[This blog post has been published in Spanish in 3.500 Millones - El País]
The fortunes of the SDG's national plan may depend on matters central to the public interest, such as energy transition, ending child poverty or the quality of our seas
In a little under seven months’ time—and with a newly constituted technical team—the Spanish Government will face the challenge of presenting its national plan for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) to the international community. The fortunes of this plan may depend on matters central to the public interest, such as energy transition, ending child poverty, the quality of our seas, and the future of development cooperation. These are all areas in which international indexes have identified considerable room for improvement in public policies and private practices in Spain.
The fight against sea pollution around Spain is one of the foreseeable priorities of the national SDGs plan
The countries which have already gone through this process know that drawing up such a strategy is not an easy task. There are reasons why each one of these issues is a priority: solutions are needed now because of political, economic or statistical abandonment in the past. To correct this past neglect in a period as short as 15 years, the present and future Spanish governments will need all the help they can get.
It is precisely this conviction that is behind Think SDGs, an initiative launched by the Global Health Centre of the Graduate Institute in Geneva and the International Development Research Center in Ottawa. Think tanks from almost twenty countries have already joined the network. The aim of the initiative is to take advantage of the ideas and experience that these institutions can offer. While operating in very different environments, they all face the same challenge: making their governments’ commitments a reality.
ISGlobal has agreed to coordinate the European group of this network, which a few weeks ago issued a series of publications examining the added value contributed by think tanks in different scenarios. In our paper we highlighted five ways in which think tanks can play a key role in this process, all of which the Spanish Government should take advantage of:
a) Contribute to the elaboration of national plans and the definition of indicators. The German government, for instance, has turned their national consultations into an indispensable tool for designing first their National Sustainable Development Strategy and, then, the national SDG plan. (And they did this in 2015-16... amazing!).
b) Data gathering, appraisal and processing. According to a study on the statistical gaps that affect the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the World Bank’s European office recognised in June 2014 that its own information only covered between 39% and 48% of the data needed to track SDG indicators. Even in the most developed countries, the complete disaggregation required to monitor the implementation of this agenda is simply not available. Initiatives like the Sustainable Development Solutions Network's SDG Index draw from national data analysis centres to help fill these gaps.
c) Monitoring, evaluation and adjustment of commitments. As with any public policy, ensuring the accountability of those responsible for implementing the strategy is one of the keys to success. And to do that, not only do we need a platform (such as the one Parliament should provide) but also the data necessary to track progress. The work being done by the Overseas Development Institute, with its SDG Targets Tracker, is an interesting example of such monitoring.
d) Provide a local, national and international perspective and an interdisciplinary approach. If the SDG agenda transcends the sphere of influence of national governments or of a particular ministry, we need a perspective that incorporates other areas of public action, considers the role of other actors (such as the private sector) and optimizes the interaction and overlaps between different goals. ¿Is it possible, for instance, to ensure health in cities without considering urban planning and energy sources? In a few days, the city of Soria will host an interesting meeting that will bring together the efforts of town councils from all over Spain to advance the SDGs, in which certain think tanks have played a key role.
e) Public pedagogy and dissemination of information, including best and worst practices. With some exceptions, part of the obligation of any good think tank is to effectively present and disseminate this information. My impression is that Spanish society has not yet engaged with the obligations imposed by the SDGs or the opportunities they offer, but the leadership of some companies and local entities suggests that this could change very quickly.
The role of think tanks in the implementation of the SDGs is crucial in any European country
The role of think tanks in the implementation of the SDGs is crucial in any European country. In the case of Spain, we face the challenge of having only a small sector and one that is not necessarily active in this battle, but a growing number of centres are joining the fray. We call on all the players to support the efforts of public institutions and monitor the outcomes. Together, let us take advantage of the extraordinary potential of this agenda.