Parliament's Role in Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals: a Parliamentary Handbook

This handbook has been developed for parliamentarians as a tool to promote parliamentary engagement on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs were adopted, as an integral part of the ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, by all 193 Member States of the United Nations on 25 September 2015. Relying on lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals (implemented from 2000-2015), the SDGs define global, long-term development objectives to establish more sustainable means of economic, environmental and social development in all countries. These new global goals, collectively referred to as Agenda 2030, came into force on 1 January 2016 and have a target date for achievement in 2030.

The SDGs were adopted unanimously by United Nations Member States and endorsed by the executive branch of the government of each country. If the goals are to be achieved in any given country,the country’s parliament must play a significant and informed role. The laws needed to create the legal framework for the SDGs will have to be scrutinized and adopted by the parliament. The annual state budget that allocates funding for SDG implementation will need to be passed by the parliament. The parliament must also monitor the implementation of the SDGs by the government to verify that it is appropriate in national and local contexts and parliamentarians must represent their constituents to promote citizen participation in the implementation of the SDGs.

The objective of this handbook is three-fold:

  • • further inform parliamentarians about the SDGs;
  • • share examples of how parliaments and parliamentarians can fulfill their roles in implementing the SDGs; and
  • • offer parliaments and parliamentarians a tool they can use to assess and improve their current capacity for engagement in the achievement of the SDGs.

The handbook starts with an overview of the SDGs and why they are relevant to parliamentarians, demonstrating that almost all the issues that come before a parliament for consideration concern the SDGs. The handbook shows that engagement on the SDGs will be understood as integral to the day-to-day work of a parliament, its staff members and parliamentarians.

Based on a review of the core functions of a parliament - lawmaking, oversight, and representation - the handbook discusses specific methods and tools that are being used by parliamentarians in different parts of the world to actively deliver results for the people whom they represent that support SDG implementation. Innovative approaches to these core functions are highlighted.

Finally, the handbook considers where a parliament and parliamentarians fit into broader implementation of the SDGs within the political system. Consideration is given to working with other implementing institutions, such as the state auditor and the national statistics office. Since parliament operates as part of a broader societal system, the handbook also considers how other actors, such as parliamentary staff members, civil society, political parties and the media can be engaged to better achieve the SDGs.

Each parliament and its parliamentarians understand best the political and social context under which they operate and are best able to determine what can and should be done to allow the parliament to play an active role in SDG delivery. By sharing good practices from other parliaments and discussing the application of international standards to the work of parliaments, the handbook is an opportunity to start a discussion among key actors within and outside parliament on how the institution can best fulfill its mandate.

Several innovative approaches that specific parliaments have taken to engage in oversight of government activity, including budgeting and expenditures, are presented. Some of these good practices have the potential to be ‘game changers’ in terms of the role of parliament in achieving domestic accountability and development. The examples note experiences with the MDGs (as prior relevant experience to the SDGs), financial oversight and early work on parliamentary engagement with the SDGs.

At the end of each section a short series of questions is presented to stimulate reflection on current parliamentary roles and capacities in relation to SDG implementation as well as to foster discussion on how parliaments can improve their ability to proactively engage in SDG implementation.

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