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Achieving the SDGs from the bottom up

The challenge of delivering the Sustainable Development Goal agenda, involving different stakeholders and ensuring no-one is left behind, dominated discussions at the IRF side-event at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York.

Speakers and IRF representatives at the High Level Political Forum side event organised by IRF and the Government of Sweden, photo: Stefano D'Errico, IIED

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a comprehensive and ambitious framework for sustainable development, and national and local authorities must drive the process of change to ensure the 17 goals are delivered and that no-one is left behind.

That was one of the key messages identified by speakers at a side event (pdf), organised by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the Independent Research Forum and the Government of Sweden, during the UN High Level Panel Forum (HLPF) in New York in July.

George Varughese from IRF partner Development Alternatives highlighted how the Indian government had developed an ambitious plan for implementing the goals, with a new think tank, the National Institution for Transforming India (Niti Aayog), given responsibility for delivering the goals, replacing the work of the National Planning Commission. State governments had also been instructed to come up with plans, and business was interested in playing a role, creating real opportunities for change.

But Varughese said that the plan was so ambitious, it was hard to see how it could be delivered in the Indian context.

Devolving responsibility

Oskar Thorslund, representing the Office of the Prime Minister of Sweden, explained that in Sweden different ministries were being encouraged to take responsibility for different areas of the 2030 Agenda, with an inter-ministerial group being established to coordinate activities. But the role of municipal level authorities was also important as they would be responsible for on-the-ground delivery, and as a result, they would be involved in reporting back to the HLPF.

To illustrate the point, representatives from the Municipality of Gothenburg talked about work being done in the city to encourage a sustainable approach to consumption and production. This involved public outreach, with sustainable fashion shows and festivals celebrating fair trade, as well as tackling issues such as public procurement.

Responding to citizens

Masego Madzwamuse, from IRF partner the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) talked about growing pressure from civil society in Southern Africa to recognise citizens’ rights and deliver on the SDGs. She said this pressure from the bottom-up was crucial to hold governments to account on the new agenda.

She talked about the opportunities for regional level accountability, with civil society organisations working together to monitor progress made on the new development agenda.

Identifying local priorities

Stefano D’Errico from IRF partner the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) highlighted how a critical approach to monitoring and evaluation can help government authorities to identify priorities and to focus on key issues. He said that there was a risk that by focusing solely on the SDG indicators, governments could waste resources on data for data’s sake, rather than identifying local priorities.

“It can be useful to collect all the information,” he said, “but it is important that investment is focused on the issues that really matter.”

He added that the discussions showed that it was crucial that the global sustainable development agenda was localised, taking into account the views of the people involved. Taking a bottom-up approach was essential to successfully identify and deliver on priorities.

For more information see: http://sd.iisd.org/news/governments-local-authorities-stakeholders-discuss-national-sdg-planning/