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SDG implementation in Georgia: Main challenges and opportunities

Sustainable Development Goals represent the United Nations’ post-2015 response to the new, as well as the old but persisting social, economic and environmental challenges the world faces today. Yet, approved in September 2015 and valid since January 2016, the SDGs only become operational once they are ‘downloaded’ from the universal to national levels and are accordingly contextualized.

With the country-tailored SDGs the UN Member States can then embark on the multi-stakeholder implementation process and regularly report on the progress made. As Georgia has already nationalized the SDGs with the most direct bearing on the state development agenda (14/17 goals and 88/169 targets), it is now important to contemplate on the challenges and opportunities their implementation presents to our country.

2030 Sustainable Development Goals      

To start with, the UN commitment to the SDG realization offers Georgia an opportunity to exploit the offered human resources and technical, methodological or policy support for the advancement of the national cause with global implications. The UN Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support is especially opportune for Georgia now that it strives to meet the European Standards stipulated in the EU-Georgia Association Agreement. Apart from the obvious economic (DCFTA) and political substance, the AA covers numerous SDG-relevant policy areas such as energy, climate action, education, etc. The tangible and intangible resources pooled for the implementation of SDGs will thus positively contribute to Georgia’s rapprochement with the EU as well.

SDGs also offer an opportunity for Georgia to further assert its regional, if not international, importance by the development of its transit capacity as an East-West energy corridor and a key “silk road” country between Europe and Asia. Integration of sustainability principles in the regional infrastructural plans will reduce the conflict between the short-term and long-term interests of the country and the region as a whole.

What is more, SDGs offer a ‘platform’ to the civil society, academia and even regular citizens to have their say and directly influence the policy-making. Its integrated character will not only facilitate a much-needed cooperation between different national stakeholders, but also add to the democratic legitimacy of the government-led reform process towards Georgia’s Sustainable Development.

And last but definitely not the least – Money. Funds mobilized by philanthropic foundations, WBG, MDBS, IMF, world’s richest nations, UNDP with SDGF and sister UN agencies are meant to support member states, and especially the developing ones like Georgia, in their work towards SDGs.

The EU and UN logos on the same flag. Photo: EU delegation to the UN

The AA covers numerous SDG-relevant policy areas such as energy, climate action, education, etc. The tangible and intangible resources pooled for the implementation of SDGs will thus positively contribute to Georgia’s rapprochement with the EU as well

However, with a donor-funded spending as an opportunity, comes also a challenge of raising money domestically. That is because, in a way SDG financing is planned, member states are also expected to generously contribute from the public and private sectors, and not only financially, but also through Corporate Social Responsibility and their alignment with the sustainable development goals. That takes us to the major challenge SDG implementation faces in Georgia: awareness problem! Even if state-led, achieving sustainable development goals is a multi-stakeholder endeavour, and therefore it is very important that private sector, civil society, academia, and even regular citizens realize the role they have to play in Georgia’s sustainable development, and keep the government (and each other) accountable for the actions.

Yet, the greatest challenge of all for Georgia will be to “ensure no one is left behind” as prescribed by the UN 2030 sustainable development agenda. The state jurisdiction does not cover the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and thus the Georgian SDG agenda cannot directly target the people living there. What Georgia could do is at best to make sure Internally Displaced Persons benefit from the SDGs, and pay particular attention to those facing double vulnerability, e.g. women IDPs.

Besides, conflicts in the South Caucasus pose threat to the energy security, and thus challenge the energy pillar of the sustainable development agenda. Regional cooperation on the SDG implementation is also problematic due to the absence of diplomatic relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Conflicts thus represent the most challenging reality for the SDG implementation in Georgia, as no development can be sustainable without peace!

All things considered, while there are many other challenges to meet and opportunities to seize for each and every sustainable development goal, the general situation is as follows: SDGs present Georgian government a possibility to use the UN technical/financial support for achieving its internal or foreign policy goals, and Georgian society – to exercise direct democracy. The main complications, on the other hand, will involve mobilizing domestic sources, building public awareness, and engaging conflict-affected population.