Go back


Date: 19/07/2018

Author(s): Borja Santos Porras

“We’ve already met most of the goals. Besides, this agenda wasn’t made for us.” We hear these words too often coming from international representatives when they’re asked about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, established in the 2030 Agenda. In most cases, this response shows a failure to grasp the fact that in 2015 the 193 United Nations member states adopted the agenda which goes beyond creating shared goals for aiding development on a global scale. The agreement focuses on the objectives to achieve global transformation using a more sustainable model of development in the economic, social and environmental spheres. By dealing with issues like climate change, social inequality, gender equality, education, health, and so on, the agenda became truly universal.

The thresholds identified within the 2030 Agenda goals and indicators are useful for global monitoring purposes, as well as establishing minimum requirements. However, these should be reviewed by each country according to their own needs and ambitions. To monitor and assess implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the United Nations created the High Level Political Forum. As part of the commitments of all UN member states, periodic voluntary assessments are carried out by the countries themselves. The results are then presented at the regional and national levels. On Wednesday July 18th, after concluding three days of ministerial meetings, Spain presented its first voluntary assessment. 65 countries have issued reports over the past two years, and this year 47 countries are following suit, some of which have already submitted reports during this period.

Spain was represented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the European Union and Cooperation, Josep Borrell; the Minister of Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera; and the High Commissioner for the 2030 Agenda, Cristina Gallach. This distinguished delegation was also accompanied by representatives from Spanish universities, civil society and the country’s private sector, who provided crucial support for the process.

Spain’s new government wanted to draw attention to this event for a few different reasons. Firstly, the 2030 Agenda commitments demand greater visibility. According to a survey sent to 461 civil and academic organizations from different countries, a third of respondents weren’t aware that their countries had issued reports. Only one in every four was aware of the process governments use to carry out these reports. Secondly, the world needs more countries leading the way in this regard, standing up for multilateralism and filling the void left by the United States. Few global initiatives are as important as the 2030 Agenda, and if it is going to succeed, strong leadership is vital. Finally, the state of SDG progress in Spain revealed some important challenges currently facing the country.

Recently, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network published the SDG Index for 2018, which measured SDG compliance in 156 countries. Spain placed 25th in the index (see the attached graph), markedly lower than where the country should be. Leading the way at the top of the list are Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Germany and France are the only G7 countries in the top 10.

SDG score of OECD countries, according to GDP per capita
[image 1]
Prepared by the authors using the SDG Index. United States GDP per capita PPP (2016)

Although progress has generally been very slow, the report shows the difference between trends and the actual performance of different countries. Things become particularly sobering when we look at inadequate implementation measures. Among G20 countries, only India and Germany have developed evaluations of investment need, and only Brazil, Mexico and Italy have taken steps toward creating entities for SDG coordination and strategy. It is important to note that Spain’s most recent advancements are not reflected here. The study also notes that the United States and Russia are the least active states when it comes to implementing the SDGs.

In each country tabs, different colors are used to represent the degree of achievement of the SDGs. Spain hasn’t successfully met any of the 17 SDGs, scoring especially low in the 9th (innovation), 12th (consumption and production), 13th (climate change) and 14th (marine life) objectives.

Assessment of Spain’s SDG compliance (2018)
[image 2]
Source: SDG Index and Dashboard Report 2018

This data is enhanced by information on SDG trends in each country. According to the analysis, Spain is experiencing a positive performance in 5 of the SDGs (health, gender equality, water management, energy and climate action). However, the country’s performance in two of the SDGs, combating inequalities, and building partnerships to meet the SDGs, is moving backwards.

SDG compliance trends in Spain (2018)
[image 3]
Source: SDG Index and Dashboard Report 2018

When we compare Spain’s performance with the OECD average, we can see a lack of active strategy for ocean protection, which reveals below average progress in the 14th, 15th and 16th goals. A particularly notable area where we’ve seen low performance is in reducing inequality (SDG 10), despite the fact that Spain is the number two EU country that has experienced the most growth in employment (SDG 8) and food security (SDG 2).

Using this information, it’s easy to see why one may be pessimistic. Nevertheless, recent political developments, like the report and the message given by Spain, offer a more optimistic view and a chance to improve, especially considering the greater degree of government commitment supported by civil society.

First, the creation of a High Commission for the 2030 Agenda, led by Cristina Gallach, former Under-Secretary for the United Nations, indicates that the 2030 Agenda has become both an official state policy, as well as a core feature of Spanish public policy. This body goes beyond cooperation with the SDGs, coordinating activity while mobilizing resources and supporting ministries and other key actors.

Second, the 2030 Agenda Action Plan was passed. Although the High Level Group on this area had been developing this for some time, the action plan has been modified considerably with the recent change in government. Although it is designed as a transition plan towards a National Strategy for Sustainable Development in 2019, it promises to serve as an urgent jumpstart to implementing the 2030 Agenda. In this document, a meticulous analysis of the Spanish situation is laid out, highlighting important facts. For example, the report mentions that in 2017, 21.6% of the Spanish population was living under the national poverty line. Another important aspect is the distribution of powers surrounding the SDGs, as well as commitments from players at different levels.

In addition to Spain’s voluntary assessment report, the reports from universities, civil society organizations (through the Futuro en Común platform), businesses (through the Spanish Global Compact Network or La Red Española del Pacto Mundial) and the Unión Profesional, or the Professional Union, are also revealing. The SDG commitments in addition to countless other proposals are laid out in these reports. Lastly, the role played by Spain’s autonomous communities and municipal governments, through the territories or the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces, is also worth mentioning. In the early years, when the Spanish government appeared to be inactive regarding the SDGs, there were many individuals at the local level who tried to lead the way to a more sustainable approach to development.

The Plan establishes nine priority action areas, also called “leverage policies”, where concrete commitments are set to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs. Of these, a few stand out, such as equality (gender, intergenerational income and territorial), the fight against poverty, climate change, the economy’s ecological transition and R+D+i, among others. Spain’s July 18th message in New York City brought up all of these areas. With a parliamentary minority and rigid budgetary control, these promises can be compromised if the government fails to reach major agreements.

Lastly, in the international community, Spain should be taking on a more important role if it wishes to drive the 2030 Agenda, particularly in the context of the new European Consensus on Development and in Ibero-America. Taking in the refugees of the Aquarius boat could be considered not only a humanitarian gesture, but also a sign that Spain wants to once again have an important global presence, and help to build a more just, sustainable and inclusive world order.

Only time will tell if this new political positioning strategy in Spain will be shared by a civil society enthusiastic about having this common agenda leading up to 2030. And it remains to be seen if the SDGs will remain to be discussed in the same-old places, among the usual suspects. Although the SDGs don’t make headlines, we should be able to read between the lines to let them influence our decisions not only at the political level, but also at the individual level.

This article is part of the Foreign Policy Agenda developed alongside Política exterior.