What are the SDGs?

In 1992, the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro was the start of many multilateral actions, including but not limited to the annual UN climate conferences. In 2012, the Rio+20 Summit came up with a new comprehensive action plan to make the world a better place through clear and practical measures for sustainable development. In 2015 world leaders agreed on the Agenda 2030 and on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets to get there. This global agenda succeeds the strictly development-focused scope of the Millennium Development Goals, which steered all development-related actions from 2000 to 2015. Between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2030, all countries have the duty to realise all 17 SDGs. But enforcement will depend on many factors, including the engagement of civil society.

Why do they exist?

Inequality is rising while critical ecosystems are in decline. The main social and environmental trends of the past few decades are unsustainable. If left unchecked, they will lead to the collapse of global society. The SDGs are the global crisis plan; the agreed, fair and green way out of the social and environmental mess that humanity has created over the past half century. The SDGs aim for a world where all humans can live well within planetary boundaries and they represent the largest global action plan by governments, who claim to strive for this end.

How can NGOs use the SDGs?

There is huge untapped potential on how NGOs could better follow the implementation of SDGs. For example, your proposal for a more environmentally and social-friendly alternative to policy decision X is likely to be aligned with your government’s obligation to meet target Y of Sustainable Development Goal Z. No matter which environmental and social issue you are dealing with, there is likely a target and/or an indicator that you can refer to when formulating demands to policymakers. Therefore, the SDGs are a useful global agenda to address a multitude of local and topical issues.

Who is responsible of the SDGs implementation at the EU level?

On top of all UN member states, the EU as political unit also signed up to the SDGs. Therefore, the EU makes its own action plans and has its own monitoring and review process. If you’re interested to work at the European level, the best way forward is to get in touch with SDGWatch Europe, the coalition of NGOs in Europe who follow this.

Why are 2018 and 2019 key SDG years for civil society organisations?

The review of progress on each of the 17 SDGs (and the potential to influence the agenda) is spread out over three years. Most of the SDGs linked to the environment will be reviewed at the HLPF in 2018, where the topic is ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies’. This includes a review of goals 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17. In 2019 the topic will be ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality’. Goals 4, 8, 10, 13, 16 and 17 will be reviewed.

What are the overarching benefits of SDG implementation?

Policy coherence – or the lack of it - is too often the elephant in the room. SDGs are a master plan that link up the different issues and silos most people work in to ensure that the sum of all policies is actually tak­ing us to a better place. The SDGs offer an oppor­tunity to confront national and European policy­makers with the need for policy coherence. That can shift us to a sustainable society that works for all. However, question marks can and should be raised over the coherence of the SDGs themselves. Is the aim to have an annual growth rate of real GDP per capita (8.1.1) compat­ible with reducing domestic material consumption (indicator 12.2.2)? Despite such questions, the chances are good that policy coherence of the SDGs is still ahead of policy coherence at national levels.

Who within the civil society mouvement will benefit from this online toolkit?

To encourage more engagement from civil society organisations with the SDGs, the EEB has created an online SDG toolkit  which will be useful for different aspects of NGOs’ work.
  • Policy: you want to learn who works on the SDGs in your country, which policy proposals exist already, or when the next big policy event takes place.
  • Communications & Press: you writ­e press releases or campaign messages and would like to link it to the relevant SDG, add some graphic content, or find some key so­cial media accounts.
    The SDG toolkit contains hundreds of policy papers, monitoring and review documents, SDG coalition websites, presentations, speaker bios, social media accounts, images, and many other resources. The site is easy to navigate as users can filter by region/country, by type of resource, or by SDG.