The shrinking space for civil society to act is jeopardizing the key role of these actors to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The shrinking space for civil society to act is jeopardizing the key role of these actors to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We cannot overlook the fact that civil society is under serious threat in many countries around the globe. The murder of Honduran human rights activist Berta Cáceres and South African civil society representative Sikhosiphi Rhadebe are, unfortunately, only the most recent terrifying examples. The passing of China’s foreign NGO management law restricting and further regulating the activities of foreign NGOs in the country is also a concerning recent development. The shrinking space for civil society is a general, very worrisome trend.
The text of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for the participation and inputs of civil society and other stakeholders in its implementation. It repeatedly frames the implementation of the Agenda in terms of partnerships between governments, the private sector, civil society, the UN system and other actors. This makes it very clear that national governments are not the only, or in some cases, primary drivers of transformation towards sustainable development, and those partnerships will be crucial to catalyze action. Strong participation of civil society in the implementation, follow-up and review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would represent a very welcome continuation of the inclusive character that defined the negotiations on the SDGs, dating back to the work by the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group (OWG) on the SDGs.
The inclusive character of the 2030 Agenda needs to translate from the global negotiations to the national and local implementation process. In particular, the adequate design of the follow-up and review process for the Agenda will be crucial to ensure the participation of civil society as well as to ensure that the process can benefit from their perspectives.
The case of the management and governance of natural resources helps to illustrate how civil society can play a key role in the review of progress towards the achievement of the Goals. Natural resources will underpin the achievement of several of the SDGs, but implementation of the SDGs will need to take into account that these resources are facing increasing and at times competing demands. Links to natural resources can be found throughout the SDGs. These resources support the Goals and targets related to poverty eradication, food security, climate change, and the protection of terrestrial ecosystems – just to name a few. In the process of reviewing progress on the SDGs from a natural resources perspective, measuring progress will only be part of the equation. The hefty list of over 200 indicators means that countries will face difficulties reporting on all of them, and will either prioritize or present partial pictures of the state of natural resources. For example, if we truly want to assess the state of land resources in an integrated way, we need to review the various demands arising from the implementation of the separate Goals, and we also need to address access to land resources by vulnerable groups. This integrated overview cannot be achieved only through statistical data on singular Goals, but requires a consultative process. For this process to be empowering and transformational, marginalized groups need to be in the position to make their claims heard. Examples from around the world show that it is civil society that is in the position to facilitate such processes.
For civil society to make the case for the need to change path or raise awareness on unsustainable policies and activities, it needs to have the necessary space to maneuver. A transformational 2030 Agenda needs to be human-rights based. Civil society actors need to be able to raise their concerns and hold governments and other actors accountable. From the point of view of jumpstarting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the need for support to civil society is even greater, as civil society must often urge governments to take action on the commitments they made in September 2015. Given the threats to civil society, an inclusive and participatory approach to implementing the SDGs will not come about without decisive and targeted support to civil society.
Together with partners, we are organizing the event ‘Jumpstarting the SDGs in Germany’ this week. In order to offer a space for civil society interaction on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, we have invited representatives from civil society and academia to interact with policy representatives in a conference aimed at jumpstarting the SDGs. A particular focus lies on organizations from nine countries that are part of the Swedish initiative of a High-level Group that has committed to implementing the SDGs “at all levels of society.” The initiative provides much welcomed leadership by example for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Decisive action to support and strengthen civil society should form part of the activities of these nine countries. We hope that the event will contribute to identifying the necessary measures and forging commitments to make them happen.
We will continue this debate during the European Development Days and ahead of the 2016 High-level Political Forum on sustainable development (HLPF) through a dedicated high-level event. If you would like to share your thoughts on this topic with us, we would be more than glad to learn so we can channel your considerations into these debates.
We are looking forward to this exchange!
For more information on the conference Jumpstarting the SDGs in Germany please visit: http://sdgsgermany.de/en
IISD RS coverage of the event: http://enb.iisd.org/sdgs/jump-starting-germany/
To engage in the discussions: @SDGingermany #jumpstartSDGs #2030Agenda #globalgoals