Donor engagement with Agenda 2030: How government agencies encompass the Sustainable Development Goals

A woman wearing a mask as a preventive measure against the spread of covid-19 walks past a sign advertising UN's 'Sustainable development goals' in Ginza.The State of Emergency in Tokyo will last until end of June 2021. (Photo by Stanislav Kogiku / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)No Use Germany.


In 2015, all members of the United Nations adopted an ambitious agenda known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals. The agenda consists of 17 development goals to be achieved by 2030. This report examines how government donor agencies encompass SDGs in international development cooperation, covering 20 of the 30 members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC). It reviews how they propose to incorporate the SDGs at the level of strategy and policy, programs, and reporting of outputs and results. Eighteen of the 20 members (excepting the United States and the European Union) have produced at least one Voluntary National Review (VNR). Although principally aimed at reporting on national progress on the SDGs, some VNRs cover international development cooperation and so are specifically noted. This review is based on how each country presents its engagement with the SDGs and does not assess the extent to which those policies and plans are translated into practice.

All the government donors surveyed here have to varying degrees endorsed the SDGs at the level of policy and strategy, ranging from expression of support at a very general level to embedding the Global Goals in policies and strategies or building strategies around the goals. Some countries address commitments to the SDGs in a comprehensive manner with a single strategy covering both domestic activities and development cooperation, even as a unitary commitment, although distinguishing separate priorities for each. A number of countries follow the SDG pledge to “leave no one behind” and employ some or all of the “5 Ps”—People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnership—that show the integrated nature of the goals.

At the program level, a few donors tie each program, and even budget levels, to the relevant goals but most use the SDGs only as a general reference point. Only a few donors actually report against the SDGs.

At least five countries have established a central government mechanism for policy coherence on Agenda 2030. In Germany, the Federal Chancellery has the lead on SDG implementation, with responsibility extending across the government and coherence provided through ministry secretaries serving on the State Secretaries’ Committee for Sustainable Development. In Finland, the prime minister’s office coordinates SDG implementation, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is represented on the coordination secretariat. In New Zealand, the Treasury develops a Wellbeing Budget. The Swedish Government has a National Coordinator for the 2030 Agenda, and multiple Swedish governmental agencies, including the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), form the DG Forum to work jointly on the global goals. In Australia, a senior officials group co-chaired by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides coordination on the 2030 agenda, both domestically and internationally.

Briefly, the SDG engagement of the 20 DAC members include:

Australia embraces an SDG strategy in its domestic and development cooperation policies that is integrated across government departments. It aligns its foreign assistance budget directly with each of the SDGs. In 2018 it issued a Voluntary National Review (VNR) covering both domestic and development cooperation activities.

Belgium uses Agenda 2030 as an overall framework for its development cooperation. It incorporates the SDGs into certain programmatic areas and maintains a website that allows the user to sort projects by various categories, including the SDGs. Its 2017 VNR includes reporting on its development cooperation activities and provides links not just to SDGs but also to SDG targets.

Canada is noted for having incorporated the SDGs in its Feminist International Assistance Policy. In early 2021 it commenced an exercise in Global Affairs Canada to integrate the SDGs across all of its business functions. Canada used the 2018 VNR to report on both domestic and international activities.

Denmark builds its development cooperation program on the SDGs and links each activity to the relevant SDGs. It sorts partner countries into one of three categories by level of development, each linked to specific SDGs. Denmark requires that the appropriation note for each activity identify the relevant SDGs. Denmark has established an SDG investment fund.

The European Union embraces the SDGs in its development cooperation at the levels of strategy/policy, program, and reporting. It maintains an interactive website that tracks EU work toward achieving each SDG and a website that provides data on EU assistance, including by SDG.

Finland presents its domestic and development cooperation approach to Agenda 2030 in a common strategy. It creates a comprehensive approach in its international development cooperation programs through linking objectives, theory of change, and results reporting to the relevant SDGs.

France has integrated the SDGs in its development strategy and links them to its two principal objectives, 100 percent compliance with the Paris agreement on climate change and to its social link interventions. It has issued SDG bonds to finance development activities.

Germany issued a strategy, with several subsequent updates, that explains its approach to each SDG in both domestic and development cooperation policies. For development cooperation, it links priorities and program areas to the relevant SDGs.

Ireland incorporates the SDGs in its domestic and international development cooperation policies and reporting. It has an extensive program for educating the Irish people about development cooperation.

Italy embraces the SDGs in both its domestic and development cooperation policies and reports on both together. It structures its priorities on specific SDGs under the fifth P of Partnership.

Japan comprehensively incorporates the SDGs in its development cooperation strategies/policies, programs, and reporting. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has a video on its website that explains its approach to the SDGs. It has issued social bonds linked to the SDGs.

South Korea places achievement of the SDGs as one of four strategic goals for the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). The mission of KOICA is “Leave no one behind with People-centered Peace and Prosperity.”

The Netherlands integrates the SDGs in its development cooperation strategies/policies, programs, and reporting. Its country development strategies use the SDGs as the narrative. Several websites present the goals, programs, and reporting on its development activities structured on the SDGs.

New Zealand utilizes Agenda 2030 as the overall frame for its development program. It uses the SDGs as the measure of progress for its partner countries in the Pacific, which is the principal focus of its development cooperation program. It explains that it tracks its contribution to the SDGs but that aligning official development assistance (ODA) with SDG outcomes is conceptually and empirically challenging.

Norway sets Agenda 2030 as the overarching frame of its development cooperation program and integrates the SDGs in strategies/policies, programs, and reporting. Its strategy includes communicating with the Norwegian people about the global goals.

Spain uses Agenda 2030 for the frame for its development cooperation. Its 2018 VNR calls for an SDG impact analysis on legislative initiatives to assess their external and global impact on the SDGs.

Sweden sets Agenda 2030 as the overarching frame for its development cooperation program. It publishes strategies on specific development programs and how they incorporate the SDGs, both for geographic regions (e.g., the Middle East and North Africa) and specific program areas (e.g., capacity building). SIDA works with investors and the private sector to advance the SDGs.

Switzerland incorporates the SDGs in its development cooperation strategy. A draft 10-year strategy has completed the phase of public consultation. Switzerland publishes factsheets for priority countries that connect its development activities to the SDGs. Results linked to the SDGs are reported on a website.

The U.K. uses the SDGs as the overall frame for its development cooperation program and incorporates them into partner country profiles. The 2019 VNR reports on progress on each global goal.

The United States has supported Agenda 2030 but has not brought the SDGs into its domestic or international development policies and programs.

Table 1. Documented country engagement with the SDGs  


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  • Footnotes
    1. Email from the Swedish Embassy development councilor, April 20, 2021.
    2. Social link references “fair and inclusive policies that reduce inequalities, particularly gender inequality, and increase access to essential education and health-related services.” Towards a World in Common: AFD Group 2018-2022 Strategy (2018), page 5.