Sustainability at the centre of power?

Political article
The implementation of the 2030 Agenda is organizationally a difficult undertaking. Switzerland too is facing its problems in that regard. Who in the administration should be charged with this task? And what powers will it require?

The international community reached agreement on 17 goals and 169 sub-goals for global sustainable development. The list includes such varying domains as biodiversity protection, financial market regulation or achieving gender justice. Anyone who takes the goals seriously knows that the implementation of individual goals is not without implications for other goals, that they are mutually reinforcing but may also clash with one another. It is therefore crucially important for implementation to be coordinated by an entity that is as competent and influential as possible. The OECD recommends that responsibility for implementing the 2030 Agenda be placed at the centre of government.

And in Switzerland? It seems that the Federal Council's planning is that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda be undertaken by a conference of heads of federal offices. That would be a body designed to reach a minimal consensus – no more. It is foreseeable that this conference would lack the necessary strong leadership that can mobilize power, people and pennies, as perfectly described by a Dutch Minister.

In the view of Alliance Sud, whoever is steering the implementation of the 2030 Agenda must:

  • Have control over implementation as well as the monitoring of its progress and be empowered to report on it.
  • Be able to recognize conflicts between goals – not least of all interdepartmental ones – and be able to report appropriately on them.
  • Be competent, in the case of conflicting goals in regard to environmental sustainability and social justice, to take decisions and/or initiate the process of social negotiation around the conflict.

According to OECD sources, many countries are at least one step ahead of Switzerland in this regard:

Mexico has set up a technical committee led by the nation's President. It includes various ministries and, among other things, is competent, inter alia, to determine how progress will be measured and reported on.

The Czech Republic has established a Sustainability Council comprising thematic committees which in turn bring together hundreds of experts. The Sustainability Council is chaired by the Prime Minister and is also tasked with the review and follow-up of implementation of the Agenda in and by the Czech Republic.

Germany has assigned leadership of implementation of the Agenda to the staff of the Federal Chancellor's Office, the centre of power. However, it is only in exceptional cases that the Chancellor's Office intervenes directly in political processes.

Every political system has its own characteristics and peculiarities and, without exception, the rigourous and serious implementation of the 2030 Agenda poses a major challenge to all States and their systems of government. What is clear is that protecting the planet, achieving social justice and the financial sustainability of the 2030 Agenda do call for creativeness.

The requisite leeway is undoubtedly present in the Swiss political system: the Federal Chancellery as the power interface, or an independent federal delegate with far-reaching powers are just two potential paths that might be much more promising than the one the Federal Council obviously will choose.