17 reasons for a more effective SDS

Political article
The consultation procedure on the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) ended in February. Numerous organisations were sharply critical of the draft. The Federal Council must focus more strongly on development opportunities for the poorest.

Switzerland intends, through the SDS, to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, adopted in New York in September 2015. The Federal Council has prioritised three topics: “Sustainable consumption and production”, “Climate, energy and biodiversity” and “Equal opportunity”. The strategy further lays out how the business sector, the financial market, education and research could drive sustainable development, as well as the requisite framework conditions.

As it stands, however, the draft is inadequate and fails to do justice to the global significance of Switzerland’s domestic and foreign policy. It is “non-binding, vague and not very ambitious”, writes Mark Herkenrath, Director of Alliance Sud, in the opinion given in response to the consultation. What are the principal reasons for this sobering assessment?

1. Too many unkept promises

Almost 6 years ago now in New York, the then Federal President Simonetta Sommaruga underscored that it was time for the 17 sustainable development goals to be implemented. The national goals, however, are still vaguely formulated. It is high time to deliver on the international promise and make a good job of it.

2. Too late

According to the legislative planning, implementation of the strategy through action plans should have begun in August 2020. The considerable delay in producing the draft strategy shows that despite the appointment of two Delegates of the Federal Council for the 2030 Agenda, sustainable development is still not yet sufficiently anchored institutionally in the Federal Administration, and this must change.

3. Stronger commitment

The SDS favours voluntary action and overlooks the fact that clear and binding rules are needed in several fields, especially as regards cutting CO2 emissions and boosting corporate responsibility.

4. More farsightedness and a broader worldview

Part and parcel of policy coherence is that Switzerland should help to promote better development opportunities, elsewhere and in the future. This is why the implications of new laws for all relevant aspects of sustainable development should always undergo preliminary analysis. The Federal Council’s draft strategy still lacks this element.

5. Human rights

Although the guiding principle of the SDS is to “leave no-one behind”, it undertakes far too little analysis of the impacts on the poorest and the most disadvantaged groups. People in developing countries have not just needs, but also legitimate entitlements and rights.

6. Domestic policy is foreign policy

The SDS indeed commends civil society for its contribution to sustainable development, but fails to support it. Because NGOs in Switzerland too are seeing their action leeway increasingly curtailed or questioned in the realm of domestic policy, the Federal Government must also strengthen civil society strategically.

7. Foreign policy is domestic policy

Adverse international impacts should not be left out of the SDS and the external costs generated by the Swiss business sector should not be passed on to the general public. Switzerland’s climate footprint outside its national borders is twice as large as that within its borders.

8. And the financial centre?

The mention in the SDS that Switzerland’s main challenges in cutting greenhouse gas emissions relate to vehicular traffic, buildings, industry, energy and agriculture is incomplete. The financial centre should also be included here as a matter of urgency.

9. Money is power

The Federal Council is not ambitious enough with respect to illicit international financial flows. Profit-shifting and aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations must be actively combated: these practices deny poor countries tens of billions in funding which they could otherwise deploy autonomously to promote sustainable development.

10. Information is power

The planned SDS must give much higher priority to the significance of free and equal access to information and the corresponding role of public libraries, archives and documentation centres.

11. Education is key

The vague intention to make the 2030 Agenda “generally better known” is not enough. Clearer goals are needed, and the information and educational work of NGOs in Switzerland should continue to be eligible for federal funding.

12. Inclusiveness

The SDS still does not regard the inclusion of people with disabilities as a cross-cutting topic, even with equal opportunity as one of its priorities. This must be modified, as barriers exist in the surroundings and are not inherent to people’s identity.

13. Intermediate evaluation

To date, Switzerland’s sustainability policy has always been based on four-year cycles, whereas it will now follow a roughly 10-year timeline. This is reasonable, though a rigorous intermediate assessment of the strategy should be conducted after about five years.

14. Expertise

The action plans in place to implement the strategy should be the subject of consultations with a multi-stakeholder body that brings together expertise in all aspects of global sustainable development.

15. Legislative planning rather than lip service

Under the new SDS, a clear commitment is needed from the Federal Council that the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals will always be the guiding principle of its legislative planning.

16. Academia too wants more courage

Several other organisations have also emitted critical opinions in the course of the consultation procedure, among them the 2030 Agenda Platform and the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) of the University of Bern. They too are demanding quicker action, more boldness and more effective measures.

17. Do you need more information?

Then we recommend that you read the full response given by Alliance Sud in the consultation procedure (in German). More information on the topic of the 2030 Agenda in English can also be found here.