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SDGs and the Role of Parliaments

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SDGs and the Role of Parliaments

For SDGs to succeed, legal implementation on the national level is required. Parliaments are expected to promote the SDGs, since the SDGs reflect the needs and aspirations of the people. Parliamentarians can do so by drafting laws and overseeing the government´s execution of these law, national policies and strategic plans.  In turn, the government is expected to report back to parliament.

Given these responsibilities, parliaments will play a key role in assuring the success of the SDGs agenda. While countries differ in their parliamentary systems, all of them require parliamentary approval on legislation pertaining to the SDGs.  As a result, people around the globe now rely on their parliaments to ratify this post-2015 agenda and translate it into actionable, sound legislation.

Given the high importance of parliament´s role in implementing the SDGs, parliaments were actively involved in drafting the SDGs, among others by being active participants at related global conferences and events. For example, on 27 March 2013, at the 128th IPU Assembly in Quito, Ecuador, Members of Parliament from around the world contributed to the global reflection on the post-2015 development agenda through the publication of the Quito Communique.  Given the importance of parliamentary cooperation, the Quito Communique relates a call to action to parliaments across the world to pass legislation in support of the SDGs.

 At the end of August 2015, during the Fourth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, the Speakers of parliament assured their support of the SDGs and their will to actively implement them through national parliaments. Similar sentiments were displayed at an International Parliamentary Conference jointly hosted by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK and the UNDP.  Previous engagement of parliament also took place during the Parliamentary Hearing entitled “Ensuring a people-centered approach to the new SDGs: A shared responsibility” in November 2014.

“ Every time a law is made, MPs can call attention to whether it is consistent with the SDGs, and move amendments if it is not. Parliamentary committees can ensure that their scrutiny procedures hold Ministers and officials to account for national progress on the SDGs. And parliamentarians, in representing those who elected them, can ensure an ongoing dialogue with civil society over such progress.”

Helen Clark, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
Speech to the Fourth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament


The following points identify the main channels and mechanisms through which parliaments can assure the implementation of the SDGs:

a. Law-making

National parliaments of the UN member states have the power to make legislations and approve international agreements. The parliaments should use this ability to facilitate the implementation of the SDGs, firstly by adopting the SDG and secondly by drafting new legislation or by proposing amendments to the existing ones- legislation that corresponds with the SDGs Agenda.   

It is important to note that the adoption of the SDGs does not make the SDGs binding for the UN member states. Each country needs to proceed in adopting the main principles in national legislation, or – where possible or necessary - in the constitution. Most of the SDGs are about basic human rights, so enshrining them in the constitution reflects the commitment of the country to protect human rights. 

Tunisian constitution

Adding the right to clean source of water in the chapter of basic rights in the constitution, for example, will make the state obliged to provide each individual and citizen with a clean source of water, and this is what the Tunisian legislators did. Article 44 of the Tunisian constitution stipulates that the right to water is guaranteed. Moreover, article 45 guarantees the right to education and right to health insurance. Individual parliamentarians can propose new legislation in this direction. Ultimately, it is their responsibility to represent the needs and interest of their people. A pioneer example in this sense is the Tunisian constitution 2014.  Articles 44 and 45 place the responsibility preserve water sources with the state, and task the government to work on eliminating the causes of climate change in Tunisia.

b. Parliamentary Oversight

A key role and responsibility of parliament is the observation of the government’s work and achievements. Every year parliament reviews the national budget, considering the budget provisions and priorities proposed by government. The Parliament approves the budget, allocating funds to each institution of the state in accordance with the plans and strategies they are tasked be carry out that year. In turn, ministries report to parliament, outlining how their expenditures contribute towards the policy priorities the parliament has endorsed.

One other role and responsibility of the parliaments is to observe the government’s work and achievements. This usually happens during question time, when the MPs can put questions to the government, individual ministers and prime-minister regarding their strategies and achievements. It is also a prime opportunity to solicit facts and statistics. By doing so, MPs will obtain a better overview of the situation in the country, allowing them to make informed decisions on priorities and goals for the future. In the case of the SDGs, debate and questioning will help find out which goals are most critical.  MPs can then provide direction as to what plans and agendas are required to achieve the goals by the agreed 2030 deadline. 

c. Debate 

Parliamentary debates usually draws the attention of the media. Each parliament has Rules of Procedure on how to start a debate, but virtually all parliaments allow MPS the privilege to initiate a discussion.  They also allow MPs the opportunity to propose, suggest, object to or approve any agenda or plan under discussion.

Given the media attention for high profile plenary debates, MPs can use these occasions for two main purposes.  Firstly, plenary debates can catalyse a wider public discussion or debate on the SDGs.  This is a prime opportunity to inform citizens of role parliament and government play in implementing the SDGs. It can also open a discussion with civil society organizations, who – as seen above – are a critical stakeholder in any implementation strategy. Secondly, MPs can use this opportunity to campaign for specific laws or amendments they are proposing.  In most cases, however, such efforts are made by a party or group, not by individual MPs.

d. Committee Hearing

SDGs should be tackled at committee level.  The sectoral focus of committees allows MPs to invite expertise on a particular subject, and request specific information and feedback. Most parliaments will opt to address the different SDGs in the relevant committee.  The availability of sectoral knowledge and expertise will make it feasible to follow up on the implementation progress of specific SDGs, in coordination with the relevant ministries and government departments. Some of the most suitable committees include committees of development, energy and natural resources, family and children, health and environment and the committee of culture and education. 

Trinidad and Tobago

In Trinidad and Tobago the parliament established a new Joint Select Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development.


e. Cross Party Collaboration

SDGs are more likely to be implemented through collective work and shared efforts. MPs from different parties who share the same interest in SDGs, or in one specific goal, can join forces and create cross-party group as a platform to discuss and support the SDGs.


Good Practices

It is also possible to create a caucus for the same sake, where like-minded people come together to discuss and work on any of the SDGs.  This will draw the attention of other MPs - especially the MPs who are looking for such groups or caucuses to position themselves strategically in parliament. For instance in July 2015, the MPs in Zambia formed a SDGs caucus, which shows the serious intention of the parliamentarians to take action on development on the national level. In Pakistan SDG Task Force was established in the National Assembly to promote debates, engage, and increase awareness of MPs on the SDGs.

The German parliament (Bundestag) established The Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development with each legislature. Its responsibilities are monitoring and supporting the Federal Government’s National Sustainability Strategy as well as monitoring and supporting the Federal Government’s sustainability policy at the European level; among other actions.

f. Financial Concerns and the Budget

Without the support of the MPs, the SDGs agenda will not receive the financial resources from the state required for their delivery.  This will frustrate people and will likely freeze the development process. Therefore, MPs should take the responsibility to campaign for a suitable budget that enables swift and smooth implementation of the SDGs agenda. It is critical to place the SDGs on the agenda of the parliament in the early stages of budget discussions and debates. Parliamentarians are now aware of the SDGs and can dedicate an amount of the national budget every year for implementing these goals. Before the yearly approval on the budget is the perfect timing for MPs to raise the issue at the parliament sessions and campaign for a suitable share of the budget for the SDGs.

To find more about the role of business in achieving SDG see here 
To find more about the role of architecture sector see here 

The white paper on business role see here 

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom for example the Parliament passed into law its commitment to spend 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA) every year (March 2015).


g. Civil Society & The Private Sector 

Civil society organizations also represent the concerns and interest of the people.  Inviting civil society organizations, the private sector and investors is an important step in implementing the SDGs. This cooperation is also necessary for financing sustainable development. In some countries parliaments need the financial support from the private sector, as discussed in the AAAA’s talks on SDG financing. 
The United Nations consider the private sector, investor, academics and institution to be partners toward the change and towards development. Therefore, parliaments can benefit from this partnership the most if they invite intergovernmental bodies to present their work and their views about development. Second, the parliaments can facilitate investments and cooperation through legislation in favor of fair trade.

h. Cooperation with Executive Power

Integrating the SDGs agenda in established national strategies requires cooperation between the legislative and executive powers, by which the government and other state institutions provide the practical and technical support for the agenda adopted by the parliament. In Colombia for example the SDG agenda has been a key focus of foreign policy over the last two years. The government has sought alignment between its international commitments and its national development priorities, and created an inter-ministerial Commission to follow up SDG implementation in February 2015, even before the SDGs were agreed. In Germany there is a State’s Secretary Committee on Sustainable Development this Committee rests with the Federal Chancellery, the main entity responsible for sustainable development at the national level. It works closely with ministries in shaping and implementing the national sustainable development strategy

i. International Cooperation and Conferences

In implementing the SDGs, it is important to stay up to date on what is happening and where the agenda is heading. This can be achieved by being part of the international network working on the SDGs, and by participating in networks and organizations that provide support on the SDGs agenda. These include the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), and regional networks such as the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), Parliamentary Forum or Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum [1]. Universal intergovernmental high-level political forum on sustainable development (HLPF) [2] United Nations Environment Assembly of the UNEP (UNEA), The European Sustainable Development Network (ESDN). For instance in May 2015 the African MPs adopted the African Parliamentary Declaration on the Post 2015, assuring their commitment to cooperation towards achieving the SDGs in the region.

Central and Eastern Europe

The Bucharest Seminar discussed how the SDGs and their targets may apply to Central and Eastern Europe and advance its development. Special emphasis was placed on the important role parliaments can play in ensuring effective implementation of the SDGs at the national level. The event allowed the participants to engage on these issues and elaborate concrete strategies, actions and recommendations to advance parliamentary engagement with the SDGs. You can read and download full output document here and Hanoi Declaration - The Sustainable Development Goals: Turning Words into Action here.

“Parliamentarians can play a central role in rethinking the way policies are produced and carried out. You can help to orient national programmes towards sustainable development goals. You can bring the views and aspirations of your citizens into the global arena. Through official development assistance and domestic resources, you can ensure that sustainable development efforts receive the financing they need. You can also promote gender equality among your own ranks. In all these ways, parliamentarians can drive our global campaign to usher in a more equitable and sustainable future.” [3]

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations




[3] Ban Ki-Moon, Message to the International Parliamentary Conference on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, 26 Nov 2013