Time to Focus on Accountability: Civil Society Guide to Delivering the SDGs in Countries around the World

John Romano

The world has changed in noticeable ways since governments adopted the 2030 Agenda. We have often heard how remarkable that achievement was. Indeed, the show of ambition and partnership for a sustainable future reflected a feat of intergovernmental consensus-building and effective stakeholder advocacy. But the story unfortunately has another chapter.
Discussions on sustainable development in the years since 2015 often take place under the weight of threats to cooperation and civic freedom, as well as increased frequency and impunity of human rights abuses. Carbon emissions and plastic pollution are growing threats, and this week we learned from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), that species extinctions are accelerating and “nature is declining … at rates unprecedented in human history.”
However, there is time to write a happier ending. The 2030 Agenda provides our opportunity to fight back against all of these troubling trends.
The 2030 Agenda is a commitment to deliver basic goods, services and protections as outlined in 17 SDGs, but also to secure and preserve all people’s fundamental human rights and dignity, no matter the circumstances. This principle is captured in the foundational commitment to leave no one behind.
The Transparency, Accountability and Participation (TAP) Network is launching a guide to bringing this principle to life in every country around the world. The SDG Accountability Handbook, available here and in print on 7 May, provides practical, concrete advice to help civil society groups deliver and ensure government accountability for the SDGs.
Accountability is critical to prevent governments from “backsliding on commitments” as well as to protect civic space around the world.
As UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed has said, the 2030 Agenda is “a People’s Agenda,” and a more equitable and sustainable world is one in which the furthest behind are reached.
How to do this? In Mohammed’s words, we must begin by acknowledging that everyone is a development actor. Then, the world’s most vulnerable people must be given a leading role in SDG implementation and accountability.
In her Special Message that begins the Handbook, Mohammed says that accountability is critical to prevent governments from “backsliding on commitments” as well as to protect civic space around the world.
Our aim for the Handbook is for it to serve as a practical resource for both civil society well acquainted with the 2030 Agenda, as well as those who are just beginning to consider how to drive accountability for the SDGs. In addition to outlining broad approaches to support government accountability, the Handbook also includes practical tips to take into account when considering your own approaches. Finally, in a series of case studies, it showcases best practices and examples that can be replicated for SDG accountability in different contexts, which we hope will enable colleagues to learn from one another.
To orient users to the guide, the TAP Network will hold a webinar on the handbook on 14 May, as well as in-person launch events at the Partners for Review meeting in Oaxaca, Mexico in late May, at UN Headquarters in June, and during the July session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), also in New York. Regional and national outreach is also being planned, including capacity building workshops on accountability based on this guide.
It is time to focus on accountability to commitments made. We hope that the SDG Accountability Handbook provides the impetus for more civil society stakeholders to work with the SDGs, leading to new commitments and partnerships from governments and civil society alike.
The commitment to leave no one behind has the potential to become a defining moral imperative of our time. Putting the world’s people in control of their story is both the purpose of the 2030 Agenda and the way to realize it.

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