Assessing the SDGs one year down the road (Part 2)

Last week, in the first part of this two-series article, we looked at the historical context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their rationale, grounding them on the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the renewed resolve on the part of the global community to collectively confront both longstanding and emerging development challenges being faced by nations across the globe.

Last week, in the first part of this two-series article, we looked at the historical context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their rationale, grounding them on the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the renewed resolve on the part of the global community to collectively confront both longstanding and emerging development challenges being faced by nations across the globe.

There was consensus that building an all-inclusive, sustainable, prosperous, secure and peaceful planet would be critical for attaining these underlying objectives of the SDG agenda.

 

In this second part, we will assess the progress that has been made globally and by Rwanda in particular, over the past year towards laying down or reinforcing the foundations for effective and accelerated implementation of SDGs.

 

There has been broad agreement that the SDGs constitute a highly ambitious but desirable global development agenda as they fully embrace the principles of universality (meaning they concern all the countries and people of the world, and not just the developing world as it was in the case of the MDGs), inclusiveness ( strong determination to decisively address growing inequalities and persisting poverty in most parts of the world, thereby leaving no one behind) as well as sustainability (with a fresh impetus on the part of the world’s leaders and people to effectively confront new development challenges that threaten our planet, notably  climate change, environmental deterioration, extremism and emerging dangerous diseases).

 

Crucially, it was also agreed that all these important objectives cannot be achieved without a stable and peaceful world, where human rights are also meticulously adhered to.

This is why unlike the MDGs, the issues of governance, peace, justice and human rights are not treated as a separate agenda but rather as integral elements of the SDGs, as underscored by SDG 16.

SDG 16 “aims at promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.

Are SDGs attainable?

From the foregoing, it is indisputable that the SDG agenda does offer the majority of the global population the potential for leading more prosperous, healthy, fulfilled, productive and secure lives, far more than the MDGs.

But undoubtedly, the actual realisation of these potentials lies in effective and timely implementation of all the goals, and not just a few.

It is also evident that this would be challenging for most countries, especially in the developing world. And indeed, many observers and analysts have already started casting doubts on the feasibility of the majority of countries to successfully move from the “colourful signing ceremony” of the SDGs in New York on September 25, 2015 to their effective implementation at the country and regional levels. 

First of all, the sheer ambition and breath of the Goals, combined with the principles of equality, inclusivity and benevolence (but not charity) that underpin them require sustained high level political commitment and leadership at not only the national level but at continental and regional levels as well as.

Could such critical enabling conditions be sustained in the Africa region throughout the implementation of the SDGs?

Secondly, national parliaments will have to progressively strengthen their oversight functions to contribute to the maintenance of high level commitment on the part of the Executive Branch of Governments to effective implementation of the SDGs.

Thirdly, the high number of the goals, their targets and indicators (17 goals as opposed to 8 for the MDGs, 169 targets as opposed to 18 for the MDGs and over 300 indicators as opposed to 48 for the MDGs) would require strong public administration institutions, at both central and local levels,  overseeing robust and integrated planning processes and sophisticated monitoring systems and mechanisms, probably possessed by only a few developing and emerging countries.

Fourthly, a balanced and steady implementation of the goals will critically require full and sustained mobilization of populations and all the other stakeholders, notably the private sector, foundations and NGOs, many of which had played only marginal roles in the case of MDGs.

Fifthly, universal implementation of the SDGs would require huge volumes of funding.

Given the declining ODA flows to most developing countries, and continued difficult global economic environment, this implies herculean efforts at domestic resource mobilization, significant reduction of illegal financial flows, export expansion and attraction of much higher levels of private capital inflows than appear feasible in the near horizon. For instance, many studies indicate that implementation of the SDGs will require trillions of dollars.

But despite these challenges, we believe that even most developing countries do stand real chances of making significant progress towards all the SDGs. It should be remembered that the time frame for implementing the goals is 15 years, which span three medium-term planning periods.

The implementation of the goals will necessarily be done in a phased manner and effective planning processes, backed by strong and sustained political commitment, could allow many of the countries to overcome some of the challenges in the initial stages of SDG implementation and steadily build upon the progress they would be making.

Let us set this optimism about SDG implementation against what has happened so far over the past year, because as short as this period is, it could still allow us to have pointers about what could happen in the short to medium-term period.

What has been done so far?

Let’s start by reiterating the fundamental point we have already made that even though SDGs constitute a global agenda, their successful implementation could ultimately be only attained at the country level. This is why the UN system stresses the effective “SDGs domestication process”.

This implies that the critical starting point for effective SDG implementation is the “integration of the Goals into the long-term vision documents and mid-term development plans and strategies.(UNDG, 2016).

Right after the adoption of the SDGs last year, the UN System put in place a framework and a number of mechanisims for supporting countries to domesticate the SDGs through the ‘Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support’ (MAPS), which is the UN common approach to supporting countries with SDGs implementation.

It is also important to note right from the outset that since African countries have committed to implement Agenda 2063, the continental agenda developed under the leadership of the AU, it is important that the process of domestication of the continental agenda is carried out in conjunction with the domestication of the global agenda/SDGs (UNDG).

This will allow for sustained collective approach and push for SDG implementation in the continent.

At the global level, the countries that have made the earliest start at SDG domestication process include the following: Bhutan, Botswana, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Georgia, Honduras, Lebanon, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Tonga and Uganda.

Subsequently, other countries joined this first set in the course of the year, notablyCape Verde, Liberia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mauritania, Tukmenistan, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. No doubt, there are others, but these are the countries that have stood out in the SDG domestication process so far.

A further review of their experiences indicate that virtually all of them have, or are, following the below SDG domestication steps laid down by the UN Development Group with agreement with UN member countries:

·        Building awareness is critical for the successful implementation of the SDGs. This means reaching out to all stakeholders with information that is tailored to their specific functions, roles, and responsibilities. Awareness and a shared understanding of the SDGs is critical as it helps to build national buy-in, ownership and promotes strong stakeholders’ engagement.

·        Engaging stakeholders - The effective implementation of the SDGs calls for the engagement of all parts of society. Engaging civil society, Parliaments, think tanks, the private sector, workers’ and employers’ organisations, the media, and others, in planning, policy development, implementation and monitoring processes is critical for accountability and to increase the quality of plans and policies, their impact and legitimacy.

·        Adapting the SDGs to the national/sub-national context and integrating them into national, sub-national development visions and plans: the SDGs and targets are aspirational and global in nature; a critical initial step for adapting them to the national context and is their integration into national and sub-national visions and plans, backed by appropriate sectoral policies and strategies; and national targets are set on the basis of national circumstances (initial conditions for instance) and guided by the global level of ambition.

·        Translating SDGs priorities into budgets: the effective implementation of the SDGs hinges on, amongst other things, adequately resourced national development plans. This calls for countries’ capacity to mobilise resources – domestic, international, private and public – and to align annual and medium-term budgets with the ambitions articulated in national development plans.

·        Ensuring horizontal policy coherence: realising sustainable development calls for developing policies that concomitantly promote socio-economic development and environmental sustainability. This requires an understanding of the interlinkages across sectors and the management of trade-offs. Effective horizontal coordination mechanisms ( as recently stressed by President Paul Kagame) help to address these challenges and ensure inter-sectoral policy coherence.

·        Ensuring vertical (national – local) policy coherence - Vertical coordination is also critical to ensure policy coherence across different levels of governments (national, sub-national and local).

·        Monitoring, reporting and accountability: the 2030 Agenda’s principle of ‘leaving no one behind’ calls for investing in integrated, inclusive and participatory statistical systems and data collection and analysis, to monitor progress towards the SDGs and ensure accountability, with the engagement of citizens, parliaments and other national stakeholders.

·        Assessing risk and fostering adaptability will be a critical part of achieving the SDGs. Additionally, careful reflection of lessons learned during the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and making timely course corrections along the way, are integral to effective follow-up and review.

·         As with the MDGs, Rwanda is already among countries that are taking decisive steps towards effective SDG domestication and implementation. It played an active role in the shaping of the post-2015 agenda, both indirectly through the World We Want Survey, and directly through contributing to the shaping of the goals, targets and indicators such as Goal 16.

Since the introduction of the SDGs in September 2015, President Kagame has formally and publicly committed his strong commitment to their full implementation; first, at the launching ceremony of EICV 4 in September 2015 and the National Dialogue in December 2015, where all the country’s leaders and key stakeholders were present.

Many national awareness campaigns have also been carried out, notably by Parliamentarians, the network of national and international networks, international organisations and various women and youth groups.

With support from the One UN Rwanda Team, The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning has conducted a first indicator gap analysis, which assess the extent to which the agreed upon targets and indicators are already present within the overall and sectoral development strategies.

The result that emerged from this analysis indicates that already two-thirds of them have been taken care of in such strategic frameworks, which is quite encouraging regarding the feasibility of full SDG implementation in the country.

Many of the various sector Ministries are also taking decisive steps through the various sector working groups towards SDG domestication. The Government is actively working towards the formulation of EDPRS 3 and Vision 2050, that will ultimately bring all these processes under a formidable and coherent national short-, medium- and long-term planning frameworks, thereby guaranteeing success in SDGs attainment.

Conclusion

From the foregoing review of the SDG implementation so far across the world, it is evident that a significant number of countries, including Rwanda, have adopted “a can do” posture towards the SDGs agenda and have, or are, already accordingly taking decisive steps towards their realization, first through initial critical steps towards SDG domestication and then laying foundations for their effective implementation. We have also seen that for the international community, particularly those charged with playing a direct supporting role, such as the UN system, the idea is not for the SDGs to supplant national development agendas and planning processes, but rather for them to be fully integrated within on-going or prospective medium and long-term national development frameworks. This is a critical pre-condition for successful SDG implementation all countries.

Again no words summarise better what could be expected from Rwanda and what is generally feasible across Africa regarding SDG implementation with strong and committed leadership than those uttered by President Kagame, when he reassured that: “As we take another step forward into a new future of SDGs, we take strength from our experience. We know that we have what it takes to succeed from our experiences. We know that we have what it takes to succeed when we work together…we hope and work towards a future for Rwanda where we will look back at the end of the SDGs with pride knowing fully well that indeed no Rwandan was left behind”.

It is this can do spirit that will ensure that  comprehensive and effective implementation of the SDGs will contribute significantly to rendering the 21st Century the Century of Humanity in general and for Africa in particular.

The One UN Rwanda Team, together with the development Partner community as a whole stand ready to step up their multi-faceted support to Rwanda’s efforts towards fully realizing the SDGs.

The writer is the One UN Rwanda Resident Coordinator.

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