The DNS – a plan to secure Germany’s long-term future

A revised version of the German Sustainable Development Strategy (DNS) is set to be published at the end of the year. As a partner in the update process, the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) is determined to make the DNS more binding, more systematic – and more focused on what comes after 2030.

Since it was first developed in 2002, the German Sustainable Development Strategy (DNS) has been revised and updated every four years. Having first published its initial recommendations for the current update last November, the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) has now followed up with further guidance on the DNS’s system of targets and indicators (only in German).

The forthcoming 2024 consultations are a good opportunity to take a look back at the history of the DNS, but first and foremost to explore its future potential – because the year 2030, which is so crucial to the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN Agenda as well as to the DNS, is drawing ever closer.

The UN adopted the 17 SDGs and the 2030 Agenda in 2015. One year later, in 2016, the DNS was given a general overhaul and brought into line with these principles. With the global SDGs aimed at all governments around the world, the DNS has responded since 2016 with a roadmap for implementing them under national responsibility. Since then, it has stood as the central framework for both German sustainability policy and delivering on the 2030 Agenda.

Distinguishing indicators for communication and monitoring

“The DNS is based on the plan to secure Germany’s long-term future”, says Silja-Kristin Vogt, research advisor at the RNE and part of the team working on its current recommendations. The RNE has been involved in the further development of the strategy since it was first published and issues regular statements and recommendations around it. In its recommendations presented this week on the existing target and indicator system, the Council’s proposals include giving more prominence to the functions of communication and monitoring. This redistribution is designed above all to improve communication and not for the purpose of political prioritisation. It proposes an indicator set made up of leading indicators and core targets to simplify communication and raise awareness of the DNS among both policymakers and the public.

What’s more, for robust and transparent monitoring of the sustainability policy, the Council also proposes selected enhancements to the existing target and indicator system, not least with a view to new international commitments and challenges. These indicators should be linked to concrete, preferably quantitative targets and target compliance deadlines. The proposals include, for example, new targets and indicators on the “Land footprint of German food consumption”, “Areas under (strict) protection” (according to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework) and the “Proportion of renewable energies used for heating in the building sector”.

More commitment and a concrete vision

Besides this, one of the RNE’s main concerns is to make the strategy more binding. It is therefore calling for the government to underscore the importance of sustainable development with a new policy decision at the beginning of every legislative period. Although there have been such decisions in the past, they have for the most part not been right at the start of the legislative period and as such have not been linked to the forthcoming Coalition Agreement in terms of either content or timescale.

Furthermore, the RNE believes, the update should be used to give the DNS a clear compass and to adjust and substantiate the current target vision from 2016 to create a positive image of a Germany that is fit for the future. The Council is also advocating for a consistent representation of the social dimension in the existing target and indicator system by proposing, for instance, adding the at-risk-of-poverty rate in old age as an indicator. It is likewise necessary to strengthen the international dimension, as sustainable development as a conceptual and historical principle is a global concept. So the RNE suggests a new indicator potentially called the “German contribution to the expansion of social protection in selected developing and emerging countries”.

Next steps in the update process

Most likely towards the end of May, the Council will comment in further recommendations on the draft version of the DNS, which will be available by then. The process will be accompanied by various discussions – including with the German Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development, offices of lawmakers and state secretaries, and the minister of state in the Federal Chancellery. Following a public participation process on the draft version initiated by the federal government, the final version of the revised DNS will then be approved by the cabinet at the end of the year.