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From Agreement to Action: First steps for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals

Shirleen, 15, is a secondary school student from the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Asked what is most important to her in the post-2015 framework, she said, “Education, because without education you can never achieve all the other things. But with good education we can achieve them all.” (Photo: Colin Crowley/Save the Children)


In September 2015, world leaders came together at the United Nations to agree on an ambitious new set of commitments that aim to end poverty and hunger, and secure the future of our planet within a generation.

The resulting agreement, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, contains a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets that together form a plan of action for people, planet, prosperity and peace.

Reaching agreement on the 2030 Agenda was the first step to creating a more inclusive and equitable society, in which no one is left behind. But the success or failure of the 2030 Agenda will hinge on how it is implemented.

Why do the Sustainable Development Goals matter?

The 2030 Agenda builds on and goes beyond the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight development goals that were adopted in 2001 and include quantitative targets to reduce key dimensions of poverty, among other development imperatives, by 2015.

While it is difficult to isolate their impact from other development trends, it is clear that the goals became an important reference point for development policy and helped to channel funds into key thematic areas.

Looking back over the last 15 years, it’s clear we’re able to achieve much for children all over the world. The number of people living in extreme poverty has decreased significantly, and under-five mortality has halved since 1990.

But despite these achievements, there is still much work left to do. Significant numbers of people across the world remain excluded, with many children being left behind. Considered approaches and coordinated efforts are needed to reach the most excluded groups, and the 2030 Agenda provides the framework to make this happen.

The 2030 Agenda has a broader scope than the MDGs, encompassing the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, and with a stronger focus on issues such as peace and governance, inequality, and global public goods such as the climate and oceans. It includes commitments to ‘get to zero’ on critical areas, such as ending child mortality, and commits to universal access to services.

If the Agenda is to be as transformative in practice as it is on paper, governments and other stakeholders need to take immediate action.

So what should governments do?

Save the Children has set out an action plan for implementing the 2030 Agenda. Our new report, From Agreement to Action: Delivering the Sustainable Development Goals, draws on evidence from across the Save the Children family, including inputs from 12 countries. It draws lessons from the MDGs, to provide guidance to governments and other stakeholders as they design strategies for implementing the SDGs.

The report is primarily aimed at governments – who have the main responsibility for implementing the 2030 Agenda – but also includes lessons for other stakeholders, including donors, UN agencies and the private sector.

As UN Member States begin their journey on the road to 2030, here are five issues that Save the Children would like to see on top on their to do lists:

1 National plans, budgets and strategies

Integrating the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda into national priorities, actions, plans and budgets is a critical first step towards national ownership and implementation. Experience from the MDGs shows us that where goals were integrated in national plans and aligned with existing priorities, they had more traction.

2 Institutions and coordination mechanisms

To translate plans into progress, strong institutions and coordination mechanisms are essential. Public institutions must be given the necessary resources to deliver the SDGs, while coordination mechanisms, particularly within key political ministries, can help drive change.

3 Ensuring no one is left behind

Making sure that everyone benefits from development progress demands targeted approaches, such as stepping stone equity targets to ensure equitable progress across all goals.

4 Data

To eradicate poverty we need to know who is living in poverty, where they live and what they need. Strengthening data systems and producing high-quality disaggregated data is essential for tackling group-based inequalities and ensuring no one is left behind.

5 Accountability

Successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda depends on governments being held to account for goals and targets, and people, including children, having an active role in accountability processes. Governments must report on progress in open, accessible and participatory ways, supporting the active engagement of all, including children and marginalised groups.


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