SDGs: are we Ready for Change?

According to the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should focus on the ‘poorest of the poor’ and assessments of the impact of all new policy measures on the SDGs should be undertaken. These are but a few of the take-aways of the ‘Ready for Change?’ conference, which was held on 19 May 2016 in Science Center NEMO in Amsterdam. After the presentation of the ‘Ready for Change?’ publication , the implementation of the goals was discussed by an expert panel. Eight different SDG themes were tackled during the afternoon workshop programme, after which the conference was closed by an interview on the political dimension of the SDGs.

Partos Executive Director Bart Romijn, who opened the conference, emphasised that the SDGs should be more than a ‘paper tiger’ and should lead to a mind-set change in all policy areas. On behalf of minister Ploumen and the entire Dutch government, Christiaan Rebergen, Director-General of the International Cooperation department of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was present to receive the ‘Ready for Change?’ publication from Mr. Romijn. In order to underline the universal and holistic approach of the SDGs, Romijn handed over no less than thirteen copies of the ‘Ready for Change?’ publication to Mr. Rebergen, one for each minister in the Dutch government.

The ‘Ready for Change?’ publication shows that the EU and the Netherlands need to substantially change their policies in order to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Responding to the publication, Christiaan Rebergen described some of the dilemmas the SDGs bring with them. For example, forest conservation may be beneficial to environmental goals, but can also prevent agricultural development and food security targets. In all of these complex trade-offs, the interests of the ‘poorest of the poor’ should prevail, according to Mr. Rebergen. For this reason, the impact of new government policies and projects on developing countries must be assessed. Mr. Rebergen specifically mentioned the impact of new trade agreements on the ‘poorest of the poor’ in this regard.

Stephen Chacha, who is involved in the Africa CSO Working Group on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, also mentioned the importance of a shift in mindset, in both developing and developed countries. The SDGs are ‘a matter of life and death’, according to Chacha, as they aim to end poverty and hunger. Following these two speeches, Chacha joined the panel discussion with Ebba Dohlman (OECD), Carsten Sørensen (European Commission), Hugo von Meijenfeldt (Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Laura Sullivan (CONCORD). The panel highlighted the importance of Policy Coherence for (Sustainable) Development, which has also been included in the SDGs. It was suggested that the SDGs are the responsibility of the whole Council of Ministers, instead of one or a number of specific minister(s). Questions from the audience covered, amongst other topics, the involvement of young people in the implementation of the SDGs and the gender dimension of the goals.

After lunch, the participants convened in small groups for workshop sessions on themes such as tax, migration and multi-stakeholder partnerships. The political dimension of the SDGs was explored during the closing interview with the Dutch members of parliament Elbert Dijkgraaf (SGP) and Roelof van Laar (Labour Party/PvdA). Van Laar pointed out that the universality of the SDGs poses a huge challenge to the fragmented and vertical organisation of ministries and governments. The role of politicians and NGOs to draw attention to the most pressing issues is therefore crucial, according to Van Laar. Similar to the idea raised in the minister’s speech, Van Laar and Dijkgraaf proposed the legal obligation of sustainable development impact assessments to be carried out for each new law. Furthermore, Dijkgraaf stated that strong political commitment to the SDGs can only be achieved by influencing top-level decision makers. This is an important task for civil society, he said.

All in all, many aspects of the SDGs have been covered during the conference. Amongst other issues, the universal approach of the goals, the possibility of SDG impact assessments and the need for action ‘at home’ were strongly emphasised during the day. Furthermore, the participants were curious to see the SDG implementation plans of the Dutch government and the European Commission.

The conference is part of the ‘Ready for Change?’ project, which advocates for a coherent and ambitious implementation of the Global Goals at the Dutch and EU level. In addition to the conference and the report, the project also focuses on creating political momentum in the Dutch parliament and organising dialogues on specific SDG themes between relevant NGOs and civil servants. In the run-up to the conference and the publication, two meetings were held in The Hague, which were attended by NGO representatives, researchers and government officials. The Ready for Change? project is a collaborative effort of the Foundation Max van der Stoel, Woord en Daad and Partos (the Dutch development NGO association).

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