Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development and Multi-stakeholder Involvement
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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In achieving the SDGs, countries and stakeholders need to ensure that efforts in one goal area are not undermined by policies or actions in other goal areas.

Strong leadership of government is not sufficient to ensure a coherent implementation of the SDGs; a wide range of stakeholders, and a shared understanding of the nature and benefits of the new agenda, are critical for building ownership and mobilising action.

Consultations helped to inform the SDGs and will help to ensure successful implementation, especially when engaging with those who are most vulnerable and risk being left behind.

With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, all UN Member States committed to “pursue policy coherence and an enabling environment for sustainable development at all levels and by all actors” (SDG 17.14).

The universal, integrated and transformative nature of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are broader and more ambitious than the MDGs: They combine the sustainability agenda with inclusive growth and eradicating poverty; recognise the importance of good policies and institutions in addition to sustainable finance; and stress the need to involve all stakeholders and adopt a “whole-of-society” approach for implementation. In achieving the SDGs, countries and stakeholders need to ensure that efforts in one goal area are not undermined by policies or actions in other goal areas. For example, efforts to increase the share of renewable energy (SDG target 7.2) could potentially undermine progress to end hunger (SDG target 2.1) if food crops and biofuel production compete for the same land and water resources. Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development (PCSD) can inform decision-making to avoid unintended consequences, and help capitalise on synergies among SDGs and targets, between different sectoral policies, and between diverse actions at the local, regional, national and international levels.

The effective achievement of the SDGs entails trade-offs among economic, social and environmental objectives and value judgments which cannot be determined by governments alone. While essential, the strong leadership role of government is not sufficient to ensure a coherent implementation of the SDGs. The engagement of a wide range of stakeholders, and a shared understanding of the nature and benefits of the new agenda, are critical for building ownership and mobilising action. This means working with national and local government representatives, civil society, the business sector, faith-based groups and representatives from academia and science. Collectively they can identify common challenges, set priorities, align policies and actions, and mobilise resources for sustainable development.

Why is this so important? Consultations helped to inform the SDGs and will help to ensure successful implementation, especially when engaging with those who are most vulnerable and risk being left behind. Cities and local governments can provide an important conduit from the national level to local citizens and community groups. They can generate and compile data and provide a space for innovation and new approaches. Academia can provide evidence, identify best practice and raise public awareness. The private sector can help mobilise finance and technical assistance through partnerships. Collaboration with the private sector is particularly important for progress on sustainable production and consumption patterns. Companies that are already active with sustainability initiatives include Ikea, Unilever, Nestle, H&M, Philips and others. They recognise that business cannot succeed long term if society fails, and if natural resources are depleted. The role of civil society is also key. They understand the needs of under-represented communities and regions, help ensure government accountability to deliver, and maintain pressure on the private sector to engage in more responsible business practices.

This multi-stakeholder engagement is essential in light of the long-term nature of the SDG Agenda, which needs to transcend partisan politics and electoral cycles, and steer the country to success by 2030. One interesting example of stakeholder engagement is “The Finland We Want by 2050 – Society’s Commitment to Sustainable Development”. This initiative brings together government leaders and representatives from local communities, the social partners and civil society organisations to agree on a long term vision and commit to action programmes. Other advanced and developing countries are taking similar initiatives to engage civil society more formally. Dialogue with civil society cannot be a one-off event. It must be sustained to ensure real transformation as called for by the 2030 Agenda.

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