By Forus, global civil society network 

Published last week, the Seventh Report on the Regional Progress and Challenges of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean shows slower progress compared to previous years. Globally, UN forecasts indicate that, with current trends, only 15% of the SDG targets will be met by 2030. In the region, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that 22% of the targets have already been met or will be met by 2030. As global challenges are on the rise, paradoxically, the importance of internationally agreed frameworks such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is increasingly questioned.

The current political climate in Latin America, marked by escalating geopolitical tensions, rising authoritarianism, and declining faith in multilateralism, poses a significant threat to the very fabric of international cooperation and solidarity. In Argentina, for example, the newly elected president Javier Milei announced his decision not to take a Voluntary National Review (VNR) in 2024, despite the previous administration’s commitment to do so. This shift reflects his stance of anti-progressivism and skepticism toward issues such as climate change, which he calls “another lie of socialism.” 

In Colombia, for the first time, the government has announced that in 2024 it will only review one goal – SDG 2 (zero hunger), raising questions about its commitment to, as well as the inclusion and representation of, other SDGs. As explained by the Confederación Colombiana de ONG (CCONG), civil society has called for transparency and meaningful participation, yet it continues to face challenges in accessing information and engaging with decision makers.

This approach is seen as symptomatic of a broader trend, where international agendas may not be a priority. Although there are potential areas of alignment between the SDGs and government programs, concerns persist about the narrow focus across the region. In fact, recent developments point to a worrying reversal of these commitments, especially in Latin America.

Changing context and challenges in SDG implementation in Latin America since 2015 

Since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, Latin America has faced significant transformations that complicate their implementation. In the political sphere, there has been a growing deinstitutionalization and tendencies towards authoritarianism. 

In Peru, Congress has modified norms to consolidate control and favor particular interests, moving away from democratic principles and the 2030 Agenda. In 2023, Peru’s Congress amended the existing forestry law to transfer authority over “permanent production” forests from the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Agrarian Development and Irrigation, thus facilitating deforestation to the detriment of the rights and protection of Indigenous Peoples and the environment. Peruvian President Dina Boluarte has also taken a hardline approach to protesters, describing them as terrorists.

Furthermore, across the region, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can still be felt. From the onset of the pandemic, the region experienced high infection and mortality rates, putting overwhelming pressure on health systems. Containment measures and border closures negatively affected local economies, exacerbating poverty and unemployment, further exposing deep social and economic inequalities in the region. 

“The complexity of today’s challenges, from the pandemic to emerging authoritarianism, underscores the urgency of adapting our strategy for the 2030 Agenda. Peru’s experience, with the significant and unexpected arrival of 1.2 million migrants mostly from Venezuela and the shortcomings exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrates the need for a rethink. We cannot ignore how these contextual changes impact our ability to implement the SDGs effectively,” says María Josefina Huamán Valladares, Executive Secretary of ANC – Asociación Nacional de Centros.

In Mexico, the process of civil society dialogue with the government in the framework of monitoring and promoting the 2030 Agenda is currently limited by the electoral situation, which imposes a “ban” on multistakeholder engagement between March and June 2024. Although civil society has a seat on the Monitoring and Strategy Committee, one of the four committees that make up the National Council of the 2030 Agenda, they have no access to information on the content of Mexico’s VNR and even less access to advocacy options and information. 

“Maintaining a direct dialogue with the government is crucial,” Miguel Santibañez from ACCIÓN – the Chilean Association of NGOs, explains, “as they have the greatest responsibility for implementing the 2030 Agenda.” ACCIÓN further highlights the importance of regional participation, as well as localization of the SDGs. However, failure to establish other national spaces for participation could fragment and weaken the impact of civil society. There is a need for continuous and effective dialogue with national institutions to avoid the atomization of their demands and ensure progress in achieving the SDGs. 

The crisis of commitment

Growing disenchantment with international institutions has exacerbated a broad crisis in political commitment to the 2030 Agenda. CIVICUS’ State of Civil Society Report 2024 paints a bleak picture of democracy around the world, with 72% of the world’s population living under authoritarian regimes.

Deinstitutionalization and manipulation of legal frameworks for anti-democratic purposes as can be seen across Latin America further undermine trust in international cooperation. This threatens the very foundations of the 2030 Agenda, with “conspiracy theories” discrediting the SDGs, the science, and the people behind them on the rise in recent years. Such attacks and narratives not only slow progress, but also jeopardize the future of multilateralism and global cooperation. 

“In the face of growing authoritarianism and rejection of multilateralism and democratic and egalitarian global governance, defending civil society spaces and advocating for the SDGs is more crucial than ever. Our commitment to these Goals reflects our commitment and dedication to democracy and sustainable development,” says Rolando Kandel, President of EENGD – Red Encuentro, the national civil society platform in Argentina. 

A renewed call for global solidarity and action 

Challenges posed by humanitarian crises such as mass migration, climate change, and conflicts have revealed critical flaws in health and social protection systems, highlighting the need for deep reforms beyond economic growth. But how do we achieve this in the current political landscape? Can we revitalize the multilateral system to be better positioned to positively impact people’s lives? 

Now more than ever, it is essential to strengthen confidence in multilateralism. This involves not only strengthening key UN mechanisms, such as the Security Council and the Peacebuilding Commission, but also ensuring that civil society is an integral part of governance processes. The upcoming Summit of the Future and negotiations for a Pact for the Future offer an opportunity to enhance cooperation on critical challenges, address gaps in global governance, and reaffirm existing commitments, including the SDGs. To reverse the current trajectory and deliver on the promises of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change, we must mobilize a renewed global commitment to the SDGs.

The recently released ‘Progressing National SDGs Implementation’ report underlines the need for ambitious action and inclusive partnerships to address gaps in progress. It reaffirms the critical role of governance, the involvement of civil society, and the principle of leaving no one behind in achieving sustainable development. Countries must adopt more ambitious and coherent policies to meet the SDGs, reflecting increased ambition. Progress must benefit everyone, particularly historically marginalized groups. Strengthening collaboration between governments, civil society, and the private sector is essential. Furthermore, improving data collection and monitoring systems is crucial to track progress accurately and address areas of concern. 

Governments must not only reaffirm their commitments, but also implement them transparently. The role of civil society in these processes should be expanded, ensuring that it can effectively contribute to and monitor progress towards the Global Goals.

The challenges we face are enormous, but not insurmountable. The time to act is now.

* * *

This article was written in partnership with several Forus members in Latin America – Red Encuentro, ANC, CCONG, ACCIÓN, and UnidOSC.