Now Comes the Hard Part: 4 Key Challenges to SDGs
This Friday, world leaders will adopt a new global development framework, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to eradicate poverty and inequalities and spur economic growth while respecting planetary boundaries. Reaching consensus on global goals that include responsibilities for all countries is certainly worth a celebration. But these goals are meant to be the bread for daily implementation, not cake for special occasions. Four key challenges await world leaders upon returning home.
1. Involve the Whole of Government
Goals need to be embraced across ministries and integrated into national planning and policies to deliver the integrated vision embedded in the SDGs. Some objectives can serve multiple purposes – investing in education will also help gender equality and health, for example – but inevitably, tough choices will need to be made: Build roads or schools? Subsidize renewable energy or fossil fuels? And it won’t always be a simple either-or question. Does the financial burden of higher energy efficiency standards and taxes on diesel vehicles fall unfairly on low-income households? It requires political leadership to ensure the SDGs are relevant and important to all ministries, not just the ministry of development or environment. Powerful ministries such as economy, finance or infrastructure must also adopt the goals as “theirs.”
Moreover, a coherent, coordinated approach to implementation is not just needed in developing countries. Leaders in developed countries will need to address poverty and inequalities at home, and curb the cross-border impacts of their consumption and production patterns, which contribute to freshwater scarcity, deforestation, soil degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change, and make poverty eradication harder to achieve.
2. Engage All Sectors of Society
This agenda is not about development cooperation, but about structural economic transformation. Organizing a consultative process with a wide range of stakeholders outside national government is crucial for effective national policy prioritization and for efficient, coherent delivery based on clear roles and responsibilities. Transparency, participatory decision making and mobilizing the strength and innovation of local governments, the private sector and civil society are essential to implement the SDG agenda. We know from the Open Government Partnership that multi-stakeholder initiatives can change lives through citizen engagement. Leaders must now make sure it happens across all SDGs.
3. Buy-in by Financial Institutions
Even when made a national priority, implementation of the SDGs will require significant resources: public and private, national and international, concessional and non-concessional. Domestic resources will dominate the resource envelope for implementation in all countries except LDCs, reinforcing the importance of getting national policies right. Financial institutions such as the World Bank, regional development banks and new development finance institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank can play a key role by aligning their portfolios with the SDGs and in stimulating private finance. But the onus is on national leaders to ensure an enabling environment and good governance to encourage financial resources to flow in the proper direction.
4. Make Stakeholders Accountable
Reaching the SDGs will require collaboration, coordination and coherence within governments and engagement with a multitude of partners beyond national governments. As an intergovernmental system, the UN is only able to track progress of sovereign member states, based on voluntary progress reports.
At the national level, however, leaders can demand accountability. The private sector must abide by laws and regulations in countries where they operate, so their impact in part depends on governments establishing good policies, fair regulations and an effective judiciary system to deliver such development impact. National leaders can demand that cities, civil society and companies report on sustainability, including environmental, social and labor issues, respect for human rights, anti-corruption and bribery matters. At the same time, governments need to be accountable to their people. These human rights are at the core of sustainable development. When national leaders implement the right to environmental transparency, including citizens in decision making so they can seek accountability and justice, ecosystems that are better-managed and protected will result.
Work Now, Celebrate in 2030
There will be real cause for celebration in 2030 once we have achieved the SDGs. For now, what we have is a recipe put together by negotiators from 197 countries. World leaders now need to adapt that recipe to national contexts and ensure all ministries provide the right policy ingredients into the mix. Governments need to provide opportunities and incentives to cities, citizens and the corporate sector to participate in adapting the recipe and baking the cake. Knowing what goes in, and who does what, is not icing on the cake – broad participation and accountability are essential ingredients to deliver the SDGs.
Much depends on how national leaders will use the recipe the SDGs provide. With a broad mixture of ingredients from multiple participants, national leaders will be able to bake a cake and eat it by 2030.