The current law of multilateral development finance contains relatively specific legal norms on sustainability and participation. These norms have developed incrementally since the 1990s in the internal administrative law of multilateral development banks (MDBs), especially in environmental and social safeguard standards enforced by quasi-judicial accountability mechanisms. This legal regime has long been based on functionalist and managerial logic, in which participation is functionalized for, and ultimately subordinated to, a technically determined concept of sustainability that does not acknowledge the political trade-offs it implies. To realize its emancipatory and legitimatory potential, MDBs need to harness their expertise to enable inclusive, informed and context-sensitive decision-making in multi-level procedures. This argument is developed in three main steps: the first two analyse the legal evolution of sustainability () and participation (), respectively, distinguishing different stages of development and conception. The third step then turns to the relationship between sustainability and participation (), discussing their conflicts and the ways in which MDBs seek to converge. The chapter concludes with some critical thoughts on the potential and future development of sustainability and participation standards in the law of MDBs (). The focus is largely on the World Bank Group, whose system of social and environmental safeguards represents the current state of the art and a global model emulated by many other MDBs.
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