The global transformation that the SDGs call for requires integrated, concerted action by the UN member states. But at the same time, the intention has always been that, in the words of the political declaration that accompanies the goals: “Targets are defined as aspirational and global, with each Government setting its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances.”
A major challenge when it comes to national implementation of this common agenda will be finding the right balance between harmonization – staying close to the global targets themselves, which will make comparisons and global progress monitoring easier – and internalization – reinterpreting the targets to make them fit better the national legal framework, social fabric, and political discourse. Both approaches are valuable, but we would argue that there is a potential tension, or even a trade-off, between them.
So far, the emphasis has been on harmonization. Discussion of what comes after SDG adoption has been dominated by defining global indicators. There has been much less talk of how to achieve the goals, of guiding governments and other actors on how to pursue goals and targets, whether by means of introducing new or adjusting existing policy instruments or business models, adjusting organizational arrangements, and introducing policy assessment procedures. There is a genuine risk that the SDGs become all about the indicators, rather than about action towards realizing the larger vision.
This is part of a series on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development appearing on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda blog. It focuses on Goal 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.