A key role for regional organizations in Agenda 2030

A view of the briefing on Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development shows the icons of the 17 goals. The newly approved global goals provide a great opportunity for regional organizations to be more relevant for the life and well-being of their citizens. Photo by: Kim Haughton / U.N.

Regional organizations have an important role to play in the achievement of the United Nations global goals. They can support member states with the design of action plans for sustainable development, but also they can play a key role in monitoring the implementation of these commitments.

However, across the globe there is a growing skepticism among citizens about the effectiveness of the work of regional organizations and their relevance to people’s lives.

In spite of the progress seen in the last decade, about 38 percent of the total population of Latin America and the Caribbean is still vulnerable to many of the challenges related to security and development, according to the U.N. Development Program. As a result, citizens in the region continue to complain about and criticize the role of the Organization of American States, specifically its perceived inability to tackle social and economic instability in the region. Their fear is that this instability could cause a democratic backlash.

Another example of the reduced faith of citizens is demonstrated within the European Union, as an increasing number of people are voting for anti-EU parties, granting nearly 30 percent of the seats in the European Parliament to such parties. This is also evident in the results and trends of recent elections held throughout Europe: the anti-EU Front National won 26 percent of votes in France, while in the United Kingdom, Nigel Farage’s U.K. Independence Party posted 27.5 percent of votes. This is a clear sign of the growing skepticism that needs to be addressed.

Role of regional organizations

The newly approved United Nations Agenda 2030 for sustainable development provides a great opportunity for regional organizations in terms of following up and reviewing the progress towards the achievement of the development commitments, but also in terms of supporting their member states in their effective implementation.

This means a great opportunity for regional organizations to be more relevant for the life and wellbeing of their citizens, including strengthening sustainable and responsive democratic processes in their regions.

On the one hand, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development assigns a key role to regional organizations in ensuring their members accountability and effective implementation of global commitments. Agenda 2030 presents regional organizations with the opportunity to get closer to their citizens by keeping governments into account when it comes to the effective implementation of the commitments. This adds to the national checks and balances mechanisms, providing citizens with an additional layer of accountability.

On the other hand, regional organizations are also called to facilitate the effective translation of sustainable development policies including by supporting their member states to develop concrete action at the national level.

If national governments are to effectively implement the development agenda, they need to work closely with other institutions, including regional organizations. Sound policies to eradicate poverty that are gender sensitive and inclusive need to be created at local, national and regional levels, and regional organizations can be a positive driving force of these processes.

Regional organizations will play a key role, especially in the achievement of Goal 16 on the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies. Contributing to peace, prosperity and inclusive democratic processes in their respective regions is a priority and a shared challenge for all regional organizations, as they have developed strong legal frameworks and institutions for this purpose.

Drawing on these existing mechanisms for the achievement of Goal 16 is essential, but we should try to avoid duplication and the unnecessary creation of additional institutions and mechanisms; instead, we should rely on the existing mechanisms that regional organizations have created. For example, the African peer review mechanism — a self-monitoring instrument voluntarily agreed to by member states of the African Union — could be used to carry out periodic reviews of the progress towards achieving the goals. This way, while ensuring national ownership and leadership of the review processes, the mechanism allows the regional organization to contribute effectively to monitoring and accountability.

Stronger civil society partnerships

To succeed, regional organizations must enhance collaboration with civil society in order to bring people closer to their institutions and at the center of their policies. Regional organizations must get closer to their citizens; they must gain their trust and respect. Citizens need to understand how regional organizations contribute to their peace and prosperity and, to understand this, they need to be called on more frequently to be part in the work of regional organizations.

Currently, regional organizations are working on the institutionalization of forums and open spaces for dialogue with citizens and civil society organizations. It is important to highlight that regional consultations are being held regularly on topics related to democracy, sustainable development, security and human rights — particularly in the margins of high-level meetings such as the U.N. General Assembly and ministerial meetings.

Additionally, it is also a good example of how regional organizations are working closely with citizens to implement projects, such as the electoral observation missions held globally. This uses a substantive number of citizens as part of the mechanism. Or the efforts of the European Economic and Social Committee (the consultative body of the European Union) to present and exchange on their initiatives using ICTs, with civil society and other stakeholders.

The way forward

In contributing to the achievements of Agenda 2030, regional organizations must be the driving force of inclusive processes of policy development as well as of policy implementation, review and follow-up mechanisms. Many regional organizations have already set up regular consultations with civil society, which need to become permanent platforms of engagement for the achievement of the development agenda.

Inter-regional cooperation including peer learning and sharing of good practices will also need to be enhanced to contribute to these processes. Therefore, continuing to foster exchanges and mutual learning among regional organizations, the U.N. and civil society is the only way to find common solutions to shared challenges, and to contribute to the effective implementation of such ambitious development agenda.

Democracy Matters is a global conversation hosted by Devex, in partnership with International IDEA, to discuss accountability as a central element of deepening democracy. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using #DemocracyMatters.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the authors

  • Eleonora Mura

    Eleonora Mura works as program officer at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance coordinating the Inter-Regional Dialogue on Democracy. Prior to working at International IDEA, Eleonora completed multiple assignments in the United Nation peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara and the United Nations Volunteers HQ in Bonn. She also collaborated with several NGOs in central and eastern Europe in support of minorities and marginalized groups.
  • Luis José Consuegra

    Luis is the program officer for partnership development, prospection and regional dialogue at International IDEA. Prior to working at International IDEA, he worked mainly on external relations and international affairs at the Organization of American States, the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at Universidad del Norte in Colombia.