some reflections for this years work on the SDGs

One of the main differences from the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) was that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognized that we needed to move away from a sector approach to a sector and interlinkage approach. 

As some people seem to be harking back to the idea of prioritizing different SDGs eg one is more important than the other. I would remind them that that discussion on prioritizing the SDGs happened during the Open Working Group meetings promoted in particular by the US and the UK who wanted a more MDG+ and the development NGOs who saw it as somewhat an impact on their funding….among other things.

The SDGs are a huge achievement of a participatory engagement of all stakeholders, not just the small subset that calls itself civil society. One of the sad things about the SDG negotiations were the collision of the stakeholder discourse (from the sustainable development world) and the civil society discourse (from the development world). For those who don’t know the difference a quick explanation.

The stakeholder discourse at all levels believes that you map out the relevant stakeholders who should be engaged in the policy discussion and they have a seat at the table to articulate their view. This gives women their own space and young people for example. It also reduces the space for industry to 1 of 9 or more. The civil society discourse which doesn’t include Indigenous Peoples, trade unions, academics local government etc doesn’t give women their own space or young people. It basically argues a tripartite approach of civil society, industry , and governments. So no space for key stakeholders. It increases the space for industry to 1 of 3. We saw this in the finance for development process which after Ethiopia did in the Finance for Development Forum realize their mistake and expand to a stakeholder discourse. The promotion of civil society has actually contributed to the reduction of space which is the obvious outcome.

Back to the interlinkages. We don’t have the systems in place to work on an interlinkage agenda…so at this point we are not creating a community that understands the importance of interlinkages. 

The Global Sustainability Report 2019 also underscored the importance of the interlinkage approach. If we are going to address the key issues we need to work together. For those that have followed the planetary boundaries and the Oxfam doughnut will know that these are also based on an interlinkage approach.   

So this year is a critical one with COPs for biodiversity and climate but lets remember the answer to these are the delivery of the SDGs. It's not just new targets it is also the delivery of policies at the local, sub-national and national levels. So I thought i would throw into the pot some of my ideas for key approaches to help implement the SDGs and their targets:
  1. The proper equivalent of local agenda 21 which should be a local SDGs – what does this mean it means that local communities should be working with their local councils at developing a plan that has integrated the SDGs into their council strategies and the development of relevant local indicators – which may be different than the global ones and could include citizen developed data
What should happen: We don’t have the same leadership that we had from ICELI for Agenda 21 from local government for the SDGs – The World Urban Forum (8-13 February 2020) should be all about this and should be developing capacity, the toolkits AND the interlinkage approach. 
  1. Sustainable Development Councils: This has been a huge gap In governance there are some examples that still exist Finland, Germany are two of the best. But these have  been a missing national multi-stakeholder space
What should happen: This is about to change Stakeholder Forum has a grant to work on bringing the existing ones together and help run capacity building to help governments set up new ones.
  1. The failure to do new sustainable development strategies. This should have been the FIRST thing that governments did in consultation with stakeholders. This was what was done after the 1992 Summit. It should have brought together existing strategies on climate, biodiversity, poverty into an overarching one. This would then have enabled much more effective reporting processes with also an ensured interlinked approach between existing commitments and the new SDGs.
What should happen: The National Councils Network should be the place to start to do work on this. There is a very good guide to SDG Strategies produced in 2006 by OECD which could guide this work
  1. Capacity 21 – UNDPs flagship of the 1990s stopped because of internal egos in the early 2000s was a very important contributor to helping deliver Agenda 21 as was the Division on Sustainable Development which in the 1990s had its own technical people who helped.  The Division needs more support and funding and I'm impressed with the VNR learning approach
What should happen: The refocusing of the World Urban Forum which happens over every two years around the delivery of the SDGs would sort out the mistakes of Habitat III
  1. Partnerships. The failure due to the EU members and Switzerland opposition to the delivering of a robust set of new principles and guidelines for partnerships means that we have no idea the impact and something like 70% of the partnerships on the UN web site is likely to be delisted as they have not reported as required over three years.  
What should happen:  What we need is either a collection of all the partnerships that are supporting a particular goal/indicator being brought together to share work and funding or Champion partnerships which would be strongly funded by governments to help deliver the goals/indicators. These could then report each year on delivery against the goals/indicator
  1. Indicators: The approach to indicators has in most cases focused on those that are part of the global set. The agreement allows for a larger national set and the development of local indicators. Not enough has been done here to ensure that when the indicators are reviewed in 2020 there were better indicators being suggested.
What should happen:  The work on indicators at the global level has three years to come up with a better set of indicators in certain areas. The target date is the beginning of 2023 to have any new suggestions ready if there wants to be any new ones agreed in 2024. World Data Forum (18th-21st October 2020)
  1. Interlinkages: this is where we started. Stakeholders need to look at key areas where there is an interlinkage agenda…the most developed is the one on water-energy-food-climate. Originally led by Germany but with the University of North Carolina (2014 and 2018) and UN University every two years Dresden Nexus Conference 2020 - Circular Economy ina Sustainable Society (June 3-5th 2020)
What should happen:  Stakeholders need to start to work on other areas where there are Nexus/interlinkage areas…one might be SDG11 and a number of the goals.
  1. Financing the SDGs: An area that has mostly been focused on the debt/aid/trade/tax area. Though important the funding for the SDGs and climate is so much that the refocusing of the finance sector to support SDGs is Critical. Very few stakeholders work on this. After a three year campaign, the UNGA agreed the first resolution on Promoting investments for sustainable development led by Nigeria in November.
What should happen:  This is an annual resolution and offers a real chance to refocus the finance sector over time to rewards that support sustainable development. In addition, inputting to the UN InterAgecy Taskforce for Financing Development offers a good chance to over time get issues on to the Financing for Development Forum. (20-23 April 2020)
  1. Benchmarking: Over the last 4 years, a set of benchmarking of companies first on human rights and then on some of the SDG areas have been set up – corporate benchmarking on human rights and the world benchmarking alliance. These are important as far as holding companies accountable…yet not used effectively by stakeholders
What should happen:  Stakeholders should engage with these platforms and in particular any company that scores low on these and the UN has a relationship with eg through the Global Compact or other UN bodies should be strongly challenged. For example, Pepsi scored something like 20% on human rights in the first year of reporting and now at 40% ..none of us should ever be in Starbucks, as there’s, is less than 10% against the UN Human rights agreement


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