UNECE countries spotlight SDG implementation challenges

Five member States of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) joined the SDG Lab’s first pilot online session focused on sharing country challenges in SDG implementation.
UNECE countries spotlight SDG implementation challenges

Five member States of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) joined the SDG Lab’s first pilot online session focused on sharing country challenges in SDG implementation.

Held on 18 March, one day ahead of the 2020 UNECE Regional Forum for Sustainable Development, representatives of Austria, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Romania and Slovenia used the webinar to zero in on a key issue faced by their government in delivering on the 2030 Agenda.  

A group of experts from the International Geneva Ecosystem and beyond, curated by the SDG Lab, joined the webinar to provide ideas, resources and connections to the countries. The five countries also used the session to stimulate an exchange of solutions among themselves, and to benefit from each other’s ideas and lessons learned in the UNECE region.


(Click on the above image to replay the webinar in its entirety.)

More than 100 participants took part in the webinar that consisted of the following five SDG challenge presentations:

  • Austria received inputs on the theme of using digitization to help achieve the SDGs. The expert discussant was Jaroslaw Ponder, Head, ITU Office for Europe. Mr Ponder kick-started the discussion by remarking that information and communication technology (ICT) is often perceived as a solution and not necessarily as a challenge. He noted that ICT can provide opportunities in many sectors, such as heath and agriculture, but it can also be a source of risk in terms of data privacy and protection and cybersecurity. He encouraged Austria and other countries to better assess how digitization could be used for the public good rather than just to connect citizens.
  • Bulgaria presented its challenge on tackling demographic change and the SDGs. The expert discussant was Alanna Armitage, Regional Director, UNFPA Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Ms Armitage acknowledged that the issue of demographic decline is one that many countries are grappling with. She shared that Bulgaria has a comprehensive strategy to address a declining population, and that the country is prioritizing investments in human capital; an important counter-measure. She said governments need to adopt a ‘whole-of-government’ approach when it comes to tackling demographic challenges. This includes specific measures for the education and health sector, as well initiatives that promote active ageing and lifelong learning.
  • North Macedonia unpacked its challenge of better linking its national budget to the SDGs and increasing accountability of donor aid. The expert discussant was Scherie Nicol, Policy Analyst, Public Governance Directorate, OECD. Ms Nicol invited North Macedonia to consider how new technologies, like Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, can be used to optimize the way in which resources and budgets are tracked and reported. Similarly, she noted that a crucial element is ensuring that both donor-recipient governments and funding agencies have SDG-aligned budgets.
  • Romania identified policy coherence for sustainable development as one of its main challenges. The expert discussant was Anna Piccinni, Policy Analyst, Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development, OECD. Ms Piccinni remarked that the 2030 Agenda offers countries a comprehensive framework that is holistic and promotes a ‘whole-of-government’ approach. She underscored that the SDG framework must be integrated across all ministries and treated as central to planning, budgeting and implementation. She commended Romania for creating Sustainable Development Hubs (“SD Hubs”) at the level of line ministries and agencies, which serve as liaisons between different departments and other mechanisms responsible for implementing the country’s sustainable development strategy.
  • The last country to present its SDG-related challenge was Slovenia, which used the webinar to solicit ideas on balancing disaggregated equality data with data privacy and protection. The expert discussant was Jovan Kurbalija, Founding Director, Diplo Foundation. Mr Kurbalija highlighted the importance of consulting stakeholders like standards bodies and equality infrastructure institutions (e.g. conformity assessment bodies) to ensure that privacy regulations are adhered to. He noted that attempts to collect disaggregated data could amplify stereotypes and further promote exclusions in society but there are measures that can be put in place to mitigate this. He equally stressed the necessity for countries to develop a good taxonomy of data and a common understanding of what the definition of privacy means in practice.  

(A summary of suggestions from the audience/participants is available here.)

The SDG Challenges concept was a pilot initiative for the SDG Lab. It was tested in the context of the regular requests the Lab receives from UN Member States to provide a forum not only for the exchange of good SDG practices but also a space to openly discuss the many issues they face in delivering on the 2030 Agenda.

The SDG Challenges webinar was jointly organized by the Lab and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), in partnership with the UNECE Secretariat. The session was originally planned to be held in person in Geneva, but due to the COVID-19 disease outbreak the format of the event was adapted in line with global containment measures. Any potential future iterations of the SDG Challenges session would ideally be held in person as a face-to-face workshop.

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