The Government’s preparedness to implement the sustainable development goals - follow-up

13 June 2024

Tim van de Molen
Chairperson, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee
Parliament Buildings

Tēnā koe Mr van de Molen

Follow-up to 2021 performance audit: The Government’s preparedness to implement the sustainable development goals

In August 2021, my report entitled The Government’s preparedness to implement the sustainable development goals was presented to Parliament.1

This letter sets out what we have learned about the Government’s progress on the recommendations from that report, to assist the Committee in determining whether it wishes to take any further steps.


In 2015, New Zealand, alongside all United Nations members, signed up to Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the 2030 Agenda). The 2030 Agenda seeks to improve life for current and future generations, particularly for those who are more vulnerable or described by the 2030 Agenda as being “the furthest behind”. It sets out 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. These goals encompass social, environmental, and economic sustainable development. Each goal has several targets designed to create urgent action. There are 169 targets overall.

We conducted our review to assess the Government’s preparedness to implement the SDGs. This included assessing what the Government had done to give effect to its commitment to the 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs, as well as how it intended to implement the SDGs.

Our 2021 report assessed the Government’s preparedness to implement the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs by looking at:

  • how the Government was demonstrating its commitment to the SDGs;
  • the governance, monitoring, and reporting arrangements for the SDGs; and
  • how the Government was encouraging stakeholders and the general public to engage with and progress the SDGs.

Countries that signed up to the 2030 Agenda also committed to producing at least two Voluntary National Reviews that report on a country’s progress towards implementing the SDGs.

New Zealand’s first Voluntary National Review – He waka eke noa – Towards a better future, together: New Zealand’s progress towards the SDGs 2019 – was presented at the 2019 United Nations High Level Political Forum.

Although the report refers to some targets that align with an SDG, such as reducing child poverty and greenhouse gas emissions, it does not identify all the SDG targets that New Zealand intends to achieve by 2030 and whether New Zealand is on track to meet them.

We made seven recommendations designed to encourage the Government to set out a clearer path towards achieving the SDGs, including clarifying its commitment to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. Those recommendations are set out in Attachment 1 to this letter.

What has happened since publication of our report

In October 2021, the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee (the Committee) held a hearing with our Office to discuss the report. In November 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), the Treasury, and Statistics New Zealand were then called to appear before the Committee to discuss what each agency was doing to give effect to the SDGs and respond to the recommendations in my report.

At the November hearing, MFAT noted that the Ministers who had responsibility for the SDGs2 would need to decide what action would be taken as the result of our report. These decisions were expected to be taken by Cabinet in the first quarter of 2022, and the respective agencies would be awaiting direction from that time.

Our Office has continued to raise these matters through the Estimates and Annual Review Briefings processes. MFAT has continued to advise that those decisions sit with Ministers.

In March 2024, as part of our usual performance audit follow-up process, we wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Rt. Hon Winston Peters. We sought clarification from the Minister of the Government’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, including whether there is still a commitment to implement the SDGs. We also asked who in the Government is responsible for overseeing implementation.

In April 2024, the Minister responded to our letter. He stated that the Government remains committed to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the SDGs. He also noted that MFAT is a lead reporting agency for two of the SDGs, and that the Government has not agreed a lead agency for New Zealand’s overall SDG implementation. Our correspondence with the Minister is attached to this letter.

In May 2024, we contacted the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to see whether it could provide the Committee with any further information about decisions or progress with the SDGs. It responded that the MFAT portfolio is the appropriate place to seek further updates or information.

Next steps

In 2020, the United Nations referred to the remaining years to 2030 as the “decade of action” for the SDGs. At the time of publishing our report, I said it is my hope that the Government acts on my recommendations and takes the necessary steps to define, measure progress against, and ultimately achieve New Zealand’s commitments to the SDGs by 2030.

When the Government signs up to international agreements such as the 2030 Agenda, it should, in my view, clearly communicate what these commitments mean, what action it will be taking, and how it will measure progress. It is difficult to see whether any progress has been made with the SDGs in New Zealand because the Government’s commitment and approach to implementing the SDGs remains unclear.

Agencies might have done work in other areas that contribute to achieving the SDGs. For example, MFAT is the lead agency on SDG 14: Life Below Water and SDG 17: Partnership for the Goals. However, we are not aware of any publicly available information that would assist Parliament and the public to understand how much, if any, progress has been made by agencies overall. There does not appear to be any co-ordinated cross-agency planning under way nor any governance arrangements in place to co-ordinate and support progress. A second Voluntary National Review is due to be completed by 2030 and, although there is still time, I am not aware of any planning to get this under way.

In my view, once the Government’s commitment has been clarified, the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of government agencies need to be more clearly defined. Being clear about New Zealand’s targets for the SDGs and transparently reporting on progress are both necessary to enable Parliament and the public to assess the Government’s performance and hold it to account.

We understand that the Committee has not yet reported back to the House on our 2021 report. Before you do so, you may wish to consider inviting the Minister of Foreign Affairs to discuss this Government’s intentions to implement the SDGs and seek clarity of the timing of the next voluntary review. We suggest this approach because MFAT maintains its view that decisions sit with Ministers.

As my Office does with other letters of public interest, we will publish this letter on our website in due course.

Nāku noa, nā

John Ryan
Controller and Auditor-General

1: Available on our website: The Government’s preparedness to implement the sustainable development goals (

2: Previous Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In 2021, the Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs had delegated responsibility for “Working with the Minister of Foreign Affairs to oversee the preparation and planning of the next Voluntary National Review of the Sustainable Development Goals.” Schedule of Responsibilities Delegated to Associate Ministers and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries (2020) available from, page 18.