 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.