“No one is safe, unless we all are safe” – László Borbély

Rhapsody Magazine had the honour to discuss with Mr. László Borbély – State Counsellor, Coordinator of the Department for Sustainable Development, about the importance of implementing Sustainable Development Goals, in a period full of unforeseen events, that have changed radically the way we live and we do business. Here is what we found out regarding Romania’s way to implement and translate the 2030 SDGs Agenda into reality.

R.M. Sustainable Development Goals must be owned and pursued by all the signatory countries, and Romania is one of them. What is Romania doing to translate them into reality, and how the department you lead is involved in this process?

Romania is doing a lot to implement the SDGs. We are recognised as a regional hub due to our activity. Romanian Parliament was the first among the 171 legislative from Interparliamentary Union which declared full support for the implementation of the 17 SDGs.

In May 2017, the Department of Sustainable Development was established within the Government`s Working Apparatus to coordinate the implementation of the SDGs on a National Level. The Department has revised Romania’s Sustainable Development Strategy in 2018, and now coordinates its implementation. We were one of the first countries to have a holistic national strategy for the SDGs.

So I can tell you that we have a coherent vision; we are very actively promoting the SDGs; we designed and developed a strong institutional framework.

R.M. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development represents a platform where leaders could discuss sustainable development, get guidance, keep track of progress, and address any new issues. What was the most debated goal since the SDGs were approved in 2015, the most critical one, globally and locally?

Also, which one is the most recent addressed one, considering the most recent events that mankind has faced?

All the 17 SDGs are important. There is a strong interdependence among all of them. That is, in fact, one of the most important principles of sustainable development: to have a growth that does not harm the environment or the society.

Implementation of the 2030 Agenda cannot be isolated from main events, so the pandemic crisis and health problems were some of the most important topics in the last one and a half years. I always say that education and health systems are in particular very important not just for Romania. But of course, there are challenges in other domains too. In my opinion, it is very important in the next years to look at the energy sector and to find the balance between the demand of energy and use of the fossil fuels.

R.M. The important thing to realise is that the agenda will not be implemented just somewhere, by some particular country, it has to be implemented all over the world. And also, most important,  people, organisations, governments, municipalities, everyone have to run with it. It is important that everyone feels they are part of the „Agenda” and the targets belong to them as well. How is involved, what are the concrete actions that the department you lead takes in disseminating this message, and to make everyone part of it?

No one left behind” is the motto of the 2030 Agenda. The pandemic crisis shows us again the importance of this desideratum: no one is safe, unless we all are safe. So, yes, we need partnerships, multilateralism, and strong international collaboration. Romania is very involved to promote these values. Every year at the most relevant world events on sustainable development we have a consistent presence. We organised a lot of side events at regional forums regarding the implementation of SDGs or at the High Political Forum on Sustainable Development which is the main annual event on the 2030 Agenda. This year, I had the honor to be co-chair at UNECE Regional Regional Forum on Sustainable Development.

 I think our mission is to be a catalyst and stimulate different stakeholders to work together and find the best solutions to certain problems. On the national level, we have a lot of partnerships to promote sustainable development values. We often organize events and conferences, trying to bring together all the relevant stakeholders and to put sustainable development issues on the public agenda.

R.M. Recently, in a conference, you said that „Romania is positioning itself as a regional hub in one of the organization’s most ambitious programmes: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We have a National Strategy for Sustainable Development and have completed the institutional implementation framework by setting up the Inter-departmental Committee and the Advisory Council.  Can you please tell us more about the Romania’s strategy in implementing, with success, the SDGs? What are the main pillars?

Romania’s Sustainable Development Strategy is the framework we need to implement the SDGs at the national level. Romania has a lot of good strategies, but a lot of them are not implemented as was designed. I think the results regarding our strategy are better because from the beginning we had a coherent vision and we accordingly project the institutional framework and monitoring process

The next step is to finalize the national indicators for 2030 which are very important. The Department is also developing an Action Plan which will help to improve coordination. These are just a few examples of how we want to successfully implement the Strategy which promotes the sustainable development of Romania by focusing on sustainable development’s three dimensions: economic, social, and environmental.

R.M. Regarding the progress accomplished so far by Romania, and the aims for 2030, could you please make a top 3 sectors where we are now deficient, and also a top 3 where we are on the right track?

Every year, the team of Jeffrey Sachs publishes a dashboard. In 2021, Romania is in 39th place among 165 countries. It could be considered an honorable position, but of course, is not enough.

In partnership with the National Institute of Statistics, the Department of Sustainable Development launched a brochure that describes how Romania performs on 2020 indicators for sustainable development (the document can be found here.)

As statistics shows, we have had some good progress since 2007 on eradicating poverty, for example. Also, in the energy sector, Romania has a greater proportion of regenerable energy in the national mixt than the mean of the European Union. The CO2 emissions had dropped significantly from 1990, so Romania is on a good trend in this sector too. On the other hand, is clear that we have to do more on all these issues. Relative poverty remains at a high level when compared to the European average. There is stagnation on regenerable energy and in the context of the new ambition we have to do more to cut greenhouse emissions.

So there are many challenges. One of the greatest is in the vital sector of education. As the 2021 Eurostat report on SDGs shows, Romania has some regress. Two phenomena are most worrying: early leavers from education, and the big percent of 15 years pupils with underachievements in reading, math, and science.

R.M. What are you looking forward to in the next coming months?

By the end of the year, we have some ambitious objectives. We are determined to finalize a first version of the Action Plan and finish the list of national 2030 sustainable development indicators. We will continue to be very active in promoting the SDGs, so we are preparing new engaging events. One of the biggest will be the Gala of Sustainable Development. This year we will give awards for educational projects in 5 categories: NGOs, public administration, schools, universities and research institutes, and the business sector. Information about our events could be found on our website, dezvoltaredurabila.gov.ro, and Facebook page: facebook.com/departamentulpentrudezvoltaredurabila.