With just over 10 years to go to reach the United Nations’ The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), strong and urgent action must be taken now.

There are 17 goals that create a global blueprint to ensure no one is left behind, focusing on protecting people and planet in all forms across the world. The goals range from climate action to zero poverty to sustainable cities to gender equality. 

Although progress has been made, it is not happening at the rate required.
According to the 2018 SDG Global Progress Report

  • The number of undernourished people rose from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016, mainly due to conflicts and drought and disasters linked to climate change
  • Nine out of 10 people living in cities breathe polluted air
  • Less than half of all children and adolescents meet minimum standards in reading and mathematics 
  • Close to 1 billion mostly rural people lack electricity.

There is still a lot of work to do globally and locally. Australia’s carbon emissions are continuing to increase at a rapid rate, rural healthcare is underfunded, the economy is slowing and we don’t have a national climate or waste reduction policy in place. 

The Spanish Government Has an Ambitious Plan

In Spain however, the Government is leading the change required for SDGs action. All forms of Government play a critical role to translate the goals into reality. Businesses and NGOs are also key to driving this change through funding and delivery of many of the initiatives required. 

I was fortunate enough to meet with Álvaro Gallego Peris who works in the High Commissioner’s Office for the 2030 Agenda. They report directly to the President’s Office and we sat in one of the rooms that overlooks the President’s building.
Alvaro has been in the role for about 10 months and one of the first things he reflected on was the Spanish Government’s leadership. ‘We have a group of ambitious leaders who are all passionate about pushing the SDGs into action across Spain. Our leadership also has more women than men, so we are also bucking a global trend with our gender equality rates in leadership.’

Prior to meeting, Alvaro sent through the Spanish Government’s 181 page voluntary report which highlighted the overall SDG strategy as well as the action underway for the 17 goals. We spoke about the details of the Government’s work as well as how they are engaging business, civil society and other institutions to ensure the SDGs are owned and acted across the country. 

The most important thing we discussed was why the Government has decided to act on the SDGs. Alvaro explained ‘The Sustainable Development Goals are important to us as it helps us shape a society that is engaged, healthy and strong. It also allows us to understand what it means to be a global citizen and for these reasons, we believe the Government has a strong role to play in driving the agenda so no one is left behind.’ 

Here are some of the key approaches that the Spanish Government are driving that showcase why they are global leaders in SDG action: 

1. Top down approach: Policy and Government spending

Since June 2018 when the new Government commenced, they have taken clear steps to link their policies and action with the SDGs. Some of the focus areas as translated from the SDGs are: universal health coverage, gender equality, renewable energy, ecological transition, employment policy, international governance, solidarity, and commitment to human rights, as well as eradicating child poverty, reducing inequalities, and combating climate change. 

Alvaro explained that currently they are undertaking a review of budget and expenses so they all align to the SDGs. ‘Even small amounts of money that are being spent must show that they align to at least one of the SDGs. This is important as it tightens our governance and creates focus across the ministers’ offices.’ Ensuring that procedures and governance are implemented means tracking and outcomes will be more easily monitored. 

Alvaro also spoke about the importance of his team’s work to drive innovative approaches for awareness. His team received an honourable mention at this year’s Sustainable Development Goals Action Awards in Bonn, Germany for an advertisement on New Years Eve. ‘Everyone in Spain watches the countdown to midnight, so we wanted to create a campaign that helped them understand a more important countdown. This is the 11 year countdown to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.’ You can see more about their campaign here

2. Bottom up approach: Empowering citizens

Local Governments are encouraged to translate the Central Government’s strategy into reality. When I was in Seville and Valencia I saw posters and heard from locals about the SDGs. Particularly in Valencia, the Local Government has an aim to have zero net emissions by 2030, as part of their SDG strategy and commitments. 

Alvaro spoke about the range of forums and engagements the Central Government has with Local Government and citizens to empower them to work on the goals at a local level. The Central Government recently had a forum in Seville where they invited global leaders to discuss the SDG agenda in a local context. 

An independent institution, REDS also released the SDG Spanish Cities Index last year which tracked the SDG progress of 100 cities across Spain. The study included all the cities with more than 80,000 inhabitants and the 12 main metropolitan areas covering over 50% of the total population in Spain. Although none of the cities reached all 17 goals, it is a great tool to keep focus and accountability at a local level. 

As the SDGs are a global platform for change, it is important citizens can feel engaged and understand the role they can play to shape a healthy society. There are a range of activities from education sessions to television advertisements that are helping citizens understand their role. ‘Previously, awareness of the SDGs sat at about 13% of the population. (More recently although we have no  data, we expect to be around 20% plus optimistically 25-30%)’ Alvaro shared. These education forums range from understanding how to consume consciously, how to reduce your environmental footprint and to learn how to integrate a ‘global goals’ mindset in their lives. ‘We want everyone in Spain to be empowered to stand up for the goals where they shop, work and live. Our citizens are consumers and we want to remind them that their shopping trolley is an important combat weapon for tackling these goals.’ 

3. Business approach: Encouraging businesses to evolve

Businesses are also a critical stakeholder for driving positive outcomes for the SDGs. Just looking around at mainstream supermarkets, there is no denying that businesses have a massive role to play in curbing plastic waste by changing their production methods. It is almost impossible to go plastic free in a supermarket which means empowered consumers need to go out of their way to bulk food shops. These are not common which makes conscious consumption very difficult.
So, in order to truly empower consumers, leading Governments are starting to regulate certain activities that lead to social and environmental destruction. 

The Spanish Government are planning to adopt a circular economy strategy that brings together citizens, businesses and Government infrastructure to ensure an overall reduction of landfill waste is achieved. 

Beyond the link between consumers and businesses, the Government is creating a business alliance platform for businesses. The platform will allow them to build a community of conscious leaders who are tackling the global goals and will also have a tracking platform to help them manage the transition in their companies. Last year it was reported that 80% of the IBEX35 companies already include the Sustainable Development Goals in their sustainability reports. The awareness is growing across Spanish businesses, however the platform will allow them to track, measure and report on an ongoing basis. This will allow consumers to understand how businesses are changing their practices in order to meet the goals. ‘We need to look beyond Corporate Social Responsibility when we think about businesses meeting the SDGs. What we really need is for them to change their business model so the goals are incorporated to the core activities.’ Alvaro stated. This is a critical shift in mindsets of business leaders globally. Some of the biggest global corporations like Unilever have not just relegated the SDGs to a Corporate Responsibility department, but instead have aligned it from their global strategy right down to daily operations. 

4. Momentum approach: Partnerships and education are key

Alvaro discussed that Government cannot be the only ones accountable for delivering on the goals. Private public partnerships are a strong focus for the Government to facilitate relationships that can drive specific action on the goals. The thing to note is that one party cannot solve all the goals alone, so it is important to educate and empower a wide cross section of stakeholders to drive collective action. 

Local government leaders are also being educated in the SDGs including measurement, engagement and action. This is important as it shifts a sense of knowledge and accountability to local leaders so they can confidently create strategies that are best suited for their regions. 

5. Transparent approach: Making information accessible

Underlying the success of any strategy is measurement, accountability and transparency. Alvaro shared that the most important thing the Government can do is be open, transparent and share insights across Spain as well as globally. ‘Ultimately, for us to achieve the goals, we need leaders from around the world to step up and act now. In Spain, we believe that we will be stronger when we are working with others. So we want to ensure transparency when we discuss the goals.’ 

The Spanish Government are currently creating publicly accessible platforms for tracking the SDGs within Government and business. This will allow anyone to see the progress across the 17 goals and understand the initiatives taking place as well as how they can be involved. 

Overall

In order for the Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved, we need coordinated efforts from Governments, businesses, NGOs and citizens. Spain’s model of working across all levels of Government is ambitious and much needed. After speaking with a few Spanish leaders from Government and business, there seems to be a sense of optimism about Spain’s future and the belief that they have the power to change. We need more Government leaders acting on the SDGs around the world. 

You can read more about Spain’s approach on the SDG Knowledge Platform here

Action

Send this case study to your local MP (you can find the MP directory for Australia here) and ask them to incorporate the SDGs in their policies, procedures and initiatives. 

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