Overline: IASS Research on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
Headline: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

By endorsing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the international community signalled its continued commitment to dealing with global challenges as a collective. The Agenda provides a blueprint for reconciling economic growth with social justice and environmental sustainability.

The 2030 Agenda was adopted by all UN member states in September 2015. A milestone in the recent history of the United Nations, it was developed in a broad consultation process with civil society groups across the globe.

The 2030 Agenda applies to every single country in the world. All of them – developing, emerging, and industrial countries – have their part to play in it.

The centrepiece of the Agenda is a catalogue of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 SDGs are the first such goals to give equal priority to all three dimensions of sustainability: social issues, economics, and the environment. The goals are indivisible and mutually reinforcing. They are informed by the following five principles (the “five Ps”): People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnership.

Germany’s Sustainable Development Strategy

Germany’s National Sustainable Development Strategy was launched by the Federal Government in 2002 and updated in 2016 to take account of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Strategy describes how the government intends to contribute to achieving the SDGs in, with and through Germany. The latest version of the Strategy is from 2018, and the next revision is planned for 2020. The Science Platform Sustainability 2030 is carrying out a scientific online consultation with this in mind.

In its Sustainable Development Strategy, the federal government has pledged, among other things, to do even more to make sustainability a central criterion for all policy areas.

It also highlights six principles of sustainable development:

  1. Apply sustainable development as a guiding principle at all times and in all areas;
  2. Assume global responsibility;
  3. Strengthen the natural resource base on which life depends;
  4. Strengthen sustainable economic activity;
  5. Preserve and enhance social cohesion in an open society; and
  6. Use education, science and research, and innovation as drivers of sustainable development.

To show how the Sustainable Development Strategy contributes to the SDGs, one or more “sustainability postulates” have been formulated for each SDG. For example, the following three postulates pertain to SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities): 1. Sustainable land use; 2. Guaranteeing mobility – protecting the environment; and 3. Affordable housing for all.

For each postulate there are one or more targets as well as indicators for tracking progress towards implementation. In the case of the postulate “Affordable housing for all”, for example, the indicator is “Housing cost overload”, and the concrete target is “A decline in the proportion of the population that spends more than 40% of its disposable income on housing to 13% by 2030.”

In total, the strategy has formulated 40 postulates and 66 targets and indicators.

The current status of the indicators is regularly assessed by the Federal Statistical Office in its Indicator Reports on sustainable development in Germany.

The implementation of the sustainability strategy is supported first and foremost by the four bodies responsible for the architecture and functioning of Germany’s Sustainable Development Strategy. They are:

The State Secretaries’ Committee on Sustainable Development is the central steering body for the Strategy.

Presided over by the Head of the Federal Chancellery, all departments of the State Secretaries’ Committee were involved in the process of updating the latest version of the strategy. Statements by members of the public gathered in an online consultation process carried out by the federal government’s Press and Information Office in June 2018 also fed into the revision process. They were supplemented by declarations made at the first Sustainability Forum, an annual gathering of important sustainability actors, at the Federal Chancellery in June 2018. 

IASS research on the SDGs

The Science Platform Sustainability 2030 is a central hub where scientists and partners from politics, the economy and civil society jointly reflect on pressing sustainability policy issues. It gathers and communicates knowledge for sustainability, in particular with a view to implementing Germany’s Sustainable Development Strategy.

The platform operates independently and is systematically integrated into the political process of implementing the 2030 Agenda in Germany. It is open to anybody who wants to contribute their expertise to advancing sustainability policy.

In a series of week-long workshops, the Global Sustainability Strategy Forum (GSSF) brings renowned sustainable development experts together with thought leaders in business, politics and civil society from different parts of the world. While it recognises the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda as remarkable achievements, the GSSF is also aware of the complex challenges posed by the implementation of the 17 goals and their 169 targets.

The GSSF contributes to research on implementing the SDGs. Many institutions and groups have developed indicators to track progress towards the achievement of the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda, including the OECD (2017), the TWI2050 initiative, and the SDG Center for Africa (2019). However, these indicators do not allow us to determine whether the goals are appropriate to specific social and cultural contexts or to understand why targets have not been achieved and how emerging social dynamics impact on the implementation process. And they offer us no guidance on how to reconcile conflicting values and reach balanced compromises. These are the kinds of questions the GSSF grapples with.