By Jutta Wolf
BERLIN (IDN) - Strategies to support and protect civil society to engage in the implementation and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were the centerpiece of discussions at a conference in Berlin.
Jeffery Huffines, UN Representative of CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, questioned the extent of civil society engagement in preparation of the first set of voluntary national reviews to be presented at the High-level Political Forum (HPLF) on Sustainable Development July 11-20. He stressed the 2030 Agenda’s participation rights should be used to open up spaces for civil society at the regional and national levels.
HPLF is UN’s central platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 26, 2015.
Roman Herre, FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN) Germany, pleaded for rooting SDG monitoring in, and informing by, human rights instruments. The civil society, he said, included professional NGOs and grassroots organizations, such as small-scale farmers and women organizations. He described a case of FIAN-assisted implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT) in Sierra Leone, where following an awareness-raising process, the government established an inclusive platform on land tenure, but stopped a FIAN fact-finding mission.
Masego Madzwamuse, OSISA, identified threats to local land rights and food production, ranging from climate change to mining operations and large-scale agricultural investments. She highlighted strategies to address threats, including registering land rights and uses, advocacy for land reform, shadow policy designed by civil society and strategic litigation.
Christian Graefen of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), presented GIZ’s challenges in creating dialogue and overcoming mistrust between civil society and government in partner countries, and in identifying partner organizations.
The ensuing discussion addressed, among other issues: the need to address power asymmetries in multi-stakeholder platforms; corruption with regard to sustainable development and human rights; the limitations of legal systems, including ignoring customary rights; and the importance of social and economic rights, which most donors consider “too political”. Participants also discussed: the dynamics of trade agreements as contradicting the SDGs; and the model of benefit-sharing as favoring resource grabbing.
The discussions were part of the Conference ‘Jump-starting the SDGs in Germany’, May 2-4, 2016 in Berlin, organized by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), and cohosted by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the Paris-based Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), Germanwatch, the World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+ Centre), Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Germany, Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe (FNR) and International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).
According to IISD Reporting Services, the conference also discussed the Role of Governments to Create and Maintain Space for Civil Society to Realize Responsible Land Governance at Home and Abroad.
Layla Saad of Rio+ Centre identified issues of concern with regard to participatory processes, including: inequalities of power, information or understanding; lack of participation of women and youth; and insufficient integration of citizens’ inputs into decision making.
She described the Brazilian National Council on Food and Nutrition Security, which makes proposals directly to the country’s President. Noting the Council seeks to address power imbalances by involving civil society, she drew attention to the successful government school feeding programme using locally produced products.
Fritz Jung of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) highlighted that strengthening civil society is a priority for German development policy. He drew attention to a new global programme to support responsible land governance, which includes strengthening the role of civil society in partner countries.
Drawing attention to countries fragility due to conflicts and failing political systems, Caroline Kruckow, Bread for the World representative to the Working Group on Peace and Development (FriEnt), cautioned that: civil society is not a monolithic bloc but often different groups represent diverse society interests; multi-stakeholder processes cannot possibly function under oppressive regimes; and peace and state- building agendas may be approached through land governance.
Amelia Coj, Asociación de Desarrollo Integral Mitij Ixoq’, Guatemala, said people need to be valued and seen as a fundamental element for sustainable development, and stressed the need for appropriate communication channels to promote awareness on the SDGs.
Solomon Mkumbwa of UN-Habitat, stressed the need to domesticate the SDGs by bringing them within the national political agendas and creating functional partnerships that leave no on behind. He called for building capacities, including through funding of local CSOs.
The ensuing discussion addressed: Germany’s extra-territorial human rights obligations and the role of German private actors in land grabbing; innovative mechanisms to monitor implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT) and related decisions of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS); Germany’s commitment to align development cooperation instruments with the VGGT; the need for information disclosure on land deals and for an analysis of financial flows; and reversing impunity in cases of corruption.
Presenters were invited to identify their take-away messages. Saad called for a multi-pronged approach reflecting the great diversity of organizations and ways to participate, and for national NGOs to conduct shadow reporting on country progress on the SDGs.
Madzwamuse identified social and economic rights as the most contested space. Huffines invited Germany and all other “first mover” countries to provide evidence of the inclusion of civil society in their upcoming country reviews at the HLPF session.
Jung acknowledged the need to engage more with the private sector. Alley highlighted the need to communicate SDGs as a story that affects all. Graefen drew attention to the possible need for institutional guidance on the SDGs in Germany through the German Chancellor’s office.
Kruckow noted that methodologies and tools are needed to create safe spaces for CSOs under threat. Herre cautioned that power imbalances and conflicts of interest need to be considered when promoting “multi-stakeholderism”. Mkumbwa prioritized awareness raising and inclusion. Coj called for innovative ways to reach local organizations. [IDN-InDepthNews – 8 May 2016]
Note: This write-up is based on a detailed article on the Conference ‘Jump-starting the SDGs in Germany’ by IISD Reporting Services.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
Photo: Room view during a conference session. Credit: iisd.ca