Start of public debate on SDGs

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
In September 2015, 193 government leaders reached an agreement on the 2030 sustainable development agenda. They signed up for an ambitious package of what are now widely known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be realised in the period 2015-2030. The countries they lead have committed themselves to do everything in their power to contribute to realising goals in the areas of prosperity, security and justice. Hugo von Meijenfeldt of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been given the task of coordinating the implementation of SDGs in the Netherlands. We asked him about the work to be done in the coming period.

Many actors

Von Meijenfeldt starts by explaining how much is happening in the Netherlands in terms of SDG implementation at various levels: municipal, regional, national and European. ‘We are seeing a wide range of actors in the field. Not only in government, but also in the financial sector, NGOs and knowledge institutions like CBS. At central government level, we have now charted SDG-related activities. CBS has identified the available data and in November it will publish a first exploratory report on SDGs. This report will serve as a basis for a broad debate with policy analysis agencies, knowledge institutes and civil society about how to monitor progress in this area. The business community, too, is very involved. SDGs are cropping up more and more in their annual reports, and stakeholders are drawing up collaborative covenants, the Energy Agreement for example.’

Ripple effect

Although - as Von Meijenfeldt indicates - SDG scores overall indicate that the Netherlands is doing well in a number of domains, data are not yet available for all SDG indicators. ‘We have identified the gaps in both the CBS and business data we need to monitor the SDGs. In addition, we expect NGOs to play a different role than they have up to now and we hope to work with them towards a solution. The same goes for science. Then there is the challenge of how to help small businesses tackle SDGs. We are thinking along the lines of an agreement for the whole chain. ’ The campaign is deliberately being kept quite low key: ‘We are trying to mobilise the groups that are already closely involved and we hope that - having thrown the pebble in the pond - the ripple effect will encourage other parties, including consumers, to join in.’

Significance of reliable data

Von Meijenfeldt is very satisfied with the cooperation with CBS: ‘It has been very good, right from the start.’ He stresses the importance of reliable data. ‘When we compiled the Sustainability Monitor for example, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment worked with a lot of data to monitor developments. Not only data from the Ministry, but also from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. According to the CBS data overview, just over one third of SDG indicators are currently available for the Netherlands. The next step is to examine how we can monitor the SDGs for which we do not yet have data. This is what we must start discussing with all parties involved.’

Hugo von Meijenfeldt was appointed coordinator for the implementation of Global Development Goals at the Ministry of Foreign affairs in January 2016. He is an environmental lawyer and manager, and has experience as a diplomat within and outside Europe. From August 2013 to December 2015 he was Consul General for the Netherlands in San Francisco. Before that he was Director of International Affairs at the former Ministry of Public Health, Spatial Planning and the Environment, and from 2009 to 2013 also Special Envoy for Climate Change. He has also chaired the Environmental Policy Committee of the UNECE in Geneva.