11 Leading Actions that Governments Can Take Now to Begin Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals

While the major transformations on the SDGs will not happen overnight, we are already seeing some signs of early progress from trailblazing countries.

By Madeleine Oliver for The UN Foundation.

There are many ways for governments to position themselves well to hit the ground running on January 1, 2016, and many governments have already taken concrete steps to put in place processes and mechanisms for implementation. The following examples are taken from a handful of countries and is not an exhaustive list to represent all the actions underway by many countries.

  1. Appoint a lead at the highest political level: In order for the SDGs to have political and public traction, be prioritized by all parts of the government, increase ownership, and increase the likelihood of a whole of government approach to implementation, it is valuable to drive and track SDG implementation in the Office of the President or Prime Minister.
  • Colombia has decided by Presidential decree to align their national development plan with the SDGs and ensure they are advancing the three pillars of sustainable development.
  • Mexico has a Technical Committee in the President’s Office to follow-up and monitor the MDGs. This Committee will be monitoring the SDGs.
  • The German Sustainable Development Strategy is implemented by the Federal Cabinet, the State Secretaries’ Committee for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Development Council and the Parliamentary Advisory Council.
  • Chad, through its Ministry of Planning, is considering establishing a structure, or coordination body under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s office, with the involvement of sectorial ministries, including the Ministry of Finance and Foreign Affairs. The body would consist of technical-level ‘focal points’ from line agencies (adaptation, trade, etc.), and will work closely with the business sector, civil societies and representatives of relevant UN system country offices. Chad may also appoint ‘focal points’ in key multilateral/bilateral missions and embassies.
  1. Integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into existing national plans: Integrating the SDGs into existing national plans can contextualize them to each country’s unique circumstances and provide a national framework for how each ministry plugs in and shares responsibilities.
  • Bangladesh has already identified nine of eleven goals in its 7th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) which are also reflected in the SDGs—the remaining two goals are embedded in the SDG targets but have been elevated as priorities based on Bangladesh’s national context.[1]
  • Colombia aligned its 2014-2018 National Plan of Development with many goals and targets.
  • Sweden will appoint a commission to facilitate the integration of the SDGs into a comprehensive national action plan and promote the exchange of information and knowledge between stakeholders. The commission will consult with 30-40 government agencies on how the SDGs fit into their respective fields.
  • Germany has started a process to align its National Sustainability Strategy to the Agenda 2030 goals and targets. The 2016 Progress Report on the Strategy will take the goals and targets in to account.
  1. Form inter-ministerial mechanisms: Inter-ministerial committees and task forces that bring together representatives from all relevant ministries can help ensure that all parts of government are engaged in and being proactive about implementation.
  • Colombia has formed a high-level commission to lead on SDG implementation, chaired by the national planning department with ministerial support from across the government and other sectors to produce an analysis of existing gaps on SDG implementation.
  • Germany has established an interministerial State Secretaries’ Committee for Sustainable Development chaired by the Head of the Federal Chancellery. The committee is in charge of the German National Sustainability Strategy. In 2016 the strategy will be updated to make it an essential framework for the implementation of the post-2015 agenda in Germany. The State Secretaries’ Committee is composed of all ministries’ State Secretaries to ensure that sustainable development is the guiding principle within all policy areas of the German Government. The implementation of the agenda takes place in a cross-cutting, cross-departmental manner.
  • Ghana established a high level inter-ministerial committee on SDG to ensure greater coordination among the state agencies for the intergovernmental negotiations as well as the implementation of the SDGs with sectoral groups working together to build synergies.
  • The United States formed an inter-agency process that includes agencies and departments that address both international and domestic issues to put in place the necessary policies and actions for SDG implementation. The inter-agency meetings are organized through the White House, and engage the National Security Council and Domestic Policy Council.
  1. Engage parliaments in implementation and policymaking: Engaging parliaments will be integral in leading on good policymaking to create an enabling environment for SDG implementation, including ensuring that adequate funding is earmarked to achieve the SDGs.
  • Pakistan has transitioned its parliamentary MDG task force to the SDGs and plans to strengthen the task force’s role and functions for SDG implementation.
  • Germany has formed a Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development to provide parliamentary support and evaluate the sustainability impact of federal government activity.
  1. Forge partnerships with civil society, the private sector and others to implement and monitor progress: Getting all parts of government and all stakeholders to pull in the same direction and exploit synergies can help ensure that the SDGs are truly transformative.
  • Colombia built a strong partnership between government, civil society and the international community on the MDGs and plans to do the same for the SDGs.
  • Denmark plans to explore where Danish institutions and policy-making can drive innovation and learning internationally.
  • Peru is building a system of participatory monitoring to ensure accountability at the national level and is proposing a decree to institutionalize follow-up on the SDGs.
  • Germany has established The German Council for Sustainable Development, consisting of outstanding personalities from business, trade unions, other nongovernmental organizations and academia appointed by the Federal Chancellor. The Council advises the government on sustainable development issues and contributes to improving and implementing the German Sustainable Development Strategy and the SDGs.
  • Ghana has launched a platform has been launched to promote collaboration and experience sharing among civil society organizations working on the SDGs. The platform has 18 clusters; one for each of the 17 goals and an additional one for advocacy on the SDGs.
  1. Make commitments on financing and means of implementation: Taking steps now to follow up on commitments made in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (Financing for Development conference) and means of implementation targets will help pave the way for early implementation.
  • Bangladesh has increased its rate of domestic resource mobilization by 18% over the last six years and plans to continue the trend.[2]
  • The Philippines Department of Budget and Management has included a line item in its national budget for SDG implementation.
  • Tanzania has decided to scale up its social safety net program by providing cash transfers to the poorest 4 million (amounting to 2.5% of its national budget).
  • The United States committed $50 million to the Global Financing Facility (GFF) to support the scaling up of national strategies and efforts to end preventable child and maternal deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.
  1. Map existing data and measurement capacity and putting systems in place: There is a need across all countries – developed and developing – to strengthen the quality, availability, accessibility and usability of data to implement and monitor the SDGs. Non-governmental sources of data also present unprecedented opportunities for SDG implementation and monitoring.
  • Denmark examined its capacity to measure progress on the SDGs using existing data and determined that currently approximately one-quarter of the targets could be measured, one-third could be measured with slight adjustments to existing data sets, and one-third would require new measurement systems.
  • Peru is building a system of participatory monitoring to ensure accountability.
  • The United States will expand the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) partnership; release new data sets on health, gender, climate resilience and governance; and invest in building capacity through “country data collaboratives”.
  1. Have the head of state or government speak to domestic constituents: A major speech or call to action by a country’s head of state or government to domestic constituents and political leaders on SDG implementation at home can be an effective way to publicize the goals, demonstrate national ownership, and encourage everyone to do their part.
  • Germany’s Chancellor made a speech to Parliament on national implementation of the SDGs ahead of the UN’s Sustainable Development Summit.
  1. Engage First Partners to take on aspects of the agenda: During the MDG era, First Partners proved to be powerful advocates of specific causes and helped galvanize attention to health, education, gender equality and other goals.
  • Ethiopia’s Office of the First Lady partnered with government ministries and NGOs to empower girls and women to develop entrepreneurial skills and provide basic training to connect them to the export market.
  • Uganda’s First Lady founded a National Strategy for the Advancement of Rural Women in Uganda and plans to expand and scale agriculture programs in pursuit of a national agriculture plan that emphasizes women’s empowerment.
  1. Share lessons across countries: Learning from peers in similar circumstances can be a great way to develop new ideas, understand the challenges and risks and build regional and cross-regional partnerships.
  • Sweden’s Prime Minister initiated a high-level group with eight other national leaders from different parts of the world to accelerate the pace of SDG implementation at the global level. Learning from peers in similar circumstances can be a great way to develop new ideas, understand the challenges and risks and build regional and cross-regional partnerships. Coming together to share efforts underway to accelerate progress also demonstrates high‑level political leadership and can encourage others to join.
  1. Host a national-level multi-stakeholder dialogue: Bringing together government ministries, civil society, international agencies, and private sector leaders can jumpstart conversations about implementation and get sector leaders to think creatively about implementation.
    • Sweden organized a multi-stakeholder conference in January 2016 to mark the starting point of implementing the 2030 Agenda. The government solicited input from wide range of stakeholders on how Sweden relates to the goals and conditions for implementation.
    • Mexico, Pakistan, Ghana, Denmark, Tanzania, Peru, Colombia, and many other countries have already begun to hold these conversations.


[1] http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/2015/08/17/104196

[2] http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/2015/08/17/104196

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