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2019 Final management letter Domestic progress towards the sustainability goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda

Aug 13, 2019

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0 Executive Summary

The federal government is striving for sustainable development to enable future generations to live a self-determined life. The federal government intends to achieve this goal by means of a national sustainability strategy. However, our findings show that the strategy is neither comprehensive nor implemented in a consistent manner. The federal government needs to coordinate its activities to move to sustainable development, monitor success and steer work to achieve the goals set.

In general, development is sustainable if it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and choose their own lifestyle.

In 2015, the member states of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development (2030 Agenda). The federal government developed a national sustainability strategy to implement the Agenda. The federal government stressed its commitment to implementing the 17 sustainable development goals. The federal government also declared sustainable development to be the key policy principle. The associated targets and yardsticks would be used for steering all programmes government-wide.

At domestic level, overarching responsibility for sustainable development lies with the Federal Chancellery. The government departments are jointly responsible for implementing the sustainability strategy and for meeting the sustainable development goals.

We reviewed the progress made towards the 2030 Agenda and the sustainability strategy and developed the following key findings:

0.1
In developing the sustainability strategy, the federal government laid the foundation for implementing the 2030 Agenda and for meeting the sustainable development goals. We appreciate that the federal government strives for a holistic approach seeking to include all policy areas. The federal government has complemented the sustainability strategy by an institutional architecture that encompasses all key actors.

0.2
In the sustainability strategy, the federal government determined focus areas and priorities for Germany. This has been a major first step. In a next step, the preconditions for a successful and coherent implementation need to be put into place. To that end, the government departments should synchronise action and embed sustainability in line with the policy goals defined. This is where the Federal Chancellery comes in as it plays a key role in the matter. Care needs to be taken that the principle of ministerial autonomy does not undermine a holistic approach.

The Federal Chancellery should ensure that the government departments

  • develop departmental strategies for their respective remit;
  • provide an overview as comprehensive as possible over the major sustainability-related programmes and projects;
  • take a coordinated effort across government departments to specify the targets of the sustainability strategy for each respective remit and to prioritise programmes and projects accordingly and
  • base their departmental reporting on their respective departmental strategy and the associated action plan.


0.3
The federal government developed a system of targets and indicators for the sustainability strategy and complemented it by a monitoring and reporting system. The federal government should further refine this approach. To effectively manage sustainability and conduct proper retrospective evaluations, the impact of actions taken by the government departments needs to be reflected in the indicators. This is currently not the case.

The Federal Chancellery should urge for

  • enhancing and expanding the system of targets and indicators and the monitoring and reporting system to ensure effective sustainability management;
  • conducting proper and adequate retrospective evaluations of the sustainability strategy and
  • conducting structured analyses of areas with target non-compliance to use the results as input for timely action plans to address arising major shortfalls against the targets set.


0.4
So far, the federal government has chosen not to clearly define the targets and indicators of the sustainability strategy and has not translated them into useful guidance for the government departments. This is one reason why the sustainability indicators in place are not generally used in all individual cases to monitor target compliance. This makes it impossible to steer actions to achieve the targets set reflecting the relevant status of implementation against the sustainability strategy. Determining sectoral targets, e.g. for the sectors of building, energy, transport, industry or agriculture, could be a practical approach since the government departments could then use their judgement to select the instruments best suited to meet the sectoral targets for which they are responsible.

The Federal Chancellery should urge for

  • clearly specifying the targets and indicators of the sustainability strategy, e.g. by defining sectoral targets; and
  • selecting instruments on an informed basis that enable the departments to best meet their respective targets.


0.5
By means of the sustainability assessment of subsidies and by embedding sustainability aspects in regulatory impact analyses, the federal government has created two key instruments for coherently implementing the sustainability strategy. Now, the federal government needs to put these instruments to consistent use. So far, however, the federal government has not always fully complied with the high standards it set. There are examples where the federal government did not carry out a regulatory impact analysis even in major programmes with a financial impact amounting to billions of euros, such as the building-related child benefit. We also note with concern that, so far, the federal government has limited the sustainability assessment to subsidies in the “narrow” sense as defined by the federal government.

The Federal Chancellery should urge the government departments to

  • consistently apply the instruments in place for coherently implementing the sustainability strategy and
  • systematically assess the sustainability of all subsidies and subsidy-like programmes.


0.6
Implementing the sustainability strategy and meeting the sustainability targets are tasks for society as a whole. As a consequence, the federal government needs to consistently and fully provide information on those topics. Only in this way can the federal government be successful in raising awareness among all actors and convince them to meet the targets in a sustainable way. In the 2018 federal budget estimates, the federal government developed a financial framework for interdepartmental information sharing. The federal government also commissioned developing a communication strategy on sustainability. The two actions are significant steps in the right direction.

The Federal Chancellery should urge for

  • developing a framework to share sustainability information in a better structured manner within the federal government and
  • enhancing efforts to strengthen public awareness of sustainability goals and the sustainability strategy.


0.7
The Federal Chancellery has pledged to discuss our recommendations with the government departments when further refining the sustainability strategy.

© 2019 Bundesrechnungshof