Urgency To Localise SDGs
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent the global development agenda of the contemporary world. Ranging from poverty, inequality, climate change to peace and justice, SDGs are comprehensive in nature and have emerged out of the commitment of the world community to achieve a sustainable future. Having said that, SDGs are highly ambitious and grappling with the challenges of resource planning and mobilisation. In the context of Nepal where we have recently transitioned from unitary to a federal structure, the agenda of localising SDGs have become pertinent and needs further exploration.
The recently unveiled SDG implementation report 2019 by the United Nations document some remarkable progress in reducing extreme poverty, decrease in child mortality rates and increase in access to electricity. Having said that, the report has drawn the attention of the world community to work effectively in combating other pressing challenges like rising global hunger, increasing inequality among and across countries, rising sea levels, acidification of oceans, increased CO2 concentration hinting at the deterioration of the natural environment at an alarming level. Amid this scenario, the urgency of mainstreaming the SDGs at the grassroots level has become a dominant discourse in the global and national forums.
With the country adopting a three-tier governance system- State, Province and Local, thinking SDGs at the sub-national level is urgent. As the constitution also mandates the provincial and local governments to handle the development goals related to education, health, communication among others, finding new governance approach focusing on innovative planning and budgeting system will be crucial in the effective implementation of SDGs.
Localising SDGs entail treating the subnational governments as policy makers and catalysts of change beyond the mere implementers. It aims at promoting inclusive sustainable development with multi-stakeholder consultation for advancing transformative agenda at the local level.
Although it seems that the local government still needs some time to internalise SDGs, capacitating the local government will be the key. This involves mobilisation of private as well as community sector at the local level. Forging new ways of engaging with the public and promoting downward accountability are non-negotiable in this regard. The integration of the local level plans with the national SDGs should involve the active participation of community based organisations namely NGOs, community user groups and the like. With peer learning and teamwork at the centre, the actions towards SDGs implementation will bear a visible fruit.
To put simply, unless and until the local people are aware about SDGs and their relevance to local communities, it will be impossible to attain the 17 goals which are mutually reinforcing. Once the public awareness is raised, the next step should be to mobilise them in achieving these development outcomes by enhancing their sense of ownership. Harnessing the power of local culture through various campaigns, events and success stories can also be beneficial. Otherwise, no matter how much effort is put at the central level, the achievements will be limited in the absence of penetrating SDGs at the ground level.
In fact, the sub-national government can channelise local priorities with respect to the national strategy and also provide a voice for the local and regional governments in national and international dialogues.
No less significant will be to work towards enhancing the capacities of community based institutions as they are people’s forum for intense deliberation and action on development. The role of such organisations in policy advocacy tends to be a dominant one calling for the necessary changes in the policies that are inconsistent with the global theories and principles. Deepening cooperation and mutual exchanges between local authorities and civil society organisations and adopting innovative methods of working with a wide range of non-state actors at the local level demand great attention.
The provincial government is in a difficult position to articulate its voice in such an issue of high prominence. In the absence of a robust political mechanism, the second tier of governance in the federal Nepal is in limbo. Barring few workshops and similar interactions, nothing has been substantially done at the provincial level in this regard. Integrating SDGs agenda in the provincial periodic development plans will be absolutely important. Since the state has envisioned a Provincial Planning Commission, formulating specific regional plans incorporating the pertinent SDGs are pivotal to the success of materialising these goals.
Hence, an implementation of the multi-level governance as envisaged by the new constitution can be a stepping stone. As per the spirit of the national law of the land, the central authorities should not make any unwanted attempts to impose their decisions and in worse cases seize the power and authority of the regional and local bodies. Creation of an enabling environment for the regional and the local level is also the onus of the central government.
(The author is a member of the Social Science and Research Faculty at NIMS College)