If I were to put the sub-text of almost every event at the UN Summit on Sustainable Development* into a hashtag, it would be: #SoNowWhat?
That’s a natural question for many from civil society, think-tanks, foundations, or UN agencies who, like me, have spent the last 2-5 years working on the Sustainable Development Goals* (SDGs) or ‘2030 Agenda’ or ‘Global Goals’ (it’s hard to keep up with the changes in nomenclature). Personally, I’m feeling that combination of relief, pride, and remorse that comes with having committed to something big – like buying a house.
So the question of ‘well, now what do we focus on?’ is to be expected as we grapple with what this huge, transformative agreement really means.
Turning words into actions
An immediate answer is ‘global-level indicators.’ Much more work needs to be done by March 2016 to ensure the metrics for implementation are transformative and rights-based*. Beyond that, we have a vision for what the world should look like in 2030 but no clear long-term plans on how to get there. At the moment, the SDGs are words on paper that need energy, evidence, and political will to become actions at the local and national levels that will enable people and the planet to thrive.
There was no consensus at the myriad of events around the UN Summit on how this gets done. But here are some highlights that jumped out:
- Map out where national action plans, policies, laws, and strategies are already aligned with SDG targets. Colombia was profiled time and again as the leader in this approach. Simón Gaviria Muñoz, the Director of the National Planning Department in Colombia, spoke at 3 events I attended. He noted that the majority of the 169 SDG targets were already part of their government plans, while 30 or so depended on international action rather than national action alone, and a remaining handful would be very difficult to measure. Mapping targets against existing plans is key for governments, but also crucial for civil society actors looking to focus their advocacy and to ensure no goal or target is left behind in implementation.
- The SDGs are another strong tool in civil society’s advocacy toolbox. This approach to advocacy on SDG implementation is one we’ve been thinking about at Plan International for some time. So it was great to hear Danny Sriskandarajah, the Secretary-General of Civicus*, sharing this exact message with a group from civil society. Almost all of the issues in the SDGs are already being advocated for by civil society; for many, the content of the SDGs won’t affect what we advocate for so much as how we advocate for it, including by ensuring northern governments and actors fulfil commitments at home as well as abroad and by ensuring we’re truly reaching those most left behind. For local and national civil society, the SDGs should be seen as a tool for advocacy – an agreement that our governments have openly promised to deliver and for which we can collectively demand action.
- Integrate SDG implementation into existing international initiatives. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) gave a great example of this – the countries on their steering committee have committed* to integrating the targets within Goal 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies into their OGP Action Plans and the work of the OGP overall. It’s a no-brainer to try to identify where we can improve and amplify the work we’re already doing with the SDGs rather than creating parallel processes and additional bureaucracy. We at Plan International would argue that this goes for accountability as well, for example by aligning SDG monitoring processes with human rights monitoring and accountability mechanisms.
Making the SDGs a reality
This quick summary captures just a part of the many views and ideas shared at the UN Summit amongst civil society, the private sector, governments, and donors on how to implement the SDGs. Many questions remain – one is ‘what are the top 3 learnings from the processes of MDG implementation at the national level and how can these be taken into account for SDG implementation?’ Share any thoughts on this with me on Twitter at @AmandaRrae
Officially, action to implement the SDGs starts on 1 January 2016. The conversation continues to try to answer #SoNowWhat? Plan International, along with many other actors, will be huddling in meeting rooms and via Skype around the globe in the next 100 days to ensure that we are ready to act to make the SDGs reality for our people and our planet.
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