DIE co-hosts virtual International SDG Research Symposium

From 9 to 11 June 2020, the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) co-hosted the International SDG Research Symposium “Global Goals 2020” that was virtually hosted by Utrecht University. A number of researchers from DIE contributed to sessions on their respective research topics.

In a plenary session opening the second day of the conference, DIE’s Deputy Director Imme Scholz gave a keynote on „Implementing the 2030 Agenda: On the Road to Socio-ecological Transformation or Remaining in the Niche?“. In her speech, she reflected on the effectiveness of national strategies for sustainable development (NSDS) as an instrument for implementing the SDGs, also based on her experiences in the German Sustainability Council since 2013. Looking at the size of ecological footprints in affluent societies and their growth in middle-income countries, the need for effective strategies is great and not satisfied. While many developing countries swiftly adjusted their national development plans to the SDGs, rich countries were slower. Germany and other European countries resorted to adjusting their NSDS of old that had been introduced after the Rio Summit in 1992 and had often survived in a niche. Compared to 2002, when many NSDS were adopted, the reformed NSDS after 2015 exhibit new features: more emphasis on non-state action, and shy efforts to go beyond silos and achieve substantive change. The niche is seen, and the sustainability community is struggling to get out of it. But incentives for incoherence remain, as departments struggle for budgets and political attention, and as public administrations shy back from reforming their ways of working. Substantive change is rather to be expected from social mobilisation and changes in electoral behaviour than from enlightened public administrations, as events around European elections showed last year in Germany (so democratic political order really matters). In this context, NSDS remain important for offering long-term political orientation on priorities for change and as an arena for societal and political debates on them.

On the panel “Planetary integrity: Protecting the Climate,” Clara Brandi presented joint work with Phoossarapha Thongjumrool (University of Duisburg-Essen) on “Synergies between the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda in China and Mexico.” Their analysis of policy coherence between Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Development Plans (NDPs) reveals that there is considerably more overlap in China than in Mexico. This in turn suggest more policy coherence in the former than in the latter, and thus more potential for leveraging synergies. The ongoing process of NDC updates provides promising avenues for future research on coherence between the Paris Agreement and the SDGs.

Okka Lou Mathis presented a conceptualisation of national political sustainability institutions such as councils or committees for sustainable development on the panel “Planetary integrity: Resilience, nature-based solutions and the SDGs”. She further discussed assumptions on their necessary design conditions for effectively promoting sustainability and climate concerns in political decision-making. Preliminary results from the analysis of a global dataset on national sustainability institutions (under construction) indicate that more than half of the so far identified cases are located in the Global North. As expected, the implementation of such political bodies seems to be associated with the big UN Sustainability Conferences starting with the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Especially, the adoption of the Agenda 2030 in 2015 sparked a global increase in announcing national sustainability institutions while not all have been implemented yet. Around three-quarters of the identified institutions clearly align their work with UN sustainable development agendas.

On the panel “Integration and Interlinkages: Integration and Coherence”, Anita Breuer and Head of Programme Julia Leininger presented a study in collaboration with Jale Tosun (University of Heidelberg) on “Integrated policymaking: A comparative analysis of institutional designs for implementing the SDGs”. Their comparative analysis of SDG governance mechanisms in 92 countries shows strong government support for the 2030 Agenda with institutions for overseeing the SDG implementation process being located at the highest executive level in most countries. However, they also find a dominant role of ministries of environment and foreign affairs in SDG governance mechanisms. This in turn suggests that in many countries the 2030 Agenda continues to be perceived mainly as an ecological and development agenda despite its much broader scope and ambition of universality.

On a separate panel of the series “Integration and Interlinkages: Integration and Coherence”, Gabriela Iacobuta presented joint work with Clara Brandi, Adis Dzebo (Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden) and Sofia Elizalde Duron (Mora Institute, Mexico) on coherence between climate-relevant development finance and climate activities in the Nationally Determined Contributions of recipient countries. By applying an SDG-lens to both variables, they found that there is significant correlation between climate-relevant finance committed between 2010-2018 and pledged climate activities. However, while climate-relevant finance has been disproportionately committed to climate mitigation, recipient countries have put forward more adaptation actions.

On a panel of the series “Integration and Interlinkages: Interlinkages among SDGs”, Ines Dombrowsky and Ramona Hägele presented a study prepared in the context of this year’s DIE Postgraduate Training Programme on Natural resource governance in light of the 2030 Agenda. The case of competition for groundwater in Azraq, Jordan. The study assesses the overall performance of the investigated social-ecological system, namely groundwater use in Azraq, against the 2030 Agenda, i.e. against the Sustainable Development Goals relevant for the case study (SDGs) 2, 6, 8, and 15, as well as against the 2030 Agenda’s core principles ‘Leaving No One Behind’, ‘Interconnectedness and Indivisibility’, ‘Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships’, and ‘Inclusiveness’. It finds strong trade-offs among the respective SDGs and that core principles are far from being met. Instead, the case is characterised by stark inequity between the powerful and the powerless, as well as relatively weak inter-sectoral and cross-level coordination paired with weak citizen participation. The findings illustrate the need for holistic perspectives in order to identify a range of intervention points to drive a transformation towards sustainability.