Chapter 3. Effective use of budgeting and public procurement tools

Budgeting for the SDGs promotes policy integration and ensures continuity of policy objectives beyond electoral cycles. The budget is a central policy document of governments, showing how annual and multi-annual objectives will be prioritised and achieved. Adapting budget systems and processes can improve the extent to which resource allocation supports effective policy design and performance in support of national SDG agendas, at all levels of government. Linking budgets to the SDGs could also be used as a tool to assess overall government performance, taking into account longer-term sustainability of the budget and helping to increase administrations’ accountability to civil society and Parliaments. An increasing number of countries are also using public procurement as a strategic policy lever to support broader outcomes consistent with the SDGs.


Budgeting as a tool for the integration of the SDGs

The budget is a central policy document of government, showing how annual and multi-annual objectives will be prioritised and achieved (OECD, 2015[1]). It is a political expression of the decisions taken by a country’s executive body to raise revenues and allocate public resources and is an integral part of national development strategies. The impacts of a budget across the economy and society are wide-reaching. Budgeting decisions determine how wealth is distributed and affect citizens directly via availability and quality of public services. Adapting budget systems and processes can improve the extent to which resource allocation supports effective policy design and performance in support of national SDG agendas, at all levels of government.

The 17 SDGs are by nature integrated and they also call for a medium-term vision. As a result, incorporating the SDGs into the budget process can promote policy coherence across various policy goals and ensure the continuity of policy objectives beyond electoral cycles. Coherent budgeting decisions will inform and help manage trade-offs and complementarities between different goals such as, for example, industrial growth and biodiversity. It will also allow administrations to have a greater coherence in relation to key national priorities regardless of election results.

Linking budgets to the SDGs can also be used as a tool to assess a government’s overall performance, taking into account the longer-term sustainability of the budget and helping to increase administrations’ accountability to civil society and Parliaments. Specifically, using the SDGs as an evaluation framework could add holistic longer-term performance criteria beyond short-term results indicators. Finally, using budgeting as a tool for SDG implementation could generate internationally comparable data on progress towards sustainable development and facilitate exchanges among policy makers beyond national borders.

The World Bank and the IMF have made considerable efforts to help governments increase the efficiency of government spending in SDG-relevant policy in infrastructure, education and health (World Bank, 2019[2]). The OECD has gathered important evidence in the areas of green budgeting and gender budgeting and – together with UNDESA – also explored budgetary implications of the 17 SDGs as a whole, identifying opportunities for more coherent and cross-sector budgeting needed to deliver on the SDGs (UN, 2018[3]).

Budgeting challenges for SDG implementation

Planning and budgeting for performance and impact presents a number of well-researched challenges. A first relates to the differing expectations of what will be achieved by aligning the budget process and performance indicators with high-level goals such as the SDGs. These could include: providing high-level outcome data to enable the executive leadership of government to pursue its strategic goals; ensuring the government is accountable to Parliament and civil society for the delivery of those goals; and supporting programme management so that specific services are delivered efficiently and effectively. These varied and not always complementary goals need to be defined and managed between different line ministries, the legislature and civil society.

Another challenge related to performance budgeting is avoiding perverse incentives to game the system by focusing on specific quantifiable indicators and avoiding the more complex and multi-dimensional objectives. An often quoted example is the one where patients in the UK are being kept waiting in ambulances as the target for waiting times starts only once they enter the hospital (Bevan and Hood, 2006[4]). Setting high-level goals and indicators is a first necessary step but must be followed by a national strategic plan, overall reporting and accountability systems.

Integrating the SDGs into the budget process implies in effect alignment between budgeting and strategic planning, including aligning performance information and targets to the goals, a task that involves both the Centre of Government (CoG) and the Central Budget Authority (e.g. the Ministry of Finance). The Head of Government has a responsibility (constitutional, legal, or by convention) for collective performance. As a result, the Centre of Government typically has a role to play in the performance budgeting process given inter-dependencies between the budget process and the achievement of government-wide policies. A number of countries are linking high-level political commitments such as the SDGs into the budget process (Box ‎3.1).

Box ‎3.1. Budgeting as a tool for SDG implementation in Finland and Norway

In September 2018, the Ministry of Finance of Finland presented its 2019 State Budget to the Parliament with a comprehensive sustainable development consideration. The budget focuses on carbon-neutrality and sustainable resource consumption and production in particular. Budgetary allocation and allocation impacts on climate action, bio-economy, circular economy, clean-tech innovations and sustainable public procurement, as well as international environmental agreements, development co-operation and climate investments will be studied carefully as part of the budget. This exercise is an important step in mainstreaming sustainable development into all sectoral policies and financial instruments. In addition, the government has launched work on a phenomenon-based approach to budgeting that will allow more tailored solutions that consider cross-sectoral, transboundary and intergenerational policy impacts (PMO Finland, 2018[5]).

In Norway, responsibility for each of the 17 SDGs is allocated to a specific ministry, which reports on progress for its respective goals in its budget proposal. The reports are included in the national budget white paper presented to the Parliament annually- along with the state budget. This mechanism enables the SDGs to be fully integrated into the regular budget process – and ministries to be accountable for results.

Source: PMO Finland (2018[5])Budget Review 2019 - Review of Budget Proposal

Medium-term budgeting

Governments can closely align their budgets with medium-term strategic and political priorities through developing a medium-term dimension in the budgeting processes beyond the annual cycle, and by organising and structuring the budget allocations in a manner that corresponds with national objectives. Effective medium-term budgeting is an important supportive measure to establish linkages between budgets, plans and policies – complementary to programme budgeting. It is an integral part of providing predictability and assurance to policy planners about multi-year resource availability; and to identify the appropriate medium-term goals and priorities against which resources could be allocated. The OECD Recommendation on Budgetary Governance (2015[1]) states that: “budgets should be closely aligned with the medium-term strategic priorities of government, through organising and structuring budget allocations in a way that corresponds readily with national objectives and developing a stronger medium-term dimension in the budgeting process, beyond the traditional annual cycle.”

The use of a medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) for example explicitly aligns public expenditure allocations with medium-term plans and priorities to improve the effectiveness of public spending. A MTEF is a structured approach to integrating fiscal policy and budgeting over a multi-year horizon, and links fiscal forecasting, fiscal objectives and forward planning of multi-year budget estimates. The many potential benefits of successfully implemented MTEFs include fiscal discipline by framing expenditure ceilings by fiscal limits and available resources; greater assurance about resource availability over the multi-year horizon; and in return promoting effective forward planning for national priorities; including improved planning and resourcing of multi-year policies that may require an extended time horizon for implementation (such as large capital projects, new programmes, and organisational restructuring).

However, the effective use of a medium-term expenditure framework requires political commitment to ensure that fiscal targets are maintained and that discussions on policy priorities and trade-offs occur. A key element to identify the appropriate medium-term goals against which resources could be allocated is a collective decision-making approach. It should define the fiscal targets, medium-term priorities and corresponding expenditure ceilings necessary for the implementation of the national development vision, which in turn should reflect the SDGs (Downes, Moretti and Shaw, 2017[6]).

Environmentally responsive budgeting

Climate change, biodiversity and ecosystems loss, water and air pollution are some of the major environmental threats facing our planet, our economies and our societies. In recent decades, countries all over the globe have committed to domestic and international agreements on climate and environment, including the SDGs, which include targets aimed at fighting climate change, cutting pollution, protecting biodiversity, and promoting sustainable production and consumption patterns.

Budgeting can be one of the most effective tools that policy makers have at their disposal for resourcing and implementing these important objectives. The way governments choose to spend their money will be decisive to achieve these commitments. The scale of the challenge is enormous given the existing misalignment between the SDGs and current public expenditure and taxation practices. For instance, between 2010 and 2015, fossil fuel subsidies amounted to USD 373-617 billion annually across 76 economies, which collectively contribute 94% of global carbon dioxide emissions (OECD, 2018[7]). In contrast, the amount that governments spend on biodiversity, estimated at about USD 50 billion per year, is approximately one tenth of the spending on fossil fuels, and environmental protection averages around 1.3% of public expenditures (OECD, 2017[8]).

Equally, the tax system is an important tool to internalise negative environmental externalities, while also generating substantial amounts of public revenue. In OECD countries, annual environmentally related tax revenue, however, has decreased from 1.83% of GDP in 2000 to 1.56% in 2014. The potential of carbon pricing is also far from being realised. Currently, 90% of carbon emissions are not priced at a level reflecting even a conservative estimate of their climate costs, and about 60% are not priced at all (OECD, 2016[9]).

Environmentally responsive or “green budgeting” introduces innovative ways to help governments establish a process to record and communicate its policy progress to achieve environmental objectives through budgeting processes. Green budgeting aims to drive improvements in the alignment of national expenditure and revenue processes with climate and other environmental goals. This is a crucial step in achieving a central objective of key international agreements, including the Paris Agreement, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and the SDGs – aligning national policy frameworks and financial flows on a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and environmentally sustainable development.

Green budgeting has its origins in the 1987 report of the Brundtland Commission (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987[10]), which recommended that “the major central economic and sectoral agencies of governments should now be made directly responsible and fully accountable for ensuring that their policies, programmes, and budgets support development that is ecologically as well as economically sustainable.”

The OECD defines green budgeting as using the tools of budgetary governance to help achieve these objectives. Green budgeting does so by systematically examining existing and potential fiscal measures and policies to mainstream an environmentally informed approach into the national and subnational budgetary and fiscal frameworks. Green budgeting provides decision-makers with a clearer sense of the potential environmental impacts of budgeting choices to stimulate good practices on the optimisation of national revenue-raising and resource-allocation in order to attain environmental commitments. This will make governments more accountable for their environmental commitments and support them in making the transformation towards more sustainable and greener societies.

To assist governments in moving towards green budgeting, the OECD launched the “Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting” at the One Planet Summit in December 2017 (Box ‎3.2).

Box ‎3.2. Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting

The Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting (PCGB), set up in 2018, is the first cross-country and cross-sectoral initiative providing a coordinating platform to identify research priorities and gaps, design new and innovative green budgeting tools, share data and best practices, and channel this knowledge to help governments, individually and collectively, to achieve their environmental and climate goals. It works together with governments, institutions and experts to bring together international work-streams on environmental policy and climate change, budgeting and tax policy, green accounting and inclusive sustainable growth.

Under the Collaborative, the OECD Secretariat advances the analytical and methodological groundwork for green budgeting. A wide spectrum of on-going OECD work already investigates key elements relevant for green budgeting. These serve as natural starting points around which the activities of the PCGB are being developed. Under the guidance of the Collaborative, governments are invited to propose, develop and test potential tools needed to support green budgeting, building on the on-going work mentioned above.

A number of countries, including France, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, and Switzerland have signed up to champion green budgeting under the Paris Collaborative.

Note: For more information on the Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting, see

Sources: CCCFMP (2015[11])Green Planning and Budgeting Strategy for Indonesia’s Sustainable Developement 2015-2020, https://www.kemenkeu.go; RPLN (2016[12]), Climate Budget Tagging: Experience from Asia

Implementing green budgeting to support national SDG agendas

Green budgeting plays a clear role in providing the necessary incentives for action in achieving policy coherence with the SDGs as well as strengthening the (financial) means of their implementation. As the goals are interconnected, the key to success on one will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another. Key goals directly relevant for green budgeting include:

  • Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

  • Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.

  • Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

  • Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

  • Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

  • Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

In order to align budgetary policies and processes in support of environmental goals governments need to apply a holistic approach. This requires establishing clear connections between public finance and environmental impacts and evaluating and improving the consistency of public finance flows with national and international environmental goals. Additionally, to take into account the potential for significant co-benefits from some actions (e.g., emissions reductions measures that also improve air quality), there is also the risk for actions focused solely on climate objectives to have adverse unintended consequences on other environmental and social goals. Budgetary processes should therefore consider potential impacts of action in one area on other policy domains.

Incorporating environmental dimensions into fiscal frameworks will mainstream an environmentally informed approach across all policy domains. At the same time, it will aid the monitoring process to help governments become more accountable for their environmental commitments, as demanded by the SDGs and other international commitments on climate and environment. Green budgeting should provide a clearer sense of the “green credentials” of the annual and multi-annual budget by:

  • Reporting on environmental targets’ progress towards their achievement in budgetary performance indicators and budget documentation;

  • Integrating environmental costs and benefits into medium and longer-term fiscal planning; and

  • Mainstreaming of green growth perspectives within budgetary and broader policy-making, including alignment of incentives.

A green budgeting strategy should build on key elements of budgetary governance. As part of its agenda of promoting inclusive and sustainable growth, the OECD has been working over recent years to broaden the traditional understanding of budgeting in order to encompass, and to better support, broader policy priorities. The OECD Recommendation on Budgetary Governance (OECD, 2015[1]) notes that “the budget is a central policy document of government, showing how annual and multi-annual objectives will be prioritised and achieved. Alongside other instruments of government policy “[...] the budget aims to turn plans and aspirations into reality [...]”.

Governments around the world have committed to pursuing coherent action for climate and environment across multiple policy areas. For example, several countries have recently made progress towards evaluating and tracking their domestic public expenditures (either positive, negative, or both) relevant to the Paris Agreement or the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. The EU introduced climate and biodiversity tracking into its budget. A strong candidate for greening of expenditures is to scale back any existing support measures for fossil fuel generation or use (OECD, 2018[13]) or to re-evaluate agricultural policies and support measures (OECD, 2017[14]).

Other countries have introduced tax schemes to encourage environmentally friendly low-carbon behaviour or to internalise negative environmental externalities, while also generating substantial amounts of public revenue. This can include taxing carbon emissions or local air pollutants and taxing activities or pollutants with adverse effects on biodiversity, amongst many others, and can also form a component of environmental fiscal reform (OECD, 2013[15]).

To date, however, few countries have taken a more systematic approach to examine the full range of existing budgetary expenditures and policies to assess their overall coherence with environmental goals. Indonesia, for example, has made significant progress in recent years towards aligning the budgetary processes with the Paris Agreement and national environmental objectives, as have other countries such as France and Norway.

Gender budgeting

The persistence of gender inequalities across many facets of public life suggests that these disparities have become embedded, to a greater or lesser extent, in how public resources are allocated and used. Gender budgeting refers to the systematic application of analytical tools and processes, as a routine part of the budget process, in order to highlight gender equality issues and to inform, prioritise and resource gender-responsive policies.

Effective implementation of gender budgeting has the potential to improve gender equality, ensure a sense of fairness and contribute to inclusive economic growth. This responds directly to the gender equality targets under SDG 5, and in particular to 5.c. “adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels”.

The practice of gender budgeting is gaining momentum in OECD countries, with 17 OECD countries now reporting that they have introduced it.1 Gender budgeting initiatives have been pursued in various forms over many years. Australia pioneered and piloted attempts at gender budgeting from 1984 onwards in response to calls from women’s rights activists. Over 90 countries have experimented with some form of gender budgeting over the past decade (Downes, von Trapp and Nicol, 2017[16]). It is notable that some of the early adopters of gender budgeting over the years have come from beyond the OECD – including countries such as India, the Philippines and Indonesia. Among more recent examples, in 2013, Austria introduced gender budgeting as part of a broader package of performance budgeting reforms and in 2016, the Government of Iceland introduced gender budgeting as part of budget reforms in response to the financial crisis.

The focus on gender policy issues in budgets is resulting in changes to the design and implementation of policy. In the Netherlands, gender budgeting has been seen to bring changes to how funding is allocated. An agreement was made between the Dutch universities, research institutes and the Minister of Education in 2015 on the conditions for receiving subsidies. To receive full payment, the number of women professors, associate professors, and women in the governing boards of research institutes and universities had to be at least 30% before 2020. In Mexico, gender budgeting has resulted in special attention being given to diseases affecting women (such as cervical, ovarian and breast cancer, as well as teen pregnancy prevention) in the health sector. Similarly, in Japan, increased focus on gender policies has led to measures to reduce maternity harassment in the workplace. An example from outside the OECD is provided by Brazil, where gender budgeting has resulted in a comprehensive care programme related to women’s health.

Strategic public procurement in support of the SDGs

Public procurement is increasingly being used as a strategic policy lever to support broader outcomes consistent with the SDGs. Public procurement spending represents on average 12% of GDP, and accounts for almost one third of government expenditure in OECD countries. Governments are therefore some of the largest purchasers of goods and services, emphasising their role in enabling public procurement’s leverage. At the same time, governments are under fiscal pressure to better manage this significant public spending. To this end, they promote reforms in their public procurement systems, including developing capacity, digitalisation, process automation and aggregation of demand.

Green Public Procurement (GPP) is “the process whereby public authorities seek to procure goods, services and works with a reduced environmental impact throughout their lifecycle when compared to goods, services and works with the same primary function that would otherwise be procured” (European Commission, 2008[17])

Countries increasingly recognise that GPP can be a major driver for innovation providing industry with incentives for developing environmentally-friendly works, products and services (OECD, 2015[18]). The OECD has encouraged member countries to develop green public purchasing policies, for example, in 2002 the OECD Council adopted the Recommendation of the Council on Improving the Environmental Performance of Public Procurement (OECD/LEGA/0311). It urges OECD countries to incorporate “environmental criteria into public procurement of products and services including, when appropriate, environmental impact criteria throughout the lifecycle”.

There are a number of good practices displayed by countries to encourage GPP including laws, regulations and policies. It is also common to use environmental standards in award criteria and contract performance clauses and in technical specifications, such as materials recycled content; production methods; allowing for submission of alternative solutions and exclusion criteria for non-compliance (OECD, 2016[19]).

Lessons learned from country experiences

The budget and public procurement provide powerful tools for implementing the SDGs, as outlined in Annex C. For example, the case study on the Slovak Republic suggests that SDG-related strategies and priorities should steer budget and spending allocations, and that results-based resource allocations can help to strengthen accountability mechanisms. Paraguay is also using a results-based planning system for deciding on the optimal combination of inputs, activities and processes needed to make progress. Linking the national budget to the SDGs also requires that adequate data and monitoring systems are in place: Egypt, for example, is working to improve the availability of performance indicators to support the transition from a line-item budget to performance-based budgeting.

The case studies also show that most countries are still in the early stages of applying green and gender budgeting techniques, while no country has as yet fully integrated a holistic SDG approach to their budgeting exercise. For instance, the French government is currently discussing means to further align and improve the overall impact of public finance measures on the ecological transition. Norway has also advanced in integrating the impact on carbon emissions in budgeting plans but is yet to take the fiscal risk of climate transitions systematically into account.

Implementing an effective and sustainable gender budgeting approach is equally challenging. Some challenges derive from the differing levels of importance given to gender equality by successive governments, whereas others relate to fiscal constraints or more broadly to the challenges faced when implementing any new public financial management (PFM) practice or procedure in government.

Experience from early adopters of gender budgeting shows that for it to be most effective, countries should have key governance aspects in place, such as a legal foundation for gender budgeting. This protects the practice from changes to the economic or political environment that might cause the practice to be discontinued, as was the case with Australia in the 1990s.

Certain institutional supports, such as gender disaggregated data and expert groups, can facilitate better gender budgeting. For example, Iceland’s Gender Budgeting Committee has been set up, and is led by, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs in a formal co-operation with the Ministry of Welfare. The Committee includes representatives of all the ministries and the Centre for Gender Equality and is responsible for preparing the implementation programme for gender budgeting.

Box ‎3.3. OECD contributions to support the use of budgeting in SDG implementation

The OECD has been working with a number of countries to overcome these challenges. For example, the “OECD Gender Review of Canada: Mainstreaming, Governance and Budgeting” set out a roadmap for the implementation of gender budgeting (OECD, 2018[20]), which, building on its existing efforts in gender budgeting, provides recommendation to further develop the gender equality-related content in the budget and has a wide range of gender budgeting tools implemented across the budget cycle.

The OECD has long experience in assessing and advising on public finance management reforms across OECD and non-OECD countries. Applying the OECD Recommendations on Budgetary Governance (2015[1]), governments can implement budgeting frameworks that allow strategic expenditure allocations that are aligned with fiscal targets, medium-term priorities and development objectives. Sound budgetary governance for example is relevant for the design of medium-term budgeting frameworks that support the strategic priorities of government; the planning and implementation of capital investments essential for sustainable development; as well as the clear and transparent presentation and explanation of the impact of budget measures on the SDGs in the budget documentation. To monitor and report on SDG targets and the progress towards their achievement, the OECD can provide guidance on performance and results-focused budget models that can be linked to higher-order outcome frameworks such as the SDGs. This could include assistance for developing performance measures and evaluations, the use of performance-related information in budgetary management processes, and on the processes for using this information in decision-making.

A key challenge for the efficient alignment of revenue raising and spending decisions with the transversal goals is the cross-community awareness of priorities, methods and constraints. The work of the Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting has shown that establishing dialogue among environment, fiscal and budget policy experts and enable an integrated discussion between the domains of expertise – within but also across countries – is crucial to improve budgetary efficiency and outcome effectiveness.

Under the Collaborative, the OECD Secretariat advances the analytical and methodological groundwork for green budgeting and is therefore in a good position to advise governments in how to align their medium-term budget plans with the SDGs. The OECD can put in place peer review and technical assistance mechanisms to support countries in mainstreaming environmental perspectives and climate goals into the budget process, in line with both the Paris Agreement and the SDGs.

Similarly, the OECD can leverage its expertise on gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting to support governments in their reform efforts. Effective gender budgeting has the potential to improve gender equality across all dimensions of sustainable development and can have positive implications for other goals, in particular those related to children’s education and health and environmental and climate objectives.

Building on the outcomes and expertise of the Paris Collaborative on Green Budgeting and the OECD Gender Budgeting Experts Group, the OECD is in the position to review countries’ current position to mainstream environmental and gender considerations in the budget process and to assist with the implementation of innovative green and gender budgeting practices.

Promoting the strategic and holistic use of public procurement, the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Public Procurement calls on Adherents to ensure an adequate degree of transparency of the public procurement system in all stages of the procurement cycle (OECD, 2015[21]). It provides a 21st-century reference for modernising procurement systems and can be applied across all levels of government and state-owned enterprises.

By providing a platform to share countries’ experiences, the proposed Global Hub on the Governance for the SDGs will help governments as well as citizens better understand the importance of budgetary governance and public procurement as tools for achieving the SDGs and improve the collection of good practices and relevant data.


[4] Bevan, G. and C. Hood (2006), “What’s measured is what matters: Targets and gaming in the English public health care system”, Public Administration, Vol. 84, pp. 517-538.

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[6] Downes, R., D. Moretti and T. Shaw (2017), “Budgeting in Sweden”, OECD Journal on Budgeting, Vol. 16/2,

[16] Downes, R., L. von Trapp and S. Nicol (2017), “Gender budgeting in OECD countries”, OECD Journal on Budgeting, Vol. 16/3,

[17] European Commission (2008), Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions Public Procurement for a Better Environment, {SEC(2008) 2124} {SEC(2008) 2125} {SEC(2008) 2126} /* COM/2008/0400 final */,

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[10] World Commission on Environment and Development (1987), “Part II. Common challenges”, in Population and Human Resources - Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future Towards Sustainable Development, (accessed on 22 October 2018).


← 1. Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden (OECD, 2019[22]).

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