Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals at Home

By Livia Bizikova, Cory Searcy, Darren Swanson on September 21, 2015

Our earth and its people face serious challenges, from ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution, and deepening inequality between rich and poor.

Tackling these in a holistic and integrated fashion is the motivation behind The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 specific targets.

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, which focused on developing countries, the SDGs are universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development. That means integrating the SDGs into national planning priorities and documents as well as developing means to encourage implementation at regional and local levels. Thus the SDGs must connect with national level and subnational needs and capacities in implementation, monitoring and reporting.

Many developed and developing countries have already started to examine how to integrate the SDGs into their existing national strategies and plans. Let’s take a look at some of the associated challenges, and then consider some possible solutions.

What needs to be taken into account?

First, countries need to develop strategies to implement the SDGs in such a way as to encourage different sectors to work together. The 17 SDGs are highly linked, and cannot be implemented in isolation. For example, Goal 2, which focuses on hunger and sustainable food production also aims to promote an agricultural system that is resilient to climate change. Similarly, Goal 11, which relates to cities and human settlements, also emphasizes the importance of reducing the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities. Goal 12, on sustainable production and consumption, requires sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources. These linkages demand a highly integrated strategy that brings together many or all aspects of sustainable development.

Second, we need to take into account national and regional priorities when determining which SDGs to implement immediately, and which over the next decade, and what the specific national and sub-national target should be for the SDGs. This requires collaboration across different levels of government and stakeholder groups. Therefore, a participatory process is needed to prioritize goals, determine the level of effort needed and set out timelines. If the goals aim to improve well-being, environmental quality and create inclusive economic growth, then they need to be discussed with citizens to be able to identify their aspirations and needs.

The case for sustainable development strategies

National and sub-national sustainable development strategies (SDSs) will help countries to link domestic sustainable development priorities with the global framework that the SDGs provide.

Over the past 20 years, SDSs have successfully brought together different perspectives and concerns at the higher policy level. There are also examples of SDSs providing a number of innovative policy responses, including investment in green technology, social protection and more effective means of collaboration.

SDSs are often initially developed and reviewed by stakeholder groups or created as reports based on data and indicators. A  global review of SDSs indicates that many countries have set up National Councils for Sustainable Development or other bodies serving a similar purpose: to further sustainable development at the national level by engaging a wide range of stakeholders in the process of creating national SDSs.

Take Canada as an example

In Canada the next Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) could guide the implementation of SDGs spanning economic, social and environmental issues. The current FSDS covers the period of 2013–2016, and there is thus an opportunity to begin shaping the new phase of FSDS in line with the SDGs. This would entail broadening the focus of the current FSDS from the mostly environmental domain to all aspects of sustainable development, and then subsequently translating the actions to policies and programs.

The process of consultation has not yet fully started in Canada. There is therefore a need to pay careful attention to creating a legitimate consultation process to explore the relevance of SDGs for different places, regions and people, and then develop plans, strategies and processes to implement the SDGs based on the outcomes of these consultations.

A way forward for Canada would need to include leadership at the national level with a clear roadmap of integrating the SDGs into federal, provincial and local strategies framed by the outcomes of a transparent consultation process. It is also critical to ensure that the created strategies are seen as priorities supported by allocated budgets on a year-by-year basis.