Country progress on putting the sustainable development goals into action

Blogs, 23 June 2016

The 21st Poverty Environment Partnership (PEP) meeting, held earlier this month by IIED and partners, focused on putting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into action. 

2015 was a critical year in the poverty and environment arena, with a number of major global agreements sealed, including the signing of the SDGs. 

These aspirational goals link poverty, environment and climate and could change the lives of citizens across the world. But implementation will not be easy and, as the meeting heard, bring challenges as well as opportunities.

The PEP was set up at the 2002 Johannesburg Summit (Rio+10) and seeks to build a wider understanding of the relationship between poverty reduction, environmental management and climate change.

During the two-day meeting in Savar, in Bangladesh, participants discussed progress in putting the goals into practice. In a series of short video interviews, representatives from six developing country governments – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Mozambique, Nepal and the Philippines – shared their experiences of rolling out the sustainable development agenda in their countries.

Integration of SDGs into national government and political processes

For Jorge João Francisco Chindela from Mozambique's Ministry of Economy and Finance, putting the goals into action means first assessing where to channel efforts: "We are in the stage of filtering the 169 SDG targets, deciding which of these we will focus on."

According to Chindela, successful implementation hinges on integrating the SDGs at the national level. He explains how Mozambique's five-year national development plan – setting out how the sustainable development agenda will be delivered at country level – prioritises sustainable and transparent management of natural resources.

Chakrapani Sharma of Nepal's Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development agrees: "SDGs must be aligned with plans and programmes of central government and local government, and indicators determined by the country context."

Nurun Nahar of the Bangladeshi government's planning commission also sees translating the global goals to the national level as key to success. This requires strong governmental support: "In Bangladesh the goals have been given great importance from the highest level. The prime minister's office has formed a coordination committee, instructing ministries to give attention to SDG implementation.

"Being incorporated into annual performance plans means the goals will be a part of everybody's activities. Government ministries are owning this agenda from the start rather than later – that presents a big opportunity."

Phuntsho Wangyel of the Bhutanese Government's Gross National Happiness Commission explains how Bhutan is well positioned to integrate the SDGs into national plans: "We are fortunate enough to have existing processes and systems enabling the SDGs to be easily integrated into national objectives."

Addressing data gaps

Nahar raises the importance of robust data in measuring progress on achieving the SDGs but sees gaps in data as a potential sticking point. She explains how the Bangladeshi planning commission has carried out a data gap analysis to identify the data needed to monitor and track progress in implementation.

Phuntsho Wangyel of the Government of Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Commission Secretariat highlighted the need for reliable data and the challenges that brings. "I foresee a challenge with data and whether what we have is sufficient to measure the goal's indicators," he says.

Jocelyn Pendon of the Philippines Government Department of Finance suggests new tools and systems will help tackle data gaps: "The roll-out of environmental, national resource management and development tools in local government units could be a challenge. These tools are needed to provide accurate data to be used as a feedback mechanism for accurate policy making.

"But this is also an opportunity. Developing more information systems would help to interpret the links between poverty, climate and sustainability."

South-South and South-North cooperation

The PEP network places particular value on South-South and South-North learning and knowledge exchange as developing countries action these goals.

"We can take experience from others – and avoid their mistakes," says Wunna Aung of Myanmar's Ministry of Planning and Finance. "Myanmar depends heavily on natural resources for national income. The SDGs are a real opportunity to raise awareness among our people about natural resources and environment."

Sharing stories about what works, identifying knowledge gaps and sharing experiences will underpin successful SDG implementation.

Despite very different circumstances, countries are facing shared challenges and opportunities in SDG implementation. South-South and South-North partnerships are needed to learn from each other.

The Poverty Environment Partnership emerged energised from the Bangladesh meeting to deepen this South-South and South-North cooperation to put the Sustainable Development Goals into action.

Paul Steele (paul.steele@iied.org) is IIED's chief economist and PEP coordinator