The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its set of interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets resulted from the most inclusive policy dialogue the United Nations has ever organised, one in which civil society organisations (CSOs) fully participated. This established a new benchmark for dialogue and inclusiveness at the UN. As the Secretary-General noted recently, there can be no going back.
The 17 SDGs address – in an integrated way – the most pressing economic, social and environmental challenges of our time. They are a universal and shared vision of humanity for transforming our society and projecting our planet. They form a social contract between the world’s leaders and ‘We the peoples’.
Implementing this comprehensive and far-reaching Agenda will require all governments and decision-makers to commit to leave no one behind. It calls for adopting new approaches and breaking down silos. To begin such a transformation and place humanity on a more sustainable course, we need all hands on deck to work across borders and sectors, and move from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’.
Recently, on 21 April at the United Nations, the President of the UN General Assembly convened an important meeting with governments, CSOs and the private sector, to discuss implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
The following day, on 22 April, world leaders converged on the United Nations to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change. Convening these meetings back-to-back was an important indication of the inseparability and mutually-reinforcing agendas of sustainable development and climate change.
This spirit of shared ownership is critical as we embark on implementation. Governments are in the driving seat, but the contribution of all sectors of society is necessary for this agenda to be successful.
Civil society can play an essential role in identifying strategic areas of engagement and creating partnerships to deal with them. Partnerships have been with us for a long time.We have learned lessons, and we have learned to make partnerships work for development. This is critical, since the 2030 Agenda is not just about the United Nations. It is about a new path for our whole planet.
To test whether our partnerships are aligned with the 2030 Agenda, here are a few questions to ask:
- The 2030 Agenda shifts the accountability from recipient–donor to state-people. Do our partnerships strengthen the relationship between duty-bearers and rights-holders?
- The 2030 Agenda commits to leaving no one behind. Do our partnerships begin by identifying the most vulnerable and building their resilience, or do they aim for low hanging fruit and quick wins?
- The 2030 Agenda is about reducing inequalities and levelling the playing field. Do our partnerships spread risk fairly (not equally!), or do the powerful partners push the risk to the more vulnerable ones?
- Do we consider an endorsement of the SDGs to be a label of quality of our partners/partnership or is it an acknowledgement of falling short and being accountable?
Another important part of implementation is to ensure adequate – and inclusive – follow-up and review. For the first time, stakeholders, including civil society and business, are also called upon to report on their implementation before the High-level Political Forum (HLPF), the UN’s central platform to follow up and review the SDGs. It will hold its first session since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, on 11 – 20 July this year.
The session will feature voluntary national reviews by 22 Member States, as well a range of thematic reviews. In accordance with the multi-stakeholder nature of HLPF, the session is expected to feature several opportunities to hear from civil society as well as the private sector.
Civil society can register initiatives in the Partnerships for SDGs platform – an online platform devoted to promoting partnerships working towards implementing the SDGs. This platform, maintained by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, now contains over 2,000 initiatives. It can and will be linked with other external databases. The 17 Goals and 169 targets offer a universal interface for such linkages. The platform’s purpose is clear: to promote accountability to citizens, support active international cooperation, and foster exchange of best practices and mutual learning.
The achievement of the SDGs will require commitment to the people and children of this world, that this Agenda is not just a new deal among nations, but a solemn promise to its people.