Policy Coherence and the Sustainable Development Goals


Since the early 1990s, the OECD has been at the forefront of international efforts to promote policy coherence for development (PCD). The OECD has a strong track record in monitoring policy coherence efforts in its Member countries through peer reviews. While PCD has traditionally been
seen as the main responsibility of countries that are providers of development co-operation, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by all United Nations (UN) Member States calls for a broader approach to policy coherence. The 2030 Agenda states that the SDGs are indivisible, and
that they balance the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development and calls for no one to be left behind. To help make progress toward this balance, the SDGs include SDG Target 17.14, which calls on all countries to enhance policy coherence for sustainable development
(PCSD) as an essential means of implementation for all the Goals.

Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, the OECD has been working on aligning its approaches to policy coherence with the principles and nature of the 2030 Agenda, and develop tools and guidance for implementation in collaboration with the European Union, the UN specialised organisations and
agencies, and other stakeholders. It is also collaborating with UN Environment and OECD Members to develop methodologies for tracking progress on policy coherence at the global and national levels. The Recommendation on PCSD responds to the growing demand by OECD Members and non Members to deal with the “how” of coherent 2030 Agenda implementation.

According to the OECD[i] enhancing policy coherence for sustainable development (PCSD) has emerged as one of the most difficult challenges to implementing the SDGs[ii].  And, they claim, there is growing demand for peer learning opportunities as well as for tools and guidance that can be tailored to specific national needs and contexts. So, along with approximately 70 other policy wonks from as far afield as Mexico and Korea and with some trepidation, I decided to attend the 15th(!) meeting of the “National Focal Points for Policy Coherence”, in Paris .

The 8 Principles for promoting policy coherence

Vision and Leadership
1. Political commitment and leadership
2. Strategic Long Term Vision
3. Policy Integration
Policy Interactions
4. Whole of Government Coordination
5. Subnational Engagement
6. Stakeholder Engagement
7. Policy and Financing Impacts
8. Monitoring, reporting, and Evaluation

What did I learn?

Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Scandi delegates from Sweden, Norway and Finland are much further ahead on this front (more focused perhaps?) than many other nations. Although I was both surprised and delighted by the Spanish delegate’s presentation, along with those from Holland and Germany. Where was the UK government representative you might ask: a no show again? No, it seems they have found other more pressing matters to deal with…

All of these well focused countries have set up a wide range of institutional policy structures to enhance PCSD. For example, setting up PCSD units within their Foreign Ministries, along with clear and substantive links to civil society organizations with both process and outcome measures for monitoring and evaluation of PCSD. Some even mentioned that they had developed guidance on PCSD for municipalities too!

For me, the most interesting input came from Norway. Its Policy Coherence Forum reviews national policy priorities on the SDGs and reports to parliament annually, often with some “heavy” criticism. Their delegate claimed that “dilemma free” policy was not an option and that constructive disagreement is essential for change. I would also agree that constructive disagreement is essential for PCSD and for enhanced wider and deeper social coherence in order to facilitate civil society action and implementation of the SDGs.

One of the most memorable comments from these steadfast early global colonisers (Vikings) was the idea that shoehorning the SDGs into existing national policy is not the answer. Instead, we must find ways of shoehorning our policy priorities into the SDGs!

 Shoehorning has come to mean “inserting and forcing things into other things”. It can also refer to fitting something where it does not easily fit.

[i] Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

[ii] According to the Voluntary National Reviews presented so far to the UN High Level Political Forum ( SDG target 17.14) www.oecd.org/pcsd/Report%20on%20PCSD%20Survey%20Findings.pdf

[iii] www.oecd.org/governance/pcsd/15thmeetingofthenationalfocalpointsforpolicycoherence.htm

Published by Steve Martin

I am a passionate advocate for learning for sustainability and have spent nearly 40 years exploring and researching ways of facilitating and supporting more sustainable ways in which organisations and governments can contribute towards a more sustainable future. For nearly a decade I was a member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Further and Higher Education, with national responsibility for Environmental Education and served as a special advisor to the Secretary of State in the Department of the Environment in drafting the education and training sections of HM Government’s first white paper on the Environment-Our Common Inheritance. More recently I was the founding Chair of the Higher Education Academy’s Sustainable Development Advisory Group and a former member of the UK ‘s UNESCO Education for Sustainability Forum. I have held visiting professorships at the Open University, University of Hertfordshire, University of Gloucestershire and currently, at the University of the West of England .Over the past 15 years I have been a sustainability change consultant for some of the largest FTSE100 companies such as BP, Barclays, Tesco and Carillion as well as Government Agencies such as the UK National Commission for UNESCO, Environment Agency, OFSTED, the Higher Education Academy and the Learning and Skills Council. I was formerly Director of Learning at Forum for the Future, the leading Sustainability Charity in the UK and have served on the Council of the Institute for Environmental Sciences one of the UK’s foremost professional bodies in sustainable development. I am a former Trustee of the Worldwide Fund for Nature and an Honorary Fellow of the Society for the Environment and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology. I am an Honorary Professor at the University of Worcester.

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