Achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires that they are integrated in an early stage of the preparation of laws and strategic policies. Integrating sustainability in Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) procedures is an excellent way to avoiding unsustainable laws and policies.
A growing number of EU member states, as well as the European Commission, are integrating the SDGs in their regulatory impact assessment procedures. It is also part of the Commission’s online Better Regulation Toolbox. The OECD supports such mainstreaming of the SDGs with extensive guidance and good practice collections.
Peer learning as support for mainstreaming
From December 2021 until May 2023, thirteen (and ultimately 22) EU Member States, the European Commission and the OECD participated in a dynamic and highly interactive project aiming at mainstreaming the SDGs into RIA procedures.
The final report of this project is available for download here:
The project was implemented by the think tank Public Strategy for Sustainable Development (ps4sd) and financed with a grant from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection (for further questions contact email@example.com).
The countries took part in six peer learning workshops on key challenges identified through a survey.
The project brought together national experts on sustainability /SDGs and on RIA world, to exchange practices and experiences with their peers. The European Commission and OECD took an active interest in the workshops and shared guidance and research findings, as did speakers from civil society organisations and academia.
The project showed great interest among the national SDG and RIA experts to continue with this promising approach and addressing the identified challenges and obstacles.
1. Strengthen leadership and increase resources for mainstreaming SDGs in national RIAs.
Clear leadership from the top of the administration is needed for the organisational and institutional implications for the mainstreaming approach.
Making sufficient human and financial resources available as investment in mainstreaming sustainability in RIA. This is particularly important because the project has revealed that SDG and RIA experts usually work in separated ‘silos’ with insufficient tradition and incentives for collaboration.
2. Continue with peer learning workshops, supported by a moderated network and political involvement.
Peer learning workshops help connecting the SDG and RIA experts within countries and between countries and accelerate the integration. The peer-to-peer exchange approach with multi-country workshops and several external experts (including OECD and European Commission) seems to be an effective and efficient way to learn. Most of the participants would appreciate a follow-up of the peer learning workshop series after the project with peer exchanges in various formats. Several countries which could not attend the peer learning workshops, also expressed their interest.
Continuation of the series of peer learning workshops would require a lightly moderated network structure that organizes follow-up workshops on key challenges and serves as a source of information for ‘newcomers’. Host of the network could be one country (e.g., the rotating EU Presidency), the informal European Sustainable Development Network (ESDN), or, for example, the OECD (joint work of the PCSD and RIA Units who both were supporting the project),. The Commission’s TAIEX-EIR P2P mechanism could help financing further peer to peer exchanges after the current project.
In order to keep the expert network active, Public Strategy for Sustainable development is offering to organise periodical online follow-up peer learning meetings – pending financial resources to continue this.
Besides the more informal exchanges in the context of workshops and a network, it remains important to create and maintain the involvement of the political level: i.e., putting SDG mainstreaming in RIA on the agenda on a regular basis, inform about progress and obstacles, and ask for steer where necessary. The formal EU Council Working Party on the 2030 Agenda and the OECD Regulatory Policy Committee could play a vital role. In both groupings preliminary results of the project were presented. In addition, this should be a regular topic for the European Commission Expert groups on Public Administration and on Greening the European Semester.
3. Develop and organize training for policy officers about how to mainstream the SDGs in the RIAs they are responsible for:
RIA procedures are usually conducted by the ministry responsible for the policy area where an initiative is under development, for example on SDG themes like transport and mobility, energy, climate, food, health or education. This means that really applying sustainability objectives and their systemic relations in RIA requires the involvement and commitment of many policy officers, in all ministries. The peer learning workshops cannot reach that many people.
Therefore, training should be developed that makes policy officers understand the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs, and how and with what methods and tool this can be integrated in their national RIA procedures. The OECD’s trainings for the SDGs in the framework of Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development (PCSD) are a useful starting point. National schools of public administration should take the lead and integrate this in their curricula.
4. The European Commission could support the national mainstreaming of SDGs in RIA with existing instruments.
Currently, the European Commission Better Regulation Toolbox, combined with the tools on the JRC KnowSDGs platform provide the best up-to-date compendium in the EU for RIA methods integrating SDGs. These tools should be used also by EU Member States as a source of knowledge for mainstreaming SDGs in RIA schemes. To mobilise this potential the Commission could help disseminating these tools to Member States’ governments through communication and training.
The European Commission could financially support development and implementation of trainings of Member States’ government staff, because of the long-term positive impacts of the attainment of the SDGs, and the European Green Deal and other major EU initiatives.
 In November and December 2022, respectively.
On 4 May 2023, after the 6th (hybrid) workshop in Brussels, a final event with a high-level panel discussion and a live band took place in the format of a Beau Lieu Café. The livestream of this event can be seen at our Youtube Channel.
The project team at ps4sd: Louis Meuleman, Andreas Versmann, Ingeborg Niestroy and Francesca Valentini
Checking the consistency of EU legislation with the Climate Law and the do-no-significant-harm principle
Nov 2023 – A report PS4SD made for WWF Europe on two aspects of the 2021 revision of the European Commission’s Impact Assessment (IA) guidelines and tools shows some reason for concern. The consistency with EU Climate Law and the do-no-significant-harm principle was found not to be well implemented. In 11 out of the 20 reviewed IAs, the overview on relevant SDGs was missing in the Annexes of the respective IA reports.
On 6 November 2023 the OECD published a report on Better regulation for the green transition. Climate change and other environmental threats require urgent government action. This policy paper discusses how governments can use better regulation instruments (good regulatory practices, risk-based and agile approaches, regulatory delivery, international regulatory cooperation, economic regulators, and behavioural insights) to design, implement and evaluate efficient and effective regulations for the environment.
On 8 May 2023, Finland has published its revised RIA Guidelines in an English version. They can be downloaded here. The new Guidelines include more comprehensive instructions on, for example, the stages of an impact assessment as part of the law drafting process, data collection and assessment methods, and special questions related to impact assessments concerning EU legislation.
The Netherlands adopted revised RIA Guidelines – The Policy Compass – in April 2023. The presentation (pdf) in English can be downloaded here. The RIA website (in Dutch) is here.