SDG Forum 2019: Quo vadis Austria?

By Lisa Maria Weinberger, SDG Watch Austria/OEKOBUERO – Alliance of the Environmental Movement

On 29 November 2019, leading representatives of the political and private sector, academia and civil society came together at the 2nd Austrian SDG Forum 2019 to discuss the progress of the national implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The event was hosted by the civil society platform SDG Watch Austria. With more than 230 participants, the event demonstrated a strong commitment to local and global challenges, and clearly called for more consistent political action to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Joint responsibility for a sustainable future

Thomas Alge, Director of OEKOBUERO – Alliance of the Environmental Movement and member of SDG Watch Austria’s Steering Committee, pointed out key global issues targeted by the 2030 Agenda and how Austria should use the opportunity offered by the 2030 Agenda framework to tackle these: “The climate crisis, the extinction of species, global poverty and social inequalities are highly connected. The new government has to address these challenges as soon as possible and make the 2030 Agenda a top priority. This is a possibility to ensure policy coherence in the future.”

In her opening speech, Federal Minister for Sustainability and Tourism Maria Patek also stressed the importance of cooperation across different sectors: “The implementation of the SDGs is a joint responsibility towards future generations.”

Keynotes: SDG action from different perspectives

Despite a lack of political leadership regarding the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, there are a number of highly active and well-organized stakeholders in Austria. One of them is the Alliance of Sustainable Universities, an informal network of 16 universities, who developed a project called UniNEtZ (“Universities and Sustainable Development Goals”). Their chairman, Franz Fehr, presented the project at the SDG Forum 2019. At its centre is the development of options to support the government in implementing the 2030 Agenda. The proposed options would be based on the SDGs and would take into account possible synergies as well as trade-offs. 

Another important keynote was delivered by Sami Pirkkala from the General Secretariat on Sustainable Development of Finland. Finland has served as a good practice example in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for years and has created favourable conditions for an effective and ambitious implementation of the 2030 Agenda. These include the establishment of a Development Policy Committee at the highest political level, an extensive gap analysis in 2016, passing a national implementation plan in 2017, including the parliament through annual reports and including young people, establishing a civil society panel comprised of 500 citizens, and a follow-up and review system as well as passing an SDG-compatible national budget in  2018.

Panel Discussion: Agenda 2030 – Quo Vadis Austria?

The political panel discussion circulated around questions such as “What do we want Austria to look like in 10 to 20 years?” and made it clear that time is running out to achieve the SDGs by 2030. One key factor, which was raised multiple times, is that Austria lacks a strong vision and tangible, future-orientated policies and measures in many fields. While one of the panellists argued that existing structures work well and should be adapted to the changing circumstances, other panellists and civil society representatives in the audience pointed to decision maker’s inconsistent action and an exaggerated focus on the upcoming VNR report. In this context, politics was identified as a crucial factor for shaping the country’s path to a sustainable and good future for all. One panellist summed up the current dilemma: “As long as environmental pollution is free of charge and economic growth the premise for political action, Austria is far from having a consistent plan for the future.”


Anja Appel (SDG Watch Austria/Coordination Office of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference)

Michael Bernhard (Member of Parliament, NEOS – The new Austria and Liberal Forum)

Ambassador Sylvia Meier-Kajbic (Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs)

Judith Schwenter (City council, Graz)

Thomas Weninger (General Secretary, Austrian Association of Cities and Towns)

Workshops on cross-cutting issues

In the afternoon, four parallel workshops on sustainable agriculture, inclusive education, rural areas, and sustainable resources shed light onto several aspects of the SDGs and created an open space for discussions and ideas. The workshops were organized by SDG Watch Austria members: Coordination Office of the Austrian Bishop’s Conference (KOO), WUS Austria, OIKODROM, and Repanet.

Links and further information

Objectives, positions and activities of SDG Watch Austria

Photos: SDG Forum 2019

Presentation by Franz Fehr, UniNEtZ (German)

Presentation by Sami Pirkkala, General Secretariat on Sustainable Development, Prime Minister’s Office, Finland  (English)

Contact: Lisa Weinberger

ÖKOBÜRO – Alliance of the Environmental Movement

SDG Watch Austria,,  

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