Do rich countries care about the SDGs?

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by Leo Williams – @lafwilliams, @TransformTgther

The world has changed. We no longer live in a world where all countries aspire to ‘develop’ on a linear path, longing to reach the standards of the likes of Canada or Norway. All countries, in all regions of the world, have progress to make – be it in eradicating extreme poverty, tackling inequalities, strengthening participation, dealing with climate change or tackling our unsustainable consumption and production patters or improving education levels. Civil society spent years ensuring that this reality was reflected in the 2030 agenda – and it is reflected loudly and clearly, in the fourth sentence of the agenda: “All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan.” And again in the declaration: “These are universal goals and targets which involve the entire world, developed and developing countries alike.”

Much has been written about the universality of the 2030 agenda and what it means for rich countries. The Stakeholder Forum undertook a detailed analysis of the challenges for rich countries, concluding that the most transformative changes needed are around three goals: sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12), sustainable energy (SDG 7) and combating climate change (SDG 13). They suggest that major efforts are needed by rich countries to achieve more sustainable economies and growth pathways, greater equality, and to better protect the oceans and of terrestrial ecosystems. They are clear that “the world at large needs to see the developed world place a strong emphasis for action so as to relieve the overall anthropogenic pressures on the planet and its natural systems.” And Christian’s Kroll seminal work ‘Are Rich Countries Ready’ (for the SDGs) clearly states that, outside of the ‘Fit Five’ (Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland), all rich countries have serious challenges around fostering an inclusive economic model (goals 8 and 10) and sustainable consumption and production patterns (goal 12). Challenges which we have not yet seen enough rich countries rise to.

That said, some rich countries are stepping up to the mark. There are positive examples from Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, all of whom have made meaningful efforts to incorporate the SDGs into national development frameworks, aligning the SDGs with national sustainable development strategies or creating SDG implementation plans. Finland and Germany have clear, high level political commitments to SDG implementation at the national level, and Germany is very clear, in its 2016 Voluntary National Review,  about how it will attempt to reach SDG targets in Germany as well as abroad. 18 out of the 51 countries undertaking Voluntary National Reviews of the 2030 agenda at the national level are developed economies – indicating a relatively high level of interest from rich countries.

But elsewhere, the picture is less rosy:

  • In a recent analysis of government statements made at the 2017 General Assembly (which had as its theme “The Sustainable Development Goals: A universal push to transform our world”), Together 2030 highlighted that “from the 40 countries that referred to national plans, only 6 (or 15%) were developed countries: Bulgaria, Finland, Netherlands, Estonia, Switzerland and Japan.”
  • Over a year after the agreement of the SDGs, many developed countries still don’t have strong enough data systems for the relevant indicators. For example, indicator 1.1.1 focuses on the proportion of the population below the international poverty line. 72 governments report having no data for this indicator since at least 2000 – with 45 of these being high-income countries!
  • The ‘Leave No One Behind’ partnership, established in 2015 with funding from the UK Government, directs funds exclusively at national level dialogues on Leave No One Behind in low and middle income countries – the implication being that the UK Government does not see a problem with people being left behind in rich countries. Civil society is doing a laudable job in facilitating such dialogues in rich countries as well, but obviously the financial constraints make it much harder to do so.
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Source: https://www.torbenrick.eu/blog/change-management/change-management-comic-strips/  

So, what can we do to ensure rich countries take the universality of the 2030 agenda as seriously as we expect them to? I have a few suggestions:

  1. Let’s put our money where our mouths are. Working with progressive individuals and organisations like Bioregional and the Danish92 Group, I recently set up Transform Together, a multistakeholder partnership on Sustainable Consumption and Production, aiming to make meaningful change in rich countries. We are still working hard to persuade governments to be full partners in this endeavor! There is space for other progressive organisations to launch global initiatives on inequality, amongst other things – thus providing a platform for rich countries to take these issues more seriously.
  2. Academia and civil society could provide more detailed about what the universality of the 2030 agenda means in specific country contexts. Think tanks could map the relevant goals to the national context, making detailed proposals for how governments could respect these goals in their own countries.
  3. The UN could develop its presence in and reach into rich countries, with the aim of helping them translate the universal nature of the 2030 agenda into their national context.
  4. The OECD is well placed to convene relevant discussions about universality within its membership – which is predominantly rich countries.

But ultimately, rich countries will care about the universality of the 2030 Agenda if their citizens care about these issues.

It is time for civil society organisations in these rich countries to get serious about making this happen. Those CSOs from rich countries who have been deeply involved in discussions around the 2030 Agenda need to focus on their own country politics, and work on building support for the transformative goals in their own constituencies. For the good of all of us.

Leo Williams is the co-founder and Strategic Adviser of Transform Together, a global initiative for Sustainable Consumption and Production, promoting meaningful change in high and middle income countries. He is also the Founder and Director of Engage for Change, a  consultancy company which provides strategic advice to civil society organisations, governments and multinational organisations on the 2030 agenda and the participation of civil society.

From 2010 – 2016, he was the Co-Founder and Director of Beyond 2015, a global advocacy  campaign of 1500 civil society organisations in 150 countries, which aimed to ensure that the process to develop the 2030 agenda was participatory, inclusive and responsive to the voices of those directly affected by poverty and injustice.

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One thought on “Do rich countries care about the SDGs?

  1. The ‘Leave No One Behind’ partnership, established in 2015 with funding from the UK Government, directs funds exclusively at national level dialogues on Leave No One Behind in low and middle income countries – the implication being that the UK Government does not see a problem with people being left behind in rich countries. Civil society is doing a laudable job in facilitating such dialogues in rich countries as well, but obviously the financial constraints make it much harder to do so.-NO ONE KNOWS IF THERE IS WHAT IS NAMED OF THE Leave No One Behind’ partnership-IT HAS TAKEN ANOTHER GAME OF DISCRIMINATION DURING ITS IMPLEMENTATION -WE ARE COMPLETELY LEFT BEHIND.WHAT HAPPENED IN TANZANIA DURING A COUNTRY ACTION IS A COMPLETE ABUSE AND HUMILIATION AND -I LOOK FORWARD KNOWING WHO HAD FUNDED THE ACTION AND HOW WAS THE FACILITATOR BEING SELECTED.I am ready to stand and witness such happenings-This is not through this way- CSYM HUDUMA is a member of Together 2030

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