The 2030 Agenda follow-up : Dilemmas for Civil Society

Author: Outi Hakkarainen (Policy Advisor, Kepa – @OutiHakkarainen)

Photo credit: Nicola Lönnberg.

Finland has a reputation of being one of the leading countries in sustainable development. It demonstrated its comprehensive commitment to the 2030 Agenda by locating the coordination of the national implementation under the Prime Minister’s Office. The national secretariat works together with the Coordination Network, comprising all government ministries. Finland was also among the first countries to present the national voluntary report in the 2016 HLPF. However, civil society actors have faced several dilemmas in enhancing a proper implementation and follow-up of the SDGs in the Finnish society. Three of them will be reflected here. They are most probably familiar in many other societies as well.

Together we can continue to address the challenges nationally and internationally, and encourage our decision-makers to take stronger steps towards the SDGs.

The first dilemma is about the understanding of the universal nature and the long-term commitment of the 2030 Agenda, and that the global context should be acknowledged in any national policy. These aspects are quite weakly present in the national implementation plan of Finland, published in February 2017. Several CSOs expressed collectively their disappointment, and underlined the contradiction between the participative preparatory process and the final version. The content turned out to be merely a copy of the current government plan and the time-span of actions was limited to government’s existence, i.e. only until mid-2019.

The plan implicates that the Finnish government is not properly considering international impacts of our national policies. The importance of consistency and global partnerships are marked as one of the three policy principles but when it comes to political focus areas and practical policy measures, political coherence is not mentioned anymore. The global dimension is discussed separately from national policies and it is not much acknowledged how the national policies and actions in Finland may have impact on global development.  

The second dilemma is related to indicators, data collection, and the use of the monitoring information. Although government’s implementation plan provides a good monitoring and evaluation system – including annual government reporting and an external evaluation every four years – the follow-up frame for the 2030 Agenda is not water-proof. Finnish government has not, for example, allocated resources for the development of the indicators and the data collection although adequate indicators are a crucial precondition for a well-prepared long-term monitoring. Only such indicators will be used for which the required data is already annually available, which means that such relevant information which was not yet available but would be relatively easily gathered, will not be used. Civil society actors were pleased that the process to select the indicators was an inclusive one and the topics of the ten baskets of the indicators largely relevant. However, a frustrating shortcoming is that issues such as participation, democracy and peace were not included in these baskets although actively promoted by the CS participants. Another concern is government’s’ capability and willingness to channel the monitoring results to national policies and budgeting. This issue will be closely followed by the CS actors.  

“…adequate indicators are a crucial precondition for a well-prepared long-term monitoring.”

The third dilemma is about the substance of the SDGs. It was an excellent achievement of the international community to reach the agreement on the SDGs but we as civil society actors could and should look beyond the SDGs and require gradually additional measures from our governments. A crucial issue in this context is, for example, the way in which economic growth is taken as granted, despite undermining sustainability, human well-being and ecologically sound methods should be at the core of any economic policies.

Economic growth and business opportunities are emphasized also in the implementation plan of Finland. Several Finnish CS actors have been critical of this approach, which will not automatically reduce global inequality or help conserve natural resources for future generations. They have underlined instead that the social and ecological responsibility in businesses requires, besides dialogue, binding legislation. Another related issue to be followed and articulated for the decision-makers is the relationship between the 17 SDGs. When following the achievement of a certain SDG, it is crucial to analyse its possible negative impacts for the other SDGs.  

Finally, the 2030 Agenda has brought together organisations and enhanced new partnerships and cooperation among the Finnish civil society. A recent example of cooperation is the first annual follow-up report, produced this year by ten CSOs. The report was published in May in Finland and will be published in English at the HLPF as part of the Social Watch’s Spotlight Report package.

 About the author: M.A. Outi Hakkarainen works as Policy Adviser responsible for external environment analysis at Kepa, a CSO platform and an expert on global development. Kepa represents more than 300 Finnish civil society organisations and promotes actions that will help to build a just world.



Together 2030 is a civil society initiative that brings together more than 450 organisations from 89 countries to promote national implementation and track progress of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


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