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Christian Friis Bach

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The Executive Secretary's Blog

New SDG survey: Are governments turning the vision into reality?

Will Agenda 2030 change the world? Can we reach the Sustainable Development Goals? The answers depend on what actions countries will take. It depends on whether governments translate the global goals into strong national policies, processes and actions.

We have now, six months after the adoption of Agenda 2030, the first indication of whether this will happen in a survey among UNECE’s 56 member States conducted by UNECE and the Regional UN Development Group for Europe and Central Asia

The picture is mixed. In some countries, for example Estonia, Germany, Montenegro and Switzerland, there are already national sustainable development strategies that will be used to implement Agenda 2030. In other countries, for example Denmark, Italy and Ukraine, the process is at the stage of inter-ministerial reviews and working groups. Eighteen countries have not responded to the survey and 8 countries have not wished to have their response published.   See all responses here.

Germany is an example of a country that has progressed far. The sustainable development strategy will be the key framework for implementing the 2030 Agenda and also has an established architecture and mechanisms for its monitoring and regular revisions. A process has started to revise the strategy by the end of 2016, led by Federal Chancellery and involving all ministries, parliament, federal state and local level, civil society, private sector and academia.

The encouraging tendency across many countries is that countries assign the responsibility for the goals to the highest political level, typically prime ministers or ministers of finance. We see this in many responses, including the Czech Republic, Finland and the Slovak Republic.

There are also countries who indicate that Agenda 2030 is primarily an issue to be tackled in foreign policy. However, the vast majority of countries have engaged in extensive inter-ministerial coordination exercises. This is essential. The 2030 Agenda is universal and it applies to all countries and to all sectors within a country. There is a need for a “whole of government” approach engaging both ministries of economy, finance, environment, transport, energy, health, education, social welfare, agriculture, industry, housing and foreign affairs. No sector, no ministry should be left untouched by the Sustainable Development Goals.

Therefore, it is encouraging to see in the survey that Agenda 2030 is starting to have an impact on policies and strategies and on institutional structures, although very few countries foresee the creation of new institutions or processes. It is also encouraging to see that some countries already envisage implications for their investments, as in Belarus, Moldova, Norway and Slovenia, to name a few. Substantial investments are needed to ensure green growth, infrastructure and sustainable development.

The demands for good quality data come out very clearly in our survey. A number of countries, from Armenia and Georgia to Moldova and Uzbekistan, signal that here UN support is important. Data is essential for effective and transparent monitoring. Averages are not good enough as we have promised to leave no one behind. Aggregate numbers may hide strong social and gender inequalities, so we need to go deeper. Some countries already have in place a well-developed system of sustainable development indicators or datasets to monitor existing policy actions. However, in most countries they are yet to be fully defined. This goes beyond statistical reporting. There is also a need to address policy coherence and inter-linkages between goals and targets. This is the nature of sustainable development.

Governments realize that they cannot – and should not - take this journey on their own. The Sustainable Development Goals were developed in a truly multi-stakeholder partnership and they must be implemented in the same spirit. On all aspects, from planning and implementation to monitoring and evaluation, a multi-stakeholder approach is mentioned repeatedly in the responses as the best guarantee of success. Institutional structures to facilitate stakeholder engagement are established in a broad range of countries, from Estonia and Finland to Germany and Latvia.

The survey is not done to name or shame. It is done to inspire peer learning, exchange of best practices, identification of shared goals, to discuss regional trends and challenges and to inspire solutions for transboundary issues. We invite all countries to join us to build a strong regional review platform that can allow us to do exactly this. And we invite all countries to join us further develop and expand our many norms, standards and conventions that can assist in turning goals into actions and in tackling transboundary challenges.

Turning the vision of the Agenda 2030 into reality is a daunting task, but a rewarding opportunity.

Let’s work together to achieve it.


If you wonder why the animal accompanying my blog is a cow, it is because cows are fascinating animals; the cows of our host country, Switzerland, are famous for their quality; and because I am still a farmer, and miss the cows I had in Denmark. Now I got one back.