KATHMANDU, Nepal, Apr 18 (IPS) – The future we want was the groundbreaking outcome of the Rio+20 Summit, the summit, held in 2012, where the idea of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was first conceptualized.
In the midst of several unfolding global crises, where geopolitics intertwine with structural imbalances that jeopardize the long-term viability of planet Earth, isn’t it really time we got serious about our future?
Can the SDGs be transformed not only into a tool for global pressure and advocacy, but also into a planning tool that engages, mobilizes and empowers people? There is still so much to do and the levels of urgency cannot be greater.
According to the publication recently Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2023“the region will miss all or most of the targets of each goal unless efforts are accelerated by 2030”. Can localizing the SDGs in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere change the status quo?
In theory, the localization of targets can make a huge difference, but we need to ensure that such a process means the real involvement and commitment of citizens.
A recent posting workshop attempted to take stock following the Rio+20 Summit, the ultimate aim of which, twenty years after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, was to relaunch humanity’s commitment to another development model.
One of the key points that emerged from the event, which also saw the participation of Paula Caballeroone of the main architects of the SDGs, is the fact that these goals remain a powerful but generally non-leveraged tool for change.
While it is essential to mobilize more funding for their implementation, the Secretary General rightly pushes the idea of a SDG boost— a missed objective of seeing the SDGs as a tool to radically rethink the functioning of governance.
The best intentions and many, often overlapping, efforts currently in play in terms of localizing the SDGs do not even aim for such a scope of ambition. At best, localizing the SDGs is about planning local actions rather than new modes of governance.
Moreover, the UN is struggling to find anything effective at the operational level. For example, the Local platform 2030 still remains unfinished business despite its ambitious goals.
Yet, there is still much to be done for the Local2030 platform to become a catalyst for change. Unfortunately, we are still a long way from a global mechanism that can steer the goals in a way that people can use them as a tool for participation and genuine deliberation. The dispersed, fragmented and often inefficient way of functioning of the United Nations system is certainly not helping the cause.
A similar initiative, the SDG Acceleration Actionsis meant to be an accelerator for the implementation of the SDGs that is “undertaken voluntarily by governments and any other non-state actor – individually or in partnership”.
In the Asia-Pacific region, we can also find a new partnership, Asia-Pacific Partnership ESCAP-AfDB-UNDP SDGs primarily focused on creating research and disseminating knowledge.
As important as they are, these initiatives lack linkages and risk not only overlapping but also duplicating each other. Could local authorities do the work and truly democratize the SDGs?
These entities, both local and regional governments (LRG), have a huge role. For example, the United Cities and Local Governmentsa powerful Barcelona-based advocacy group, is undoubtedly breaking new ground in this direction.
Now with a much more user-friendly interface website and with a catchy new message, UCLG is a global force pushing hard towards empowering local governments and cities so they can truly take the lead on localizing the SDGs. UCLG also maintains the most up-to-date database on local efforts to implement the SDGs, the Global Observatory of Local Democracy and Decentralization or OR.
There are, for example, theVoluntary Subnational Reviews (VSR)seen as “national-level, bottom-up, sub-national reporting processes that provide both comprehensive and in-depth analyzes of the corresponding national environments for localizing the SDGs”.
Moreover, the Voluntary local reviews could be even more impactful tools as they assess how municipalities, large and small, are implementing the SDGs. In Japan, the Institute for Global Environmental StrategiesIGES, does a lot of work to also follow the implementation of the SDGs locally with its online site Voluntary local examination laboratory.
There is still a disconnect between all these initiatives despite the fact that UCLG has championed the Global Task Force of Local and Regional Governments. As an attempt to bring together a myriad of like-minded groups led by mayors and local governments around the world, it is a laudable undertaking.
If it is essential to create coherence and better synergies between what the UN is trying to do and the actions taken by mayors and governors globally in the field of localizing the SDGs. But it’s not enough. There is even a bigger and more disturbing disconnect.
Even if local authorities are truly given the means and powers to shape the conversation on the implementation of the SDGs and accompany it with actions on the ground, we risk forgetting those who should really be at the center of the debate. : the people.
Localizing the SDGs should really mean giving people the voice and the agency to express their opinions and ideas rather than becoming the exclusive fiefdom of local politicians.
Finding ways to enable and truly enable people to play a central role in the implementation of the SDGs involves rethinking old assumptions that local leaders, elected or not, have the exclusive prerogative of decision-making. It is fundamentally about reinventing local governance and making it work for and by citizens.
But that’s easier said than done!
It is a real headache because if it is certainly possible to imagine symbolic initiatives, all tainted with forms of false empowerment, it is quite different to imagine new forms of real bottom-up and inclusive governance essential to the achieving the SDGs.
The Global Platform in its Vision 2045 refers to genuine and best democratic practices guiding local government planning. What will they do to translate these words into concrete actions?
There are other ways to involve people in global discussions, but they are only symbolic. For example, ESCAP recently held its 10th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD).
It is an important event and the regional commission has strived to be more inclusive and each year the summit also counts with a Popular Forum and even a Youth Forum. The problem is that, although an integral part of the discussions, they are officially considered “associates and pre-events”.
Changing the protocol and the way the UN works is not easy, but why should we continue to keep such important commitments as mere “add ons”?
Even with the release of a full version Call to action by young people in the region before the APFSD summit, what real difference do their opinions and voices make? As simplistic as it sounds, much more should be done to make these conclaves truly inclusive, even if the real game won’t take place in these forums but at the local level.
This is where the challenge of localizing the SDGs must be won. This is where citizens really need to be heard and where their power must be exercised.
In imagining the future, what we really want is to put citizens at the center of it. And it is high time to really democratize the SDGs. After all, there is no better way to locate them.
Simone Galimberti is the co-founder of ENGAGE and Good Leadership, Good for You & Good for the Society.
The opinions expressed in this article are personal.
IPS United Nations Office
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