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Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Greece: The pursuance of policy coherence and interlinkage

Tuesday, 19 February 2019
by Dr. Alexandros Kailis, Special Adviser on International & European Affairs, Office of Coordination, Institutional, International & European Affairs, General Secretariat of the Government
Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Greece: The pursuance of policy coherence and interlinkage
Introduction

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2015, provide a universal, visionary and transformative framework for sustainable development, ensuring that “no one is left behind”[1]. They introduce an integrated and balanced approach to the process of managing multifaceted economic, environmental and social challenges. They generate, for the first time, contrary to the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015)[2], implementation commitments up to 2030, for both developed and developing countries, tailored to the specific national context and needs. The SDGs cover a wide range of economic, environmental and social issues, ranging from addressing poverty, health, inequality and qualitative education, to the protection of the environment and the rational management of natural resources, the promotion of transparent and participatory institutions and the safeguarding of a decent work and sustainable and inclusive growth[3].
 
The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs place at the core of the sustainable development governance, both at international and national level, management approaches which ensure the optimal balance of the three dimensions of sustainable development (environmental, social and economic) and their effective mainstreaming in sectoral policies and legislation. Within this framework, the development of appropriate management means and tools which ensure policy coherence, complementarity and interlinkages between different SDGs is regarded as crucial parameter which contributes substantially to the integrated implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The importance of policy coherence and interlinkages for the achievement of the SDGs and the creation of mutual benefits for all is well-illustrated by SDG 17.14, which considers policy coherence for sustainable development an important means of implementing effectively all the SDGs.
 
To be meaningful and effective in a national context, the process of fostering policy coherence and SDGs interlinkages should be pursued, in parallel, at two interconnected levels: (i) at institutional level, focusing on improving existing or establishing new institutional mechanisms, developed at the centre of government and public administration, with a view to monitoring and coordinating the implementation of SDGs-related legislation and policies, and to promoting policy coherence and SDGs interlinkages (vertical coherence and interlinkages), and (ii) at policy-thematic level, focusing on the adoption and implementation of thematic legislative acts and policy frameworks (strategies, actions plans, programmes), which ensure the interlinkages and coherence of environmental, social and economic objectives of sustainable development (horizontal coherence and interlinkages)[4]

The Greek Perspective 

Greece attaches great importance to the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs, as they provide a transformative framework which lays the groundwork for an equitable and sustainable development model[5], ensuring an optimal balance between sustained economic growth, social justice and environmental protection[6]. Strongly committed to the achievement of the SDGs at national level, Greece presented, in July 2018, at the 2018 UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable development (HLPF), its first Voluntary National Review (VNR)[7]. The VNR provides an overview of the progress achieved so far in Greece with regard to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs. It presents the main institutional mechanism put in place in Greece which enables the necessary political ownership and commitment to accomplish successfully the SDGs through a whole-of-government approach. It also highlights key national policies and legislation which incorporate the SDGs, focusing on eight national priorities for the SDGs, and showcases the role played by key stakeholders in the implementation of the SDGs through a whole-of-society approach. In addition, it outlines some keys means of implementation, which ensure the comprehensive achievement of the SDGs at all governance level (national, regional, international), and presents the main steps to be taken in respect of the follow up and review process of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

As highlighted in the VNR, in its effort to create the necessary political impetus for implementing the SDGs at national level, Greece endorsed in 2017, at the highest political level and through a wide consultation with key stakeholders, eight (8) overarching National Priorities for the SDGs. The eight Greek National Priorities for the SDGs, which are in line with the National Growth Strategy adopted in 2018[8] and interlinked with all 17 SDGs and reflect, in a balanced way, the three dimensions of sustainable development, include:
  • Fostering a competitive, innovative and sustainable economic growth (linked to SDGs 9, 8)
  • Promoting full employment and decent work for all (linked to SDG 8)
  • Addressing poverty and social exclusion, and providing universal access to quality health care services (linked to SDGs 1, 2, 3)
  • Reducing social and regional inequalities and ensuring equal opportunities for all (linked to SDGs 5, 10)
  • Providing high-quality and inclusive education (linked to SDG 4)
  • Strengthening the protection and sustainable management of natural capital as a base for social prosperity and transition to a low-carbon economy (linked to SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
  • Building effective, accountable and transparent institutions (linked to SDGs 16, 17)
  • Enhancing open, participatory, democratic processes and promoting partnerships (linked to SDGs 16, 17)
For Greece, the effective accomplishment of the aforementioned national priorities for the SDGs along with the overall achievement of the SDGs across governance levels and policy sectors, constitute a prominent priority for the coming years. To this effect, Greece has already undertaken important institutional and policy initiatives, ensuring, apart from the integrated implementation of the 2030 Agenda, policy coherence for sustainable development and SDGs interlinkages. 

Institutional mechanism ensuring policy coherence

Institutional mechanisms and procedures established by governments, at the highest political level, play an instrumental role in the effective planning, steering and coherent implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs. They leave leeway for the cultivation of the necessary political ownership and commitment to accomplish effectively the SDGs and to generate a whole-of-government approach. 

It is within this context that Greece decided, in December 2016 (Law 4440/2016, art. 43), to establish, at the highest political level, an institutional mechanism for steering the coherent implementation of the SDGs at national level. This task was assigned to one of the main entities belonging to the center of government, the General Secretariat of the Government (GSG) and especially its Office of Coordination, Institutional, International and European Affairs (OCIIEA)[9].

The GSG, as a permanent structure standing close to the political leadership, supporting the Prime minister and coordinating the legislative work of the government, plays a crucial role in ensuring a whole-of-government approach and the commitment, at the highest political level, for promoting the coherent implementation of the SDGs in a long-term perspective. It is also uniquely positioned to cooperate and work closely with the Parliament, other central government bodies, including the General Secretarial for Coordination and the Vice-Presidency, and line Ministries on legislative and regulatory issues. 

In particular, the OCIIEA is entrusted with pursuing the overall monitoring and coordination of the implementation of the SDGs at national level, tailored to the established national priorities for the SDGs. Within this framework, the OCIIEA contributes significantly to promoting and internalizing the ownership of the SDGs in public administration and ensuring that existing or new national strategic priorities, legislation, policies are consistent and linked with the SDGs, taking into account the particular national circumstances and political context. It also works constructively with all line ministries towards fostering the adoption of an integrated approach to the elaboration of SDGs-related legislative acts and policies, and the promotion of best practices on policy coherence and interlinkages across governance levels and sectors. In addition, the OCIIEA leads the engagement of the Hellenic Parliament in promoting and implementing the 2030 Agenda, and facilitate, in close cooperation with line ministries, the dialogue and consultation process with a wide range of stakeholders actively engaged in the SDGs implementation (multi-stakeholder dialogue).

Equally important, the OCIIEA is leading the work of the Inter-ministerial Coordination Network for the SDGs, established in December 2016 for the purpose of better coordinating line ministries and strengthening their shared responsibility in implementing the SDGs. The Inter-ministerial Coordination Network for SDGs comprises representatives from all line Ministries, acting as focal points in charge of working on SDGs-related issues within their respective Ministries, as well as representatives from other governmental bodies belonging to the center of government, including the Vice-Presidency and the General Secretarial for Coordination, and the Hellenic Statistical Authority. The Inter-ministerial Coordination Network for the SDGs is responsible, among others, for the joint preparation of the national voluntary reviews on SDGs which are due to be presented at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum, and the National Implementation Plan of the SDGs. It discusses the necessary steps for accomplishing the SDGs at national level, and elaborates on existing and new national legislation and policy frameworks (strategies, action plans, programmes) aimed at mainstreaming accordingly the three aspects of sustainable development (social, environmental, economic). It also works on the identification and promotion of cross-sectoral actions and best practices that advance policy coherence, synergies and interlinkages in SDGs implementation. 

Policy initiatives fostering coherence and interlinkages
 
Greece recognizes that the effective implementation of the SDGs at different governance levels and across sectors requires, among others, the development and exchange of best practices on policy coherence and the identification of synergies between economic, social and environmental policy areas. To this end, Greece has been working so far on pursuing initiatives and actions which promote the SDGs interlinkages in cutting edge policy fields of utmost importance for the sustainable development of Greece, including indicatively the agricultural and tourism sector.

Agriculture and rural development sector 

The Ministry of Rural Development and Food pursues policies designed at promoting sustainable agriculture, a modern and safe agro-food system, from production and supply to consumption, and prosperous rural areas, taking into account the prevailing economic, social and environmental conditions. The principal objective is to create a sustainable production chain of safe and high quality food, with added value for producers and satisfactory prices for consumers, contributing to the economy, the employment, the social cohesion, the development of the Greek countryside, the protection of the environment and natural resources, and the responsible food consumption awareness. These policies are interrelated and complementary to other SDGs-related policies aimed to accomplish economic, social and environmental objectives. Therefore an integrated and coherent management approach has being promoted and implemented. In particular, the measures and actions promoted and implemented by Greece in the field of agricultural and rural development sector play an instrumental role in achieving a wide range of SDGs. They foster the economic development of the countryside and the competitiveness of the economy, create jobs and renew the human capital in rural areas, reduce regional and social inequalities, promote the production of safe and high quality food, and contribute to the protection and sustainable management of ecosystems, agricultural and forestry land, and natural resources[10].  

In Greece, the promotion of policy coherence and SDGs interlinkages in the agricultural and rural development sector is well-founded in the National Rural Development Program (RDP) 2014-2020. The RDP constitutes the key policy framework contributing substantially to the integrated development and sustainable competitiveness of the agricultural sector. Its overarching objectives and priorities, pursued in line with the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU, include: (i) strengthening competitiveness and agro-food system productivity by enhancing the added value of agricultural products, (ii) developing human resources and strengthening the entrepreneurial culture, (iii) protecting and managing natural resources and biodiversity, as well as the mitigation and adaptation to climate change, (iv) providing basic services and improving the quality of life in the countryside, and (v) fostering social cohesion in rural areas and the rural diversification[11].

In particular, as regards the coherence and interlinkages between the environmental aspects of sustainable development and the enhancement of the agricultural and rural development sector, Greece has undertaken so far, in the context of the RDP, a wide range of targeted measures. These measures aim to preserve the environment and natural resources from intensive agricultural activities, addressing current challenges, such as desertification and rational management of grasslands. They also support the development of organic farming, encouraging farmers to implement environment-friendly farming systems. Furthermore, the “environmental” measures of the RDP seek to promote the conservation, and the sustainable development of genetic resources and biodiversity in agriculture, given that Greece is considered one of Europe's richest countries in natural vegetation and wild species. They are also designed to facilitate the preparation of thematic management plans in protected areas, including significant areas under agricultural activity (cultivated and pasture land). In parallel, these measures aim to boost investments in the development of forest areas and to improve forest sustainability, through actions which increase, restore and maintain forest land and resources, creating, at the same time, agro-forest systems combining extensive agriculture and forestry.

Tourism Sector

For Greece, tourism constitutes a dynamic driving force for its sustainable economic growth. The country possesses unique characteristics (i.e. climate, nature, history, culture, gastronomy) that offer globally competitive tourism product and services. Over the last years, Greece has been working on the development of a wide spectrum of policies and actions, which seek to boost the level and quality of investment in tourism, with a particular focus on efficient and effective tourism products and services, on the basis of sustainable and inclusive growth. 

Within this context, the strategic objectives of the Ministry of Tourism are to enrich the current tourism product through alternative forms of tourism, to identify innovative and effective investment mechanisms and strategies to stimulate tourism growth and infrastructure, to maximize the economic and social returns, and to increase the human resources in tourism. In parallel, the Ministry of Tourism seeks to share experiences and good investment practices (at national, regional and local level) respecting environmental sustainability, and to promote the strategic interlinkages between the tourism sector, culture and environment. 

The accomplishment of the aforementioned objectives in the tourism sector contributes significantly to the implementation of key economic, environmental and social oriented SDGs. In particular, they foster entrepreneurship and economic growth, boost tourism investment and create jobs, advance education, training and skills, encourage green investments in clean energy, and promote sustainable consumption and production patterns in the tourism sector[12].

With a view to enhancing the coherence and interlinkages between the development of the tourism sector and the environmental dimension of sustainability, Greece has put forward, among others, the innovative Green Tourism Initiative. The Green Tourism Initiative constituted an important programme run by the Ministry of Tourism in the context of the Operational Programme “Competitiveness, Entrepreneurship and Innovation”, under the Partnership Agreement for the Development Framework (PA) 2014-2020. The principal objectives of this initiative included, among others, the improvement of the energy efficiency and energy savings of the buildings of eligible businesses and the proper and responsible management of water and waste. In addition, this initiative was designed to improve the performance of the tourism micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), by offering goods and services of high added value, excellent quality, and environmental sensitivity. Thus, combining “green” strategies and innovation, tourism industry will be able to apply fully integrated and innovative methods and tools for increasing their sustainability and their energy efficient modernization.

An Epilogue

Implementing effectively the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs at all governance level (international, regional national) and across policy sectors, requires, among others, the development of appropriate mechanisms, means and tools, which ensure policy coherence, complementary and SDGs interlinkages, both at institutional and policy-thematic level. 
Greece regards the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs as a visionary and ambitious framework which leaves considerable leeway for the transition to a new, equitable and sustainable development path. Greece’s utmost objective is to reap the full benefits that the SDGs provide, in order to reframe the country’s overall development perspectives. Against this background, the establishment of appropriate institutional mechanisms, at the highest political level, for monitoring and coordinating the implementation of the SDGs, along with the promotion of coherence and SDGs interlinkages in legislative and policy frameworks, constitute for Greece two determinants of paramount importance for the integrated and beneficial for all implementation of the SDGs. 


ENDNOTES 
  1. UN General Assembly: Transforming Our World: Τhe 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, A/RES/70/1, 25 September 2015.
  2. UN General Assembly: United Nations Millennium Declaration, A/RES/55/2, 8 September 2000.
  3. See all the SDGs available at: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs
  4. For a comprehensive overview of the importance of the vertical and horizontal policy coherence for sustainable development see, OECD (2016), Better Policies for Sustainable Development 2016: A New Framework for Policy Coherence, OECD Publishing, Paris. OECD (2017), Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development 2017: Eradicating Poverty and Promoting Prosperity, OECD Publishing, Paris.
  5. The first National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSSD) of Greece was elaborated in 2002, just before the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development, with a strong environmental focus. The second NSSD was prepared in 2007 by an inter-ministerial committee, aligned with the Renewed 2006 EU Strategy for Sustainable Development, including four additional national priorities (culture, tourism, agriculture and spatial planning). In 2009, the country’s priorities shifted to “Green Growth”, as a response to the onset of the financial crisis and the need for more emphasis on climate change mitigation and adaptation. To this end, a “Programme of Development Interventions for the Real Economy” was elaborated in 2010, aligned with the EU Europe 2020 Strategy, with a focus on resource efficiency and the shift to a low carbon economy.
  6. Greece, a member state of the United Nations and the European Union, has been pursuing sustainable development and equitable growth in accordance with international and European policies and strategies for decades. At the international level, Greece had been a devoted member of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) for 20 years, from 1992 to 2012. Greece was an active participant at the UN Rio Summit (1992), at the UN Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+10, 2002) and at the UN Rio+20 Summit (2012). Subsequent to the Rio+20 Summit, the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) and the UNGA Open-Working Group (OWG) were established. Greece participated constructively in the post-2012 negotiation process leading in September 2015 to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.
  7. See available at:
    https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/19378Greece_VNR_Greece_2018_pdf_FINAL_140618.pdf
  8. Greece: A Growth Strategy for the Future, July 2018, available at http://www.mindev.gov.gr/greece-a-growth-strategy-for-the-future/
  9. Apart from monitoring and coordinating the SDGs implementation at national level, the Office of Coordination, Institutional, International and European Affairs of the GSG is entrusted with pursuing the following main tasks: (i) monitors the implementation of the decisions adopted by Cabinet, other Collective Governmental Bodies and Inter-ministerial Committees, (ii) follows the preparatory legislative work and the decisions adopted by the institutional bodies of the European Union and other international organizations in a number of thematic areas, and (iii) monitors the process of transposing the secondary EU law into Greek law and supports the competent ministries, upon their request.
  10. For a comprehensive overview of the interlinkages between various SDGs and the policy initiatives undertaken by Greece in the field of agriculture and rural development, see Hellenic Republic, Voluntary National Review on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Greece, July 2018, pp. 104-107, available at:
    https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/19378Greece_VNR_Greece_2018_pdf_FINAL_140618.pdf
  11. See available at https://ead.gr/home-en/grdp-en/
  12. For a comprehensive overview of the interlinkages between various SDGs and the policy initiatives undertaken by Greece in the field of tourism, see Hellenic Republic, Voluntary National Review on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Greece, July 2018, pp. 112-115, available at:
    https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/19378Greece_VNR_Greece_2018_pdf_FINAL_140618.pdf


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