193 Nations, 17 Global Goals, 1,000 days: What have the politicians done since the adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals?

The quick answer is – not enough. The Sustainian has closely assessed 21 sub-regions including all the 193 countries that signed the agreement back in September 2015. And none of the regions are currently on track to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

1,000. That is the number of days that have passed, since 193 countries agreed on a set of development goals of world historical ambition and scale. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with their 169 targets was conceived as the guidelines to be followed by political institutions and business so that by 2030 they should have among others eradicated poverty, prevented catastrophic climate change and fought inequality- or in other words, brought the world community on track. It is also known as Agenda 2030.

“At present not a single one of the 193 member countries can be said to be progressing at the needed extent and speed.”

Now 1,000 days have passed, and the status of the political implementation required to drive the SDGs forward is dissatisfactory. In fact, at present not a single one of the 193 member countries can be said to be progressing at the needed extent and speed. Nowhere have the political leaders set up the necessary visions, strategies and political frameworks to keep our world on track. Consequently, fulfilling the SDGs by 2030 seems far away – and so does the estimated annual $12 trillion new market opportunities for businesses across the globe.

This is the gloomy but clear conclusion from The Sustainian’s analysis of the political state of affairs – the actions made by and planned by the politicians – in 21 different subregions throughout the last 1,000 days.

In total 16 subregions are currently following a more or less business as usual-track or some have even moved backwards not really taking the SDGs into consideration at all. 5 of the subregions have seen some political action towards fulfilling the SDGs, but the speed and the extent is still far from enough. Not a single subregion has sufficiently embraced the SDGs.

We digested over 70 reports and 47 Voluntary National Reviews, conducting several macro- and micro analyses to assess the status of implementation and political climate across 21 subregions. We rated each subregion by its focus on and implementation of the needed political framework to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The following 21 subregions have been assessed:

The analysis paints a picture of a world where political commitment has simply failed. No doubt that the reasons are many and diverse – for some regions the SDGs are simply not a political bestseller, for many other regions the institutional framework is not sufficiently aligned with the ambitions of the SDGs, and others cannot attract the investments required to propel development in the right direction. But despite the various reasons, they all tell the same story – we simply lack the political will when it comes to delivering on the SDGs.

This is very bad news for the 17 Global Goals. As national and regional political frameworks are the linchpins to facilitate the successful fulfillment of the SDGs. Politicians must establish the enabling framework, formulate new regulations and incentives and engage all stakeholders in the 2030 Agenda quest if the SDGs are to ever become more than just an airy vision.

In the beginning there were expectations…

There were handshakes, political toasts and applauses, when 193 countries agreed on the 17 SDGs back in September 2015. Prior to that, ongoing negotiations had run for three years engaging a 3.5 million multi-stakeholder group. The fact that all UN member countries signed the same agreement was victorious for international politics and development. And from many sides the expectations were high.

“We are just at the beginning of a hopefully very great process. It’s extraordinary, it’s historic, that 193 countries can agree on this really transformative, revolutionary agenda,” said the former chair of the UN Assembly Mogens Lykketoft. And Ban Ki Moon said speaking to the press after the adoption of the targets: “These goals are a blueprint for a better future”.

“The vision is bigger than ever before.”

Not only from the UN were the new SDGs met with enthusiasm. Pope Francis welcomed the 2030 Agenda as “an important sign of hope” when he gave his speech at the United Nations General Assembly. Nick Thompson, CEO of the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) said that the SDGs marked “the end of the beginning for a new era of development. The vision is bigger than ever before”.

Some are moving ahead

Looking at the last 1,000 days, some of the subregions have been and are currently taking important steps forward. Northern Europe is not surprisingly among the high-end achievers when it comes to political initiatives driving the SDGs forward, but across the region there is still a need to tackle the fact that Europe and the Nordic European countries remain some of the most resource consuming regions in the world. And despite a growing use of renewables, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway still lack the political focus and political decisions needed to drastically limit the region’s negative effect on the climate.

China has also taken political lead in many ways. In 2016 China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released its national plan for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, outlining an overall approach and implementation for each goal and target of the Sustainable Development Goals, transforming them into “action plans”. Furthermore China also became one of the first 22 countries to present a voluntary national review of efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda. But despite growing political focus on the SDGs, China is still lagging behind when it comes to corruption, human rights, climate change and health.

“This is all good and needed actions, but despite different political initiatives, none of the countries mentioned above can proclaim that they are on the right political course to achieve the goals set forth in the 2030 Agenda.”

Another example is Kenya which has taken steps to incorporate the SDGs into national policies and developed a roadmap for implementation. Kenya’s efforts to mainstream the SDGs in policy and planning includes integration through Performance Contracts and Strategic Plans for ministries, departments and agencies. Kenya has also developed a SDG Roadmap to guide the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (the eight UN development goals for the year 2015 that had been established in 2000) to the SDGs in consultation with national and local government, civil society and development partners. For example the roadmap focuses on: stakeholder mapping and establishing partnerships, mainstreaming and accelerating implementation, resource mobilization, tracking and reporting, and capacity building.

This is all good and needed actions, but despite different political initiatives, none of the countries mentioned above can proclaim that they are on the right political course to achieve the goals set forth in the 2030 Agenda.

Business-as-usual still prevails

For the vast majority of subregions it is still more or less business-as-usual that prevails. Looking at the majority of countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and most of Asia, a lack of attention in terms of political and governmental impetus on the SDGs in policy and political agendas is a common denominator.

One clear example is that only 47 or a little more than a quarter of all member states released the so called Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) for SDG implementation at the UN High Level Political Forum back in July. VNRs are an important part of the follow‐up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They allow the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with insights on how to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

We have also witnessed political decisions working against the SDGs. One of the biggest setbacks was June 1st last year, when President Trump withdrew from the Paris Accord in the name of putting “America first”.

Wanted: Strong political leadership

When the 17 goals was launched, Former President of the UN General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft predicted that making governments commit would be the hardest challenge for the SDGs: “There’s a huge work to do about the implementation of the SDGs. Ensuring governments make their national plans, make them accountable,” he said.

The last 1,000 days show how right he was. A line of recent reports and analysis have documented that we are not on track when it comes to almost all of the 17 Global Goals. But fortunately, many of the same reports have also concluded that there is still time and that the 2030 Agenda is still realistic.

Political will is an absolute precondition to this. Politicians and governments across the globe have to step up and make it their pivotal job to make up for the backlog of the past 1,000 days – and reinforce their commitment by ensuring that the reforms, regulations and incentives that can deliver the SDGs are in place. They need to make sure that the SDGs are integrated more systemically into the policy-making, catalyze new markets, establish and engage in cross-sector partnership, and develop a  roadmap to accelerate  implementation. And they need to measure their progress.

Only by doing this can we  ensure that come the next 1,000 days, will we be able to tell the story that the world is back on track.