An SDG check, logical but not self-evident

By: Gerjan Agterhof, Building Change

The logic behind, what we call, an SDG check is very simple: All governments adopted the SDGs in 2015. Therefore it should not be possible that any new policy , law or regulation is not in accordance with the 17 goals and its 169 targets, right? Well, guess what, we do not live in a perfect world. Governments still, very often, act in ways opposite to the Agenda 2030. Whether you live in Brazil, the United States, Indonesia, Uganda, or the Netherlands, your government’s actions are often driven by very different interests that do not necessarily promote sustainable development. That bothered us. Which is why Building Change, a coalition of multiple Dutch NGOs striving for a strong implementation of the SDGs in The Netherlands, started a lobby campaign in 2016 to address the issue. We wanted to make sure all relevant actions by Dutch government aligns with the SDGs (and even more specifically, the interests of developing countries). In order to achieve this, we had to convince Members of Parliament and the Dutch cabinet to acknowledge the importance of this too. And after a few years of doing so, our efforts turned out to be a success.

Integral Assessment Framework & The SDGs

In our country there is a mandatory process for civil servants to go through in order to define the relevance, efficiency and impact of the laws, policies and regulations they are developing. This system, the Integral Assessment Framework, was developed in 2011 and looks at many relevant issues, like legal quality, ICT aspects, the impact on civilians, on the environment et cetera. But up until a few months ago, the SDGs were nowhere to be found in this framework. As we thought this framework was the perfect place to make sure the SDGs to be taken into account in all relevant policies, we lobbied for the adoption of a SDG check for a long period. We worked together with MPs and they advocated for an SDG check towards the Dutch cabinet. In the end, the Dutch Minister of International Trade and Development Cooperation decided to add the SDGs and specific sections on the impact on developing countries and impact on gender equality to the framework. Consultation with NGOs and other stakeholder is one of the advices you will find in this framework to aid the work of policy officers. But most importantly, if any negative effects are foreseen, mitigating measures have to be taken. You can find more detailed information here.

As mentioned before, the new framework came into force in the beginning of this year, so from that moment on new policies which are expected to have a negative effect on air quality, hamper the position of women and girls in African countries, or contribute to global warming – just to give a few examples – should no longer be possible. At least on paper.

The biggest success is that the SDGs are now integrated in an already existing government process. This, however, requires awareness raising among policy officers from all Ministries and a vigilant eye of parliamentarians to have real impact. So as Building Change we, and many others with us, are lobbying to ensure that this SDG check is applied properly in all relevant new policies, laws and regulations. Therefore we also developed a toolkit to aid NGO’s with how to use the SDG-check in their watchdog role and as a source of valuable information for decision makers. With our help the SDG check can be another step towards a more sustainable future with a positive Dutch impact! Hopefully more countries will follow. Would this be a good idea for your country as well?

Foto Gerjan Agterhof The author is a member of the Building Change-team. He has been active in the field of policy coherence and Sustainable Development Goals since 2015. He works as political advisor for the Dutch NGO Woord en Daad.


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