The United Nations (UN) are warning increasingly urgently that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in particular the climate goals of the Paris Agreement are in danger of not being achieved if more is not undertaken soon. “We are losing the race,” commented UN Secretary-General António Guterres in mid-September in an interview with the media association Covering Climate Now. And that is just one component of the 2030 Agenda. With respect to hunger and malnutrition, biodiversity, protecting the oceans and expanding renewable energy generation things hardly look better. In the recently published Global Sustainable Development Report, a group of scientists commissioned by the UN write that the lack of progress made is cause for great concern: “Much more needs to happen – and quickly,” the report says.
It is because of this that Guterres wants to use the annual General Assembly of the UN in the last week of September to broadcast a wake-up call. The one-day Climate Action Summit will be followed by the first global health summit and the two-day meeting of heads of state and government on the 2030 Agenda for the first time since it was agreed in 2015. On top of this, there will also be summits on the topics of development finance and the Samoa Pathway, a process which aims to help small island states adjust to climate change. The UN’s summit will be accompanied by climate strikes and protests all over the world.
In parallel, institutions advising national governments in many countries will be taking the initiative to help promote implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Worldwide there are as yet but a few sustainability councils or similar bodies that are tasked with advising governments from a stakeholder perspective. Now these are coming together in a network to be able to learn more quickly and in a more targeted manner from each other – and thus be able to see their instruments deployed in other countries as well. The store of practical knowledge on effective policy approaches for adjusting sustainability strategies to local needs and reaching key societal actors has become quite large over the years and provides a key resource for many who wish to make progress in their countries.
The Global Forum for National SDG Advisory Bodies
Exchange of information is envisioned on, for instance, the issue of how sustainable development can be embedded in state institutions such that continuity in sustainability policy is maintained throughout the national political cycle even if the government changes. In addition, this new body – entitled the Global Forum for National SDG Advisory Bodies – will aim to improve the dovetailing of policies between countries: what effects does a measure to achieve a goal have on other countries and their own sustainable development goals? To provide an example, rising consumption of renewable raw materials for sustainable products requires the use of land areas in other regions that are needed for the preservation of biodiversity or food production.
Though each country faces its own very specific tasks, through making these interrelations clear the forum hopes to enhance the efficacy of every individual action. “When we understand in what areas we are pulling together and where we differ from one another, that helps to formulate the right policy for each country – and it increases motivation to advocate the SDGs,” explains Günther Bachmann, Secretary-General of the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE), which is a co-founder of the Forum.
The potential offered by such exchange of information is illustrated by the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) in Canada on its website. This organisation evaluated the Voluntary National Reviews, i.e. the voluntary status reports submitted by countries around the world to the United Nations to document their progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda. Though criticism has been voiced regarding the informative value of these reports, the BCCIC has gleaned from them positive examples from all over the world. One key component in implementing the SDGs is, for instance, that the whole of society has to be involved: policymakers, civil society, industry, the scientific community, educational institutions. And this requires a lot of dialogue: from the BCCIC it can be read that Jamaica, for example, has developed a vision for 2030 through public dialogue forums with its citizens. In Greece, a similar initiative with over 10,000 participants was undertaken.
Imme Scholz: “Keep the pressure on”
What good are such successes in view of the fact that more and more CO2 is being emitted, biodiversity is declining and both the inequalities between people and the mountains of rubbish are growing and growing? In its Global Sustainable Development Report, the United Nations pinpoints these four issues as being decisive. “In this crisis of multilateralism, we must now defend and uphold the 2030 Agenda. We need it to be a positive goal we strive to attain,” says Imme Scholz, Acting Director of the German Development Institute (DIE) and member of the German Council for Sustainable Development. In view of current developments, she finds it difficult to stay optimistic, and adds: “We are on a collision course. The United Nations have made a clear statement to national governments that merely continuing to pay lip service simply isn’t enough.”
In the closing statement of the SDG summit from the heads of state and government, which has already been prepared and made available online, countries at least admit that they have made very little progress and that achievement of the goals of eliminating hunger and poverty is endangered. However, they did not see themselves in a position to agree any concrete measures, in part because the UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), which has been convening annually since 2015, has not been granted any resolution-making authority. According to Bachmann, this is further evidence of the lack of commitment and “governance”, and Imme Scholz adds critically: “I am not confident that actions will truly follow from this insight. There hasn’t even been a timeline agreed for the interim goals on the way to 2030.” It is thus even more crucial, she continues, for sustainability councils and similar bodies the world over to come together in a forum. “Particularly in light of the ongoing climate crisis we need to keep the pressure on and work even more decisively towards achieving the 2030 Agenda,” demands Scholz.