First SDG Festival: Appeal to citizens worldwide, but where are the politicians?

In the end, Goal number 3: health and well-being for all, Goal Number 5: gender equality and Goal 13: climate action were achieved – but only in the fictitious country of “Hive Mind”, a digital game that determined a big part of the three-days “Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development” (GFI4SD) last week in Bonn/Germany.  In the real world of 2017 we are still far from having fulfilled any of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed upon by the United Nations in 2015. Changing that situation, communicating the SDGs to a broader public worldwide and thus enforcing their implementation was therefore the overall aim of the SDG Festival – the first of its kind, also marking the launch of the SDG campaign, run by the United Nations System Staff College (UNSSC) and from now on situated in Bonn.

From information to action; the complex concept of the 17 SDGs with their 169 targets, at first glance too abstract to be comprehensive, needs to be communicated in a more emotional way. Only if we manage to directly link this new global political agenda to citizens daily life, it will be successful – this was one of the main assumptions during the conference. Accordingly, the event itself wasn’t short of opportunities for exchange and interactions – from online games to surveys, workshops, discussions – “a first playable conference”, as Michael Toomey, Global Director of the SDG Action Campaign put it. Still, many questions remained open , e.g. shall the SDGs be communicated as a whole, marketed as a label – or should we rather highlight individual goals, projects and success stories to promote the 2030 Agenda? And how to bring all relevant stakeholders on board?

Since one thing is for sure: Just to appeal to consumers and local actors to change their lifestyle and become more aware of economical and ecological sustainability will not do the job. A profound change of global political and social structures is indispensable for the implementation of the SDGs – and therefore political decision-makers all over the world need to be on board. Yet, in Bonn, they remained largely absent. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, BMZ, send its special representative for Sustainability,  Ingolf Dietrich. But no German or any other Minister, in charge of development or environmental protection, was seen in Bonn – let alone any head of state.

„We should not first and foremost bother so much about how to communicate the SDGs to the average citizen”, says therefore JürgenMaier, CEO at the German Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung (Forum Environment and Development), “the SDGs need to be manifested in the heads of our politicians.” The EU, for instance, “could do a good job for implementing the SDGs by coming up with a true sustainable reform of the common agricultural policy”. Whether any steps into that direction have been taken, can be checked next year. From now on, the SDG Festival is supposed to take place annually.



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