Jump-starting the SDGs: Germany and Brazil take on early action

The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent the boldest collective effort in the history of humankind to improve the well-being of citizens while respecting Earth’s natural limits. Advancing sustainable development worldwide now has a roadmap: implementing the 17 SDGs until the 2030 deadline is the path to transform development and build a better world for all.

Following the endorsement by all 193 Member States of the United Nations at the 70th session of the General Assembly, the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs came into effect on 1 January 2016 as a universal platform to guide all countries, both industrialized and developing nations. Such a universal character has the potential of blurring traditional North-South divisions, uniting countries under a common determination to transform development towards sustainability. An outstanding example of the 2030 Agenda’s impact in rethinking old North-South relations is the emerging collaboration between Brazil and Germany for early implementation of the SDGs.

Brazil, the host of the Earth Summit of 1992 and the historic Rio+ 20 Conference of 2012, which set forth the proposals and multilateral discussions on universal goals for sustainable development, has shown determination and action in advancing a bold agenda that is inclusive and leaves no one behind. Brazil’s successes in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and also setting its own, more ambitious targets has granted legitimacy as an influential global player in sustainable development. Since the MDG adoption in September 2000, over 36 million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in Brazil, which has also managed to reduce child mortality and improve access to education well before the deadline established by the UN. These remarkable achievements in the social area took place at the same time Brazil cut down deforestation in the Amazon by 80%, reducing greenhouse gas emissions*.

While Brazil has advanced significantly towards sustainable development, Germany consolidated its very high human development status and also expanded its efforts to bring about worldwide change and transformation for sustainable development. Germany’s domestic successes, such as by increasing life expectancy by 7.9 years and the GNI per capita by 71.1 per cent from 1980 to 2014, were also accompanied by greater engagement as a global powerhouse in international development cooperation.

Following the adoption of the SDGs in September 2015, both Brazil and Germany committed to build on the positive momentum for sustainable development to spur both domestic and global action for the SDGs as First Movers.  For instance, Germany is working closely with civil society and the private sector to build a comprehensive SDG strategy.  With a focus on means of implementation, the strategy is soon to be submitted to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. Brazil is also working quickly to advance SDG localization and to build solid statistical frameworks to orient implementation. An example in this regard is the successful operation of the Inter-ministerial Working Group on Post-2015, assembling 27 different government departments and structures to work in a coherent manner. Brazil’s cutting-edge statistical capacities are similarly being put to the task of national and global SDG implementation. The national statistics office, IBGE, founded over 80 years ago, is now serving as Chair of the UN Statistical Commission after playing a leading role in the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs).

Besides their own domestic SDG agendas, Brazil and Germany are both taking additional action in promoting early implementation beyond their boundaries. For example, the Rio-based UNDP World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+ Centre), a legacy of the Rio+ 20 Conference, has been working actively with Brazil and the global community to inspire and inform policies and practices that lead to greater social, environmental and economic justice, as the foundation for sustainable development. Germany has recently hosted the first-ever SDG implementation conference, the “Jump-starting the SDGs in Germany”, which was held in Berlin on 2-4 May, and brought together 330 participants around key issues at both the domestic and global agendas.

The “Jump-starting the SDGs” conference stimulated dialogue and action in Germany on the SDGs, discussing the country’s responsibilities within the context of a universal agenda, including how its domestic policies might affect the ability of other countries to achieve the Global Goals. The conference was organized by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IAAS), and cohosted by the RIO+ Centre, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), Germanwatch, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Germany (SDSN), Fachagentur Nachwaschsend Rohstoffe/Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR) and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

This major event gave a particular focus to structural issues related to implementing the SDGs and transforming the current development path, such as natural resource management and sustainable consumption and production patterns. Germany’s Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, Christian Schmidt, delivered the keynote speech at the conference high-level policy segment, emphasizing that the “2030 Agenda holds every country, company and individual responsible for implementation** and that Germany intends to pioneer SDG implementation.

Some highlights from the RIO+ Centre’s participation in the “Jump-starting the SDGs” conference include the following:

Credits: IISD Reporting Services

Romulo Paes de Sousa. Credits: IISD Reporting Services

Romulo Paes de Sousa, director of the RIO+ Centre, underscored that the main drivers to achieve the transformational change that the 2030 Agenda requires are the customers, voters and citizens. He said that, in the case of Brazil, civil society organizations and citizens will be the decisive players for successful SDG advocacy and implementation. He also brought up the issues of strengthening national legal frameworks; aligning planning processes; facilitating policy coherence across different government levels.

Layla Saad, deputy director of the RIO+ Centre, brought to the conference the discussion on participatory and review mechanisms for SDG implementation, with a particular focus on inequalities of power, information or understanding; lack of participation of women and youth; and insufficient integration of citizens’ inputs into decision making. She also presented successful institutional innovations from Brazil that proved effective in delivering results on the ground, such as the  Brazilian National Council on Food and Nutrition Security, which seeks to address power imbalances by involving civil society, and also the Food Procurement Programme (PAA), an innovative approach to support the productive inclusion of smallholder farmers while improving the quality of the government school feeding programme by using locally produced products.

IISD Reporting Services

Layla Saad. Credits: IISD Reporting Services

The RIO+ Centre presented in  several sessions, including the Policy Dialogue Forums and the segment from the “First Movers” Initiative, an effort launched by Sweden at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly with Brazil and Germany as members. The RIO+ Centre also joined Germany and other organizers in delivering the closing remarks of the conference, which opened up new possibilities to further broad-based collaboration and unite forces to advance implementation.  For instance, planned events include a global land and sustainability symposium in Rio de Janeiro, building on the successful partnership between the RIO+ Centre and Germany’s Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the organization of the Global Soil Week of April-May 2015.

Further information:

Summary report of “Jump-Starting the SDGs in Germany” by the IISD Reporting Services 


* Millennium Development Goals Report 2015, UNDP. Available here.

** SDGs Bulletin by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) Reporting Services, Volume 208, Number 15. Available here.

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