The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not supported by any binding mechanism; their implementation depends solely on political will and interstate cooperation. For Oli Brown, Associate Fellow at Chatham House, foreign policy fulfills an important function in furthering SDG implementation by linking the goals to international negotiations, and by fostering healthy interdependencies.
"The sustainable development agenda is a hugely ambitious agenda that sets out a vision for how the world can be a better place by 2030. It's universal. It's relevant for all the countries around the world. But there is, I guess, a series of challenges since the SDGs were signed onto in 2015. One is that already they are for years in the past – some of the leaders who signed onto those SDG goals have moved on, are not in position anymore. And then, since 2015 we've seen this rise in populist, nativist politics that is fundamentally against the core goal of the SDGs, which is collective, collaborative international action to achieve shared goals and to tackle common challenges.
I think that's where foreign policy really plays a role. The SDGs don't have any kind of binding mechanism. They're held together by hope, by trust, by soft power and foreign policy can really help to articulate why countries should work together to achieve these goals, and to articulate a sort of vision for how the world can work together. Because these challenges are not something that can be managed by any one country by itself.
How can foreign policy play this role to help embed greater ambition, greater action, further the Sustainable Development Goals in Germany and around the world? I think what we came to realize is that foreign policy has a whole range of different tools at its disposal to both make the case for it and to facilitate how that can actually happen in practice: through linking different goals into trade agreements, into mediation processes, into the work that Germany, for example, is taking on at the Security Council.
We have this huge agenda for global action to improve the world in which we live. And foreign policy fundamentally is really good at encouraging people to work together. It's really good at articulating what is in the national interest and at working with other parts of government to convince domestic governments how they should be working more effectively to invest differently, to work differently, to achieve the [SDGs’] 17 goals, the 169 targets and the 244 indicators. So there's a huge agenda ahead, and foreign policy can play a really important role in terms of helping that to take place."