The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was signed by 193 heads of state and government from around the world at the United Nations summit on 25 September 2015. At the heart of the agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs for short). Among other things, these seek to end hunger and poverty, tackle inequalities, promote prosperity for everyone, make lifestyles around the world sustainable, respect the earth’s planetary boundaries, protect human rights and establish global partnerships, all by 2030. The 2030 Agenda is thus a global contract for the future.
The 2030 Agenda also marks an important change in perspective. It combines economic, environmental and social development aspects, obliges all the countries around the world equally and underscores the joint responsibility of all the stakeholders – in politics, business, science and civil society as well as all of us as individuals.
The 17 SDGs are each made up of a varying number of targets, of which there are 169 in all. The preamble lists five principles – the “5 Ps” – which should drive implementation: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. Their purpose is also to highlight the correlations between the various SDGs.
When the 2030 Agenda was signed, it was decided that the SDGs should be adapted and implemented at the national level. A national sustainable development strategy therefore serves as a key instrument in Germany and in many other countries. A government is unable to handle the implementation process on its own, however – those with political responsibility at the subnational level must do their bit too. Thus, strategies at the Länder level and solutions at the municipal level have an important role to play in Germany. Additionally, every government is required to facilitate comprehensive and responsible dialogue among all the stakeholders.
The German Sustainable Development Strategy
The German Sustainable Development Strategy is founded on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. With the 2016 revision of its strategy, the federal government not only tackled the unresolved sustainable development tasks, but also increasingly embraced its international responsibility. In addition to measures that have an effect in Germany, the strategy comprises measures implemented by Germany that have a global impact. And then there are measures with Germany – support for other countries in the form of international cooperation.
The revised version of the strategy is broader in terms of content than its predecessor: in addition to the “conventional” topics of, for example, climate and biodiversity protection, resource efficiency and mobility, it addresses issues such as combating poverty, equitable distribution and corruption prevention. Thirteen new topics and 30 indicators were added to the strategy. There is at least one national target for each SDG, most of which are quantified, and at least qualified. These targets serve as the basis for monitoring the strategy’s implementation.
Since 2004, the federal government has been producing a progress report every four years containing a review of the strategy. Since 2006, the Federal Statistical Office has been documenting the state of sustainable development in Germany every two years on commission of the federal government.
In addition to targets and indicators, the German Sustainable Development Strategy also includes guidance regarding institutional structures. The State Secretaries’ Committee for Sustainable Development serves as the central steering body. As the highest-ranking government body for sustainability, it is responsible for ensuring that the strategy is taken into account and implemented by all the ministries. The State Secretaries’ Committee operates under the auspices of the Head of the Federal Chancellery.
Sustainability has also been embedded in the German Bundestag since 2004. The Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development follows the German Sustainable Development Strategy and examines laws with respect to their sustainability impacts.
The German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) has been involved in the ongoing development of the German Sustainable Development Strategy since it was first published in 2002. The Council consists of 15 public figures. The Council’s tasks include generating contributions to the German Sustainable Development Strategy, specifying concrete fields of activity and projects and also providing contributions that make sustainability a public issue of vital importance. The RENN network is likewise coordinated nationally by the RNE Office.
The revised 2016 version of the strategy introduced important dialogue formats designed to promote nationwide exchange and collaboration among the various stakeholders and advance implementation of the strategy. These include the Sustainability Forum, which serves as a platform for the federal government to engage in dialogue with the key stakeholders within society regarding the status and future of the implementation of the sustainable development strategy and the 2030 Agenda, the dialogue group within the State Secretaries’ Committee for Sustainable Development comprising representatives from the fields of business, the environment, social affairs and development/international affairs, and the Science Platform Sustainability 2030, a joint initiative of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) with the involvement of the Federal Chancellery, which seeks to lend more weight to the voice of the scientific community in the area of sustainability policy and offer ideas for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
The Sustainable Development Strategies of the Länder
The Länder have an important part to play in the German Sustainable Development Strategy. The federal government and the Länder regularly discuss the latest sustainable development issues via the so-called Bund-Länder-Erfahrungsaustausch zu nachhaltiger Entwicklung (exchange of experience between the Federal Government and the Länder on sustainable development), which is chaired by the Federal Chancellery and by the chairing federal state of the Conference of Minister-Presidents. Germany's federal structure means the realisation of important goals, such as education, is the responsibility of the individual Länder. It is up to those responsible at the regional level to decide how these goals are achieved. The majority of the Länder draw on an overarching sustainable development strategy here.
The joint federal government and Länder declaration “Gemeinsam für eine nachhaltige Entwicklung – in Verantwortung für eine gute Zukunft in Deutschland, Europa und der Welt” (Working Together for a Sustainable Future – Assuming Responsibility for a Good Future in Germany, Europe and the World) published in June 2019 represented an important milestone in federal–state cooperation. This established that political activities at the federal and state levels should be guided by the principles of sustainable development as set out in the German Sustainable Development Strategy, which underscore the shared concern of the federal government and the Länder that sustainable development be a joint effort.
Baden-Württemberg first adopted a Sustainable Development Strategy in 2007. This was then revised by the state government in 2011. Sustainable development reports from the state ministries were newly introduced, as were “Status indicators of sustainable development in Baden-Württemberg”, which are regularly updated and published, most recently in the 2016 Indicator Report. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were incorporated into the existing sustainability targets. Where the level of ambition exceeded the SDGs, these more exacting requirements were maintained. Sustainable development is implemented together with important groups by Baden-Württemberg’s Sustainable Business Initiative (WIN), the Sustainable Development Youth Initiative and the Sustainability Community Initiative. This is all overseen by Baden-Württemberg’s Ministry of the Environment, Climate Protection and Energy Sector, within which the Sustainable Development Strategy Office operates. Baden-Württemberg additionally has an Advisory Council for Sustainable Development, which advises the state government on all issues concerning sustainable development within the state and makes recommendations. The Advisory Council is made up of individuals from the fields of science, business and society.
Bavaria’s Sustainable Development Strategy was first developed by all the state ministries jointly in 2013. It provides an overview and offers examples which clarify the focal areas of the state government’s long-term political activities. Global developments and crises in other parts of the world have a direct impact on Bavaria. The 2017 update of the Bavarian Sustainable Development Strategy was therefore influenced by the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and explains how the state government contributes to their realisation in Bavaria. A focal issue newly introduced in 2017 was Bavaria’s collaboration with other Länder as driven by development policy. More information at:
Brandenburg’s Sustainable Development Strategy was adopted by the state government in 2014. This was preceded by broad public debate. Five key areas of action have been defined: business and work in the capital region, liveable villages and towns, Brandenburg as a pilot region for the energy transition and adaptation to climate change, sustainable financial policy, and education and sustainable development. The state government is set to present a progress report to the competent state parliamentary committee in the fourth quarter of 2017 regarding the implementation of and the cornerstones for updating the Sustainable Development Strategy. In view of the new framework conditions (in particular the 2030 Agenda), it is currently being considered whether any new targets can be derived for the update and, if so, what they are. This is overseen by Brandenburg’s Ministry of Rural Development, Environment and Agriculture.
The Hessian state government established its own Sustainable Development Strategy in 2008 on the basis of the EU’s Sustainable Development Strategy. This serves as a platform for stakeholders from society, administration, business and science who are working jointly on new solutions and innovative ideas for a sustainable Hesse. In 2008, targets and indicators were identified for nine areas and the first projects were launched. A new set of indicators was then developed and adopted in 2018. Many projects within the Sustainable Development Strategy have been successfully concluded and have actively advanced Hesse’s sustainable development.
Since 2019, the Hessian Sustainability Alliance (HBN) has served as the central decision-making body for the state’s Sustainable Development Strategy. Steering groups give substance to the focal issues adopted at the Sustainability Conference and provide assistance with implementation of the initiated measures and activities. The entire process is coordinated and overseen by the Sustainable Development Strategy Office, which belongs to the Hessian Ministry of the Environment, Climate Protection, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.
Lower Saxony was one of the first Länder in Germany to make sustainability a matter of state politics in the 1990s with the Implementation of Agenda 21 in Lower Saxony (state parliament record 13/3679). The Lower Saxony state government then presented its first comprehensive Sustainable Development Strategy covering all policy areas in 2008.
The state government’s 2016 revised version of the Sustainable Development Strategy is geared to the current challenges of sustainable development in Lower Saxony and features focal issues and targets. In accordance with a cabinet resolution in November 2016, all the interested parties within society were incorporated into a two-month public process. A resolution was then definitively adopted by the cabinet in May 2017.
The state government adopted the first Sustainable Development Strategy for North Rhine-Westphalia in June 2016. The strategy was developed during a two-year consultation process involving numerous stakeholders from the municipal authorities, civil society, science and business. The strategy includes 19 areas of action which are based on the global Sustainable Development Goals. As such, North Rhine-Westphalia was the first of the Länder to adopt a target and indicator system comprising all of the SDGs. Within this framework, seven cross-ministerial focuses were identified: a climate protection plan; an environmental economics strategy; a biodiversity strategy; a sustainable financial policy; sustainable urban and district development and neighbourhood mobility; demographic change and districts suitable for the elderly; and the state initiative “NRW hält zusammen… für ein Leben ohne Armut und Ausgrenzung” (NRW Sticks Together. For a Life Without Poverty and Marginalisation). An indicator report is to be presented every two years. The first indicator report was published in 2016 to coincide with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Strategy.
On 19 March 2018, the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia decided to further develop its Sustainable Development Strategy, among other things to improve its dovetailing with the German Sustainable Development Strategy and to focus more on issues which are specific to North Rhine-Westphalia. The resultant draft is currently undergoing interministerial coordination.
The Sustainable Development Strategy “Perspektiven für Rheinland-Pfalz” (Perspectives for Rhineland-Palatinate) dates back to a state parliament resolution passed in 1999 and was most recently updated in 2015. The update introduced specific sustainability targets for Rhineland-Palatinate for the first time. The key topics include the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, greater resource efficiency and the expansion of organic farming. An entire section is also dedicated to education for sustainable development. This is overseen by the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of Economic Affairs, Transport, Agriculture and Viticulture.
Back in 2003, the state government of Saarland at that time adopted the so-called Saarland Agenda 21. This was based on the principles of the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the local Agenda movement. A state-wide information and awareness campaign was run in 2013 under the aegis of the Saarland Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection with the long-term goal of developing a Sustainable Development Strategy for Saarland. This then came to fruition in December 2016 when the state government adopted the Saarland Sustainable Development Strategy under the title “Gemeinsam Verantwortung tragen – für heute und morgen” (Assuming Responsibility Together – For Now and the Future). This was then presented to the state parliament in January 2017 as a government policy statement.
The process of updating the Saarland Sustainable Development Strategy began on 30 March 2020 with an online workshop. The aim is for there to be a large-scale societal participation process involving as many Saarland-based stakeholders and institutions as possible. RENN.west is closely monitoring this process and is represented within the state government’s team of sustainability experts by Michael Matern of the Environmental Campus Birkenfeld.
Sustainability is a core political principle for the Saxon state government and a fundamental objective of its governmental actions. In its meeting on 27 November 2018, the cabinet adopted the 2018 Sustainable Development Strategy for the Free State of Saxony. A further development of the 2013 Sustainable Development Strategy, it takes into account the economic, ecological and social dimensions of sustainable development in equal measure. The strategy pursues an interdisciplinary, inclusive approach and covers the topics of education and science, public finances, energy and the climate, natural resources and the conservation of resources, urban and rural space, business, innovation, skilled workers, health and quality of life, cultural diversity, social cohesion and equal opportunities, international relations and development assistance. As well as being comprehensively updated, important elements of the new strategy include consideration of the United Nations’ global Sustainable Development Goals (2030 Agenda) and a focus on 2030 as the target year.
Responsibility for its coordination lies with the Saxon State Ministry of the Environment and Agriculture.
An initial report on the status quo, targets and measures was produced in 2011 with the title “Gemeinsam für eine lebenswerte Zukunft – Nachhaltigkeitsstrategie des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt” (Together for a Liveable Future – Saxony-Anhalt’s Sustainable Development Strategy). This was followed in 2014 by the first Indicator Report on Sustainable Development in Saxony-Anhalt. Saxony-Anhalt’s 2018 Sustainable Development Strategy, which includes an indicator report, was aligned with the 2030 Agenda and therefore also with the 17 SDGs, with targets for the state to meet by 2030. All of the state’s strategy papers that look to the future likewise constitute part of the strategy. It describes target attainment measures. The 2019 indicator report comprises 29 indicators, which are assigned to the SDGs; the data is updated continuously. The indicator report must be presented to the state parliament every four years, subsequent to its being presented to the cabinet. It focuses on education for sustainable development (ESD) as a key factor for implementation of the strategy. The areas of action are as follows: financial policy, demographic change, health, poverty reduction and social welfare, business, labour market development, rural space development, digitalisation, Climate and Energy Environmental Alliance education and science, development policy guidelines, education for sustainable development.
This is overseen by Saxony-Anhalt’s Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Energy, department 35b.
In March 2016, the state government passed a cabinet resolution which determined that the 2030 Agenda would be incorporated into state policy and that the state’s specific strategies would be aligned with the global Sustainable Development Goals. This is overseen by Schleswig-Holstein’s Ministry of Energy, Agriculture, the Environment, Nature and Digitalization together with the State Chancellery.
The sustainability progress report published in 2020 is based on the 17 SDGs and identifies eight areas of action as focal issues for Schleswig-Holstein: good governance and participation in society, healthy living, education, social justice, infrastructure and climate protection, sustainable business and the conservation of resources, the maintenance of the natural environment and global responsibility. A catalogue of 75 indicators serves to gauge and assess developments every five years in order to determine where action is needed and to derive measures. 24 strategic principles extrapolated from these areas of action serve as the framework for the Sustainable Development Strategy. They provide guidance for steering future projects and are necessary in order to complement the report with the sustainability management system agreed in 2018, the purpose of which is to structurally embed the targets at all levels of public administration.
The 2018 Thuringian Sustainable Development Strategy was adopted by the cabinet on 7 August 2018. The primary objective was to incorporate the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda and to forge a link with the targets set in the first Thuringian Sustainable Development Strategy (2011). The strategy is divided into five focal areas: education and lifelong learning, climate, energy and sustainable mobility, sustainable consumption and sustainable business, protection of biodiversity and the reduction of inequalities. The Thuringian Advisory Council on Sustainable Development and other groups within society were involved in the strategy update (including through discussions at the Thuringian Sustainable Development Forum in June 2017 and on an online platform between November 2017 and January 2018). The Thuringian Sustainable Development Strategy is to be updated once per legislative period. The set of indicators was expanded from 27 to 33. To complement the strategy, all of Thuringia’s ministries presented their own sustainable development plans in spring 2018, featuring concrete targets and measures which fall within their respective remits. Indicators and monitoring dates are also stipulated.
This is overseen by the Thuringian Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Nature Conservation, department 41 “Environmental policy and Conferences of Ministers”.