The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at their core are a groundbreaking, inclusive global initiative to eradicate poverty and achieve a better future for all on a healthy planet. The Agenda and Goals reflect the voices of millions of people from all over the world, and their aspirations for the future they want. I saw first-hand the unprecedented commitment, dynamism and concrete contributions that stakeholders from all sectors of society brought to the intergovernmental process leading to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. As a result, the Agenda is “of the people, by the people and for the people”1 and is expected to be implemented with the participation of “all countries, all stakeholders and all people”.2
This common ownership of the vision of the SDGs is now powering its implementation. The success of our collective journey to 2030 will greatly depend on how effectively Governments, which lead the implementation of this transformative and universal agenda, engage parliaments, local authorities, indigenous peoples, civil society, the scientific and academic communities and the private sector, and bridge the gap between people and national policy setting.
Success will also be measured in how well we live up to the commitment to leave no one behind. We need to ensure that we provide a voice and platforms for the meaningful participation and engagement of the most marginalized, vulnerable and excluded communities and individuals.
In many countries, including some that presented their voluntary national reviews at the United Nations high-level political forum on sustainable development, we are seeing how effective public participation can lead to less corruption, more transparency and better laws, policies and government programming, as well as budgetary allocations that advance a whole-of-government approach.
Raising public awareness about the SDGs can also enable citizens to hold their Governments accountable. Several voluntary national reviews from 2017 highlighted innovative awareness-raising activities to increase ownership of the SDGs, ranging from encouraging citizens to use mobile devices to test air quality to designing school curricula on resource conservation and organizing SDG-themed music festivals.3 Many countries developed communication campaigns and used tools such as mass media, social media, online portals, workshops, and the production of flyers and posters.4
To galvanize popular support around the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, several elements need to be in place:
1. Making the SDGs known: The SDGs reflect the interlinked reality of people’s daily lives. I have been impressed by the capacity of communities to internalize the Goals, irrespective of the jargon used by development professionals. That is why we promote the United Nations SDG Action Campaign to support advocacy and public engagement in SDG implementation. We will use the United Nations convening power, through a revitalized SDG Strategy Hub, to engage, connect and convene critical actors and existing platforms seeking to educate, empower and mobilize citizens, influencers and other stakeholders to act in support of the SDGs. Focusing on actions taken by the system, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has recently launched an online tool that maps the actions of UN entities for the SDGs.
Education is another powerful tool to foster awareness of sustainable development. Several countries have integrated the SDGs into curricula and educational programmes and produced educational materials on the SDGs.5 The next generation of leaders are being shaped by our schools and universities. This is a critical frontline that needs to provide the ambition, tools and inspiration for new development solutions to be created and tested. The UN is playing its part by providing training to leaders both on how to shape strategic vision and develop practical knowledge on finding effective solutions for their community, be it a country, village or neighbourhood.6
2. Creating an enabling environment for participation: This is clearly expressed in SDGs 16 and 17, which call for an environment that supports tolerance towards differing views and public participation. Responsible leadership, legal frameworks that adhere to human rights standards, and greater investment in transparent and accountable institutions are critical to making this happen.
3. Gender balance, youth participation and leaving no one behind: Currently, there are an unprecedented 1.8 billion adolescents and youth worldwide.7 We need to create appropriate spaces to mobilize young people and foster their ideas, leadership and energy. We need to ensure that women and girls are centrally involved in all our efforts. We must figure out a way to let everyone play their part. Finally, we need to identify those who are being left behind and set up appropriate and inclusive strategies to reach those furthest behind first, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups.
4. Promoting a data revolution: This is the key to ensuring that interventions target the poor and most vulnerable and marginalized communities and regions. Governments need solid baseline data and integrated data sources, and to explore citizen-generated data to supplement national statistics; link evidence-based policy planning to financing the SDGs; and use data from the private sector, academia and civil society, particularly where indicators are not available from existing systems.
5. Generating the means to implement effective participation: We need to identify and foster new ways of working in multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, financial resources, expertise and technology. This includes allocating resources to strengthen capacities and support popular participation in the implementation of and follow-up to the 2030 Agenda at all levels. It also means exploring new financing approaches in collaboration with the private sector to meet the Goals’ vast and urgent investment needs.
6. Connecting interconnected agendas: The 2030 Agenda and the Goals cut across several interlinked challenges. Tackling climate change and achieving sustainable production and consumption patterns, for instance, are central to our achievement of the SDGs and can unlock vast potential economic growth in all regions and for all people. Peace and security are cornerstones of the 2030 Agenda, with the interrelation between security, humanitarian action and development being the very basis for the achievement of all SDGs.
The UN Secretary-General is currently leading a repositioning of the United Nations development system, following the recent agreement by UN Member States,8 which reinforces the focus of the work of the UN Resident Coordinators on sustainable development, with the eradication of poverty in all its forms and dimensions as its overarching objective.
We expect to see stronger UN country teams, aligned with national priorities, working in partnership with national Governments and acting as brokers of new and innovative partnerships with stakeholders from different sectors. People from all sectors must be active players if we expect to achieve the transformation we want by 2030.
- A/RES/70/1, para. 52. Available at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld.
- Ibid., Preamble.
- Afghanistan, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Botswana, Chile, Denmark, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Maldives, Nigeria, Thailand, Togo and Zimbabwe, as reported in their 2017 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). See details in United Nations, Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Synthesis of Voluntary National Reviews, 2017”, February 2018. Available at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/17109Synthesis_R....
- Argentina, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Guatemala, India, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Maldives, Netherlands (including Aruba and St Maarten), Nigeria, Togo, Zimbabwe, as reported in their 2017 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). See details in United Nations, Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Synthesis of Voluntary National Reviews, 2017”.
- Aruba, Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Maldives, St Maarten, Sweden and Zimbabwe, as reported in their 2017 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). See details in United Nations, Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Synthesis of Voluntary National Reviews, 2017”.
- On the occasion of the 2016 high-level political forum on sustainable development, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) co-organizing the SDGs Learning, Training and Practice sessions. Available at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/hlpf/SDGsLearning.
- United Nations Population Fund, “The power of 1,8 billion: Adolescents, youth and the transformation of the future”, State of the World Population 2014 (New York, 2014). Available at https://eeca.unfpa.org/en/publications/state-world-population-2014-report.