Chapter 1. Sweden's global efforts for sustainable development

This chapter examines Sweden’s approach to global sustainable development including its response to global challenges, action to ensure coherence between domestic policies and global sustainable development objectives, and efforts to raise awareness of global development issues at home.

Sweden is a committed, adept and influential actor on sustainable development at the international level and is working hard to meet its ambitious goal of being a leader in implementing the 2030 Agenda. A renewed political commitment to policy coherence for sustainable development, as well as reformed organisational processes, have enhanced its ability to identify and address domestic policy incoherence. To further improve its coherence Sweden could do more to analyse the impact of its policies in key partner countries.

Sweden continues to prioritise development communication, and there is strong public support for development co-operation in Sweden and a growing recognition of the Sustainable Development Goals.


Efforts to support global sustainable development

Peer review indicator: The member plays an active role in contributing to global norms, frameworks and public goods that benefit developing countries

Sweden is an influential player on sustainable development at the global level and is committed to meeting its ambitious goal of being a leader in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Support for global sustainable development is in Sweden’s foreign policy DNA

Sweden is a committed, adept and influential voice on global sustainable development. Its foreign policy is marked by a long history of championing multilateralism as the best way to protect global public goods and tackle global challenges. It is also marked by a strong sense of solidarity with developing countries and a deep-held belief in the universal values of human rights, equality, democracy and peace (Elgström, 2015).

Sweden actively engages at the global level on numerous sustainable development policy issues, but three stand out in terms of its leadership: peace and conflict prevention, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. In pursuit of these objectives, Sweden has drawn on the competencies of the whole of its government and worked deliberately with other countries and stakeholders to build alliances.

  • Peace and conflict prevention Sweden successfully used its non-permanent membership of the United Nations (UN) Security Council (2017-18) to enhance the Council’s work on conflict prevention and resolution, ensure the participation and influence of women and youth in peacebuilding and protect children in conflict. It has also used its seat on the Council to reignite the debate on climate change and security.1 Through its membership in the European Union (EU), Sweden has strengthened the EU’s civilian capacity to prevent and manage conflicts. As co-chair of the International Dialogue for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, Sweden has also driven development partners to improve the effectiveness of their official development assistance (ODA) in fragile and conflict-affected situations.2

  • Gender equality and women’s rights Sweden issued the world’s first Feminist Foreign Policy in 2014, and has worked across multiple international fora to increase the resources, representation and rights of women around the world (Box 2.1) (Government Offices of Sweden, 2017a). It has built alliances to promote change, hosting the Stockholm Forum on Gender Equality (2018) that brought together more than 700 participants from over 100 countries to share tools for enhancing gender equality and to foster networks. Sweden also has worked across the whole of its government to implement the UN Security Council’s Resolutions on women, peace and security (Government Offices of Sweden, 2016a) drawing on the expertise of five government ministries and nine government agencies.3

  • Environmental sustainability and climate change Sweden worked actively with other countries to ensure adoption of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change as the first global, legally-binding climate agreement, and has devoted resources to assist countries in its implementation. Sweden has subsequently adopted an ambitious national target, committing to net-zero emissions by the year 2045 (Riksdag, 2017), demonstrating its global leadership on the issue. In line with its new global strategy on the environment, climate change and sustainable oceans (Government Offices of Sweden, 2018b), Sweden co-chaired the high-level UN Ocean Conference with the government of Fiji in 2017. Sweden hosted the seventh replenishment of the Global Environmental Facility and was co-chair of the Green Climate Fund in 2018. Sweden also uses its voice on the boards of international financial institutions to push for the long-term phasing out of all support for fossil fuels (Government Offices of Sweden, 2017b).

Sweden is focused on being a leader in implementing the 2030 Agenda

Sweden is making concerted efforts both domestically and internationally to deliver on its ambitious goal to be a leader in implementing the 2030 Agenda (Government Offices of Sweden 2018a). It has engaged the whole of its government4 and a broad set of actors across Swedish society in delivery (Box 1.1). Its National Action Plan (Government Offices of Sweden, 2017d) sets out six key priorities issues,5 and Sweden is in the process of establishing national indicators for all the targets as well as an integrated follow-up system to regularly monitor progress. This demonstrates good practice. Sweden’s voluntary national report (Government Offices of Sweden, 2017f) to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development notes that it has already met 20% of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators, having started from a relatively strong position. However, domestic challenges remain in education, employment, equality, consumption, climate, and oceans and marine resources.

Box 1.1. Implementing the 2030 Agenda - A whole-of-society approach

Sweden has diligently engaged the whole of Swedish society to deliver the 2030 Agenda, bringing on board a wide range of expertise and resources. In 2016, Sweden established the Delegation for the 2030 Agenda, an independent committee comprised of representatives of Sweden’s business and research communities, civil society organisations (CSOs), and municipal governments. The Delegation has helped to analyse Sweden’s progress to date in meeting the SDGs, identify areas in need of progress and promote broader societal awareness. Sweden’s Scientific Council for Sustainable Development has also drawn on the academic community’s skills to establish a solid scientific basis for the government’s work.

Prominent members of Sweden’s business and investment community have also been mobilised through the Swedish Leadership for Sustainable Development and the Swedish Investors for Sustainable Development networks. Municipalities are already incorporating the 2030 Agenda into their plans. The city of Malmö, for example, has set up a commission to ensure its budget expenditures are aligned to the 2030 Agenda. Swedish CSOs have also set up numerous working groups to look at both international and domestic delivery of the 2030 Agenda.

Sources: Government Offices of Sweden (2017f), Sweden and the 2030 Agenda Report to the UN High Level Political Forum 2017 on Sustainable Development, June 2017,

At the international level, Sweden has assiduously supported implementation of almost all of the global goals.6 The sheer breadth and depth of Sweden’s international engagement on the 2030 Agenda is commendable. However, it does raise questions as to whether there is the capacity and resources within the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to sustain this broad level of global engagement in the coming years (Chapter 4).

Policy coherence for development

Peer review indicator: Domestic policies support or do not harm developing countries

Sweden has renewed its political commitment to and reformed its government processes for policy coherence for sustainable development. These changes have helped it to better identify and address policy inconsistencies between its domestic policies and development priorities. Next steps could include analysing the impact of Sweden’s policies in key partner countries.

Renewed political commitment and revamped processes for delivering policy coherence

Sweden had always been considered a leader on policy coherence for sustainable development (PCSD), as the first OECD country to have an explicit policy on the issue.7 However, an evaluation in 2014 of Sweden’s approach (Statskontoret, 2014) found that the government had deprioritised PCSD and given it limited resources. The evaluation also noted that ministries lacked clarity on their roles and responsibilities and, as a result, were struggling to operationalise the policy.

In response, Sweden has renewed its political commitment, making PCSD a key tool in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. This is in line with the 2013 peer review recommendation. Ministries are now responsible for developing their own operational action plans to foster ownership, and inter-departmental structures for addressing coherence have been merged with those responsible for managing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Five priority issues have been identified: feminist foreign policy, sustainable enterprise, sustainable consumption and production, climate and the sea, and flight of capital and tax avoidance. Sweden’s 2018 biennial progress report on PCSD to the parliament (Government Offices of Sweden, 2018c) includes an examination of where conflicts of interest exist between its domestic policies and development objectives. Staff in Sweden’s embassies have been engaged in assessing how their work and that of their host country are contributing to the 2030 Agenda. However, there is scope to more explicitly explore how Sweden’s domestic policies are impacting on partner countries. Attention could also be paid to ensuring that the newly merged interdepartmental structures continue to provide a dedicated space to discuss PCSD.

Improved policy coherence in some domestic policies areas

Sweden’s renewal of its approach to PCSD has paid off. After having fallen from the top spot in 2009, Sweden reclaimed the number-one ranking in the Commitment to Development Index in 2018 (Center for Global Development, 2018).8 Sweden scored extremely well in terms of the coherence of its environmental policies relative to those of other OECD countries and was ranked as having the most development-friendly migration policies in 2018.

However, Sweden scored poorly on security due to its relatively low contributions to international peacekeeping and high share of arms exports to countries with poor human rights records and undemocratic regimes. Sweden has approved legislation that came into effect in April 2018, to ensure that significant human rights violations or grave deficiencies in the recipient country's democratic status are systematically taken into account when granting an arms licence (Government Offices of Sweden, 2017b). It is too early to tell what impact these legislative changes will have on Sweden’s arms sales. The legislation stops short of an outright ban on selling arms to dictatorships or to human rights abusers, disappointing many civil society organisations (CONCORD Sweden, 2018).

Sweden has made demonstrable progress since the 2013 review in encouraging its business community to be more aligned to the 2030 Agenda. This is one of Sweden’s priority issues for its PCSD work. The government’s policy for sustainable business provides guidance to encourage Swedish companies to meet international environmental, social, human rights and gender equality standards and adhere to responsible tax practices (Government Offices of Sweden, 2017e). In addition, Sweden has introduced new legislation on sustainability reporting for companies, that is more ambitious than EU directives9 and has developed new sustainability criteria for public procurement that is aligned to the 2030 Agenda (Box 4.1). It also has introduced new governance rules for state-owned enterprises that oblige them to report on their impact towards the SDGs, and has put in place rules to help investors to determine which sustainability aspects they should consider when administering funds (Government Offices of Sweden, 2018b).

Sweden is one of only six countries in the world to have created a national action plan (Government Offices of Sweden, 2015b) for implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN, 2011). An evaluation (Statskontoret, 2018) of the government’s implementation of this plan, found that significant progress had been made, but recommended that if Sweden wanted to do more it should consider strengthening the statutory requirements for Swedish companies to implement human rights due diligence in high-risk situations. The evaluation also noted that Sweden could consider establishing new laws to enable the government to investigate company-related violations of human rights by Swedish companies that occur outside of Sweden and to undertake legal proceedings related to such violations.

Sweden has made progress in addressing capital flight and tax avoidance, another of its priority issues. It has implemented all of the OECD’s Automatic Exchange of Information recommendations, which aim to improve tax transparency, and is on track to implement the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Actions, which equip governments with instruments to address tax avoidance. However, Eurodad (2017), a network of European non-governmental organisations, recently called on Sweden to undertake a thorough assessment of the impact of its tax treaties with developing countries to ensure treaties are development-friendly, as has already been done in Norway and Ireland.

One area where Sweden could do more is in fully implementing the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery. Sweden still has not implemented reforms to its Penal Code,10 which the OECD Working Group on Bribery initially recommended in June 2012.

Global awareness

Peer review indicator: The member promotes whole of society contributions to sustainable development

Sweden gives priority to development communication and awareness raising, and uses innovative approaches to communicate to its target stakeholders. Public support for development co-operation remains strong and there is growing recognition of the 2030 Agenda.

Communication prioritised and innovative approaches adopted

Sweden continues to prioritise development communication with dedicated human and financial resources and a comprehensive policy. Sweden spent USD 16.5 million of its ODA budget promoting development awareness in 2017, an increase in spending of 17% from 2016 (OECD, 2017). Sweden’s development communication policy (Government Offices of Sweden, 2016b) seeks not only to inform the public about Swedish development co-operation, but to promote open debate and engagement on the need for fair and sustainable global development. Sweden works with civil society, think tanks and journalists to achieve this goal.

Communication staff within the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Sida and Sweden’s embassies work in a co-ordinated manner to enhance Sweden’s communication impact. Campaigns are strongly targeted towards engaging youth, and often use social media and influential individuals as means to reach key audiences. Sweden’s #FirstGeneration campaign, for example, is building a global network of young people from around the world who are passionate about delivering on the global goals. Approximately 30 Swedish embassies have been involved in this campaign.

Strong public support for ODA and growing recognition of the SDGs

Public support for ODA in Sweden is strong and awareness of the 2030 Agenda is growing. Analysis of Sida’s Sifo 2018 aid polling data finds that 70% of people surveyed believe that Swedish aid contributes to a better world and 65% think the current level of aid is about right or should be increased (Liljeström, 2018). Another analysis of the Sifo survey also finds growing awareness of the SDGs, with 50% of people surveyed in 2018 indicating they had heard about the SDGs, up from 41% in 2016 (Gullers Grupp 2018).


Government sources

Government Offices of Sweden (2018a), DAC Peer Review - 2019 Memorandum of Sweden, September 2018, Stockholm.

Government Offices of Sweden (2018b), Strategy for Sweden’s Global Development Cooperation in the Areas of Environmental Sustainability, Sustainable Climate and Oceans, and Sustainable Use of Natural Resources 2018-2022, Annex to Government decision 01.03.2018,

Government Offices of Sweden (2018c), Follow-up of Sweden’s Action Plan for Business and Human Rights, Stockholm,

Government Offices of Sweden (2017a), Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy: Examples from Three Years of Implementation, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm,

Government Offices of Sweden (2017b), Policy for Global Development in the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda, Government Communication 2017/18:146, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm,

Government Offices of Sweden (2017c), Programme for Sweden’s Membership of the United Nations Security Council 2017-2018, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm,

Government Offices of Sweden (2017d), Handlingsplan Agenda 2030 2018-2020 [Sweden’s National Action Plan for Agenda 2030 2018-2020], Stockholm, assets/60a67ba0ec8a4f27b04cc4098fa6f9fa/handlingsplan-agenda-2030.pdf.

Government Offices of Sweden (2017e), Sustainable Business: The Government’s Policy for Sustainable Business, Stockholm, aa2796c4387ae/sustainable-business_webb.pdf.

Government Offices of Sweden (2017f), Sweden and the 2030 Agenda Report to the UN High Level Political Forum 2017 on Sustainable Development, June 2017,

Government Offices of Sweden (2016a), Sweden’s National Action Plan for the Implementation of the UN Security Council’s Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security 2016-2020, Stockholm,

Government Offices of Sweden (2016b), Strategi för informations- och kommunikationsverksamhet, inklusive genom organisationer i det civila samhället, 2016-2022 [Strategy for Information and Communication Activities, including through Civil Society Organisations 2016-2022], Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm, 75cc087a286ce8/strategi-for-informations--och-kommunikationsverksamhet-inklusive-genom-organisationer-i-det-civila-samhallet-2016-2022.-ud201610136iu.

Government Offices of Sweden (2015a), Swedish Foreign Service Action Plan for Feminist Foreign Policy 2015-2018 Including Focus Areas for 2016, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm,

Government Offices of Sweden (2015b), Action Plan for Business and Human Rights, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm, b60daf1865e39343/action-plan-for-business-and-human-rights.pdf.

Riksdag (2017), “Klimatlag” [Climate Act)], SFS no. 2017:720,

Statskontoret (2018), “English summary of The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights - Challenges in the Work of the Government (2018:8)”, Swedish Agency for Public Management, Stockholm, 2018---summaries-of-publications/the-un-guiding-principles-on-business-and-human-rights-challenges-in-the-work-of-the-government-20188/.

Statskontoret (2014), “English summary of Sweden’s Policy for Global Development: The Government’s Joint Responsibility? (2014:1)”, Swedish Agency for Public Management, Stockholm,

Other sources

Center for Global Development (2018), Commitment to Development Index 2018 (database),

CONCORD Sweden (2018), Barometer 2018: Civilsamhällets Granskning Av Sveriges Politik För Global Utveckling I Genomförandet Av Agenda 2030 [Barometer 2018: Civil society review of Sweden’s policy for global development in the implementation of Agenda 2030], Stockholm,

Eurodad (2017), Tax Games: The Race to the Bottom 2017 - Europe’s Role in Supporting an Unjust Global Tax System, Eurodad, Brussels,

Elgström, O. (2015), “Introduction: Sweden's international relations”, in Pierre, J. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Swedish Politics, Oxford University Press, DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199665679.013.47.

Gullers Grupp (2018), “Sida i svenskarnas ögon 2018: En undersökning om allmänhetens syn på bistånd och Sida” [A survey of the public’s view of aid and Sida], Stockholm,

International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (2016), Stockholm Declaration: Addressing Fragility and Building Peace in a Changing World,

Liljeström, M. (2018), En Analys Av Resultaten I Sidas Undersökning Av Svenska Folkets Kunskap Om Och Intresse För Utveckling Och Bistånd [An analysis of results of Sida’s survey of the Swedish public’s knowledge of and interest in development assistance], Sida, Stockholm,

OECD (2017), “Creditor Reporting System” (database),

UN (2011), Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, UN, New York,

UN Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen (2018), The Stockholm Agreement, 13 December 2018,

UN Security Council (2018), Security Council Resolution 2427, S/RES/2427 (2018), United Nations, New York,


← 1. During its non-permanent membership of the Security Council, Sweden successfully hosted UN talks with the government of Yemen and Ansar Allah that led to the 2018 Stockholm Agreement, which enabled a ceasefire in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah. The agreement is available at Sweden also co-led negotiations in the Security Council to ensure cross-border humanitarian access in Syria. Under its rotating Presidency of the Security Council, Sweden also strengthened the Security Council’s commitment to protect children in armed conflict with the adoption of UN Resolution 2427 ( Sweden additionally reignited the debate on the security implications of climate change by tabling the first session on this topic since 2011. For a full list of Sweden’s priorities in the Security Council, see 9902f281db8d4eaab5b590c4c9f24a75/programme-for-swedens-membership-of-the-united-nations-security-council-20172018.pdf.

← 2. Sweden helped to deliver the Stockholm Declaration on Addressing Fragility and Building Peace in a Changing World. See

← 3. Sweden’s National Action Plan for the Implementation of the UN Security Council’s Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security 2016-2020 is a cross-government strategy involving the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Justice, Health and Social Affairs, and Education and Research, as well as nine other government agencies including Sida. Twelve countries and territories have been identified as priority focus areas: Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Liberia, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine, and West Bank and Gaza Strip. See 5a14d4d14b9bc/women-peace-and-security-eng.pdf.

← 4. At the government level, all ministries are responsible for delivering on the 2030 Agenda in their respective policy areas, with two ministers having overarching responsibility. The Minister for Public Administration is responsible for co-ordinating the 2030 Agenda domestically and the Minister for International Development Cooperation is responsible for leading the work at the international level.

← 5. The national plan identifies six priority areas: social equality and gender equality; a sustainable society; a socially beneficial, circular and bio-based economy; a strong business sector with corporate social responsibility; a sustainable and healthy food chain; and knowledge and innovation.

← 6. For example, Sweden has help to launch a new Global Deal on labour market relations and social dialogue with the International Labour Organization and the OECD in support of SDG 8; it has pushed the EU, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization to counteract antimicrobial resistance in support of SDG 3; and it hosted the Third High-Level International Conference on Road Safety in Sweden in collaboration with the World Health Organization in support of SDG 11.

← 7. In 2003, Sweden’s parliament agreed Government Bill 2002/03:122, “Shared Responsibility: Sweden’s Policy for Global Development”.

← 8. The Commitment to Development Index ranks 26 OECD countries on the degree to which their national policies on trade, environment, security, migration, research and technology, and development assistance, support development.

← 9. Sweden’s new law applies to companies with 250 employees or more, rather than the EU directive which is limited to companies that have 500 or more employees.

← 10. The OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions considers Sweden’s maximum fine for corporations that engage in international bribery inadequate, and has called on Sweden to increase it. Currently, the fine is SEK 10 million (approximately EUR 1.2 million).

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