The Challenges and Opportunities of SDG Implementation
That led to some serious soul-searching, she said, about “who we were, what defines us, and what, exactly, is our DNA.”
The answer, Buijs-Glaudemans told the participants in the workshop From National SDG Commitment to Results, was agriculture and pharmaceuticals.
“We found out that this agriculture was our DNA: 70 percent of the city’s economy related to agriculture,” she said. She said officials started talking about helping to feed the world. “And then miraculously, two years later, the SDGs appeared. This is what we had been talking about. And we adopted them.”
Specifically, they adopted SDG 8 concerning Decent Work and Economic Growth — wherein the town would focus on restarting the economy in the hopes of creating a sustainable community — and SDG 2, Zero Hunger. “We thought about the most sustainable way of raising livestock. The world needs to be fed and there’s only one way: the global goals. We must work together.”
The Oss Municipality built a life science park that now employs 500 people and it invested in the pharmaceutical industry — an example of one local community’s efforts to implement the mutually beneficial SDGs.
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. “You get strong social resistance,” said Buijs-Glaudemans of what she faced in the municipality, which includes the cities of Tilburg, Eindhoven, Den Bosch and Breda, among others. “You have to inspire people. Sometimes we have to convince people what to do, we have to be a strong government. Educating people is important.”
In Algeria, the challenges to implementing the SDGs are different: the budgetary framework is the problem. “The current budgetary framework doesn’t give importance to the transparency and performance of the public policies and accountability,” said Abderrezak Sena of SAI Algeria. “But looking forward, reform is in the works to change that: a draft law was recently adopted by the council of ministers and will soon be submitted to parliament for discussion and adoption.”
Moderator Jeroen Doornbos of the Netherlands Court of Audit (NCA) tasked the participants with providing a post-it version of both a challenge and an opportunity each faces.
Renske Steenbergen of VNG International said that while there is a lot of attention to SDGs in the Netherlands, a national strategy is lacking. “Local governments look towards the national government,” she said. “But if it’s not there, if there’s a lack of political will to define national ambition, it’s a big challenge for us all to achieve the goals.”
Challenges from some of the Arab country participants include a lack of expertise in dealing with various stakeholders. “The challenges for SDG accountability in the Arab world is a problem with the credible, reliable and measurable indicators and data that are needed to produce credible reports,” said Abdel Elabassi of the NCA.
But when it came to opportunities, the participants weren’t lacking in ideas. Elabassi said: “The more possibilities for transparency, the more opportunity we have to hold governments more accountable for implementing the SDGs.”
Mark Smolenaars, director of the NCA, pointed to Wales, where the government has codified into law the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015, which holds pubic bodies accountable for making sure their SDG goals are being met. “That could be an opportunity for us,” he said. “It’s a challenge to get accountability into the law. But if it is in the law, you can audit it.”
Clear-cut indicators are also needed, said several participants from the Arab world, to help measure successes and failures. While the Netherlands has much research that can be used for accountability, Joost Hofwegen, formerly of the Finance Ministry but now director of the NCA, said his concern is that much of this information isn’t being used by Parliament. “It’s about our future, the most important thing in human life,” he said, “and there are no questions being asked about it. Maybe politicians are more interested in daily business.”
Jeroen Doornbos floated the idea that SDG commitments be included in national budgets, something the Dutch finance minister has said is not now on the table. “As the Netherlands Court of Audit, we should push for integrated SDGs in the budget cycle,” said Hofwegen.
Peggy van Vliet, a policymaker from Oss, pointed out the importance of SAIs to government officials’ work. She cited a shocking statistic for the wealthy Netherlands: one out of 12 school children in the Oss municipality—that’s two to three children per classroom—can’t afford a daily hot meal. “The SAIs and their data help you focus,” said van Vliet. “They can direct you to what is important, not what you think is important.”