skip to Main Content

The Role of Principles for Allocating Governance Levels in the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development

Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, Sylvia I. 2013. The Role of Principles for Allocating Governance Levels in the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 13: 441-459.


The global deliberations on sustainable development took another step in their more than 20-year history at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. A recurrent dimension of these negotiations is the allocation of governance to one or more specific levels in the outcome document. This allocation reflects the international consensus on who at what level should do what in sustainable development, and it has implications for both the effectiveness and legitimacy of sustainable development governance. This paper investigates the negotiation process and outcome of the conference preceding Rio + 20, the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, analysing the extent to which normative principles played a role in the allocation of governance to specific levels. This was done through qualitative and quantitative analyses of the different drafts of the outcome document. The results show that, although there were clearly limited explicit discussions on principles, it was possible to infer elements of several normative principles for allocating governance in the arguments and outcome of the negotiations. Most prominent among these principles were national sovereignty, but both the principles of substantive and procedural subsidiarity could be detected as well as the principles of fit, culpability and capacity.

Recent publications

Assessing the effectiveness of orchestrated climate action from five years of summits
Five years of climate action and summitry have taught us valuable lessons. Orchestrators of climate action can positively influence performance by setting minimum requirements for credibility and robustness among the initiatives they engage.
Transforming Biodiversity Governance
Edited by Ingrid J. Visseren-Hamakers, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Marcel T. J. Kok, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
2021 Annual Report
The Earth System Governance Project seeks to mobilise and advance scholarship at the interface between global environmental change and governance. Discover how by learning more about the project in this summary of 2021!