Points of View 6th March 2018

Is Scotland moving towards a national plan for the SDGs?

by Paul Bradley

Original blog posted here.

The pace of progress must accelerate to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That’s according to the latest report from the UN on progress across the world. Now in our third year of action, these words ring true for Scotland as well. Our country’s commitment to the SDGs will be shown by the actions it takes and not words.

The SDGs are the closest the world has come to a strategy to eradicate poverty, address climate change and build peaceful, inclusive societies by 2030. This is an almighty challenge, but driving implementation of the SDGs can help us become the society we want to be. The First Minister’s commitment to this agenda was clear when Scotland signed up to the SDGs in 2015.

For the pace of progress to increase, governments, civil society organisations, businesses and communities must work together. That much is obvious, but it’s impossible to do so without a clear plan.

It’s no surprise that I look to Ireland for inspiration and the type of organisation I’d like to see in Scotland. Our neighbours are taking big steps to embed the SDGs in both their domestic and international work.

Not only is there a Minister with lead responsibility for ‘promoting and overseeing national implementation’ of the SDGs, Ireland’s first National Implementation Plan will be published early this year. It will ‘set out arrangements for interdepartmental coordination, stakeholder engagement and periodic progress reporting.’

In Ireland, the SDGs will apply on a ‘whole-of-government basis’ and ‘all Ministers will have responsibility for implementing individual SDGs relating to their functions.’ An interdepartmental working group is in place to support this, and the final plan will include specific arrangements for how Government will work with stakeholders. Many organisations have already had the opportunity to comment on the draft National Implementation Plan.

This comprehensive approach that will see the SDGs incorporated into planning and policy alongside joined-up implementation across Government is what’s needed in Scotland.

Scotland is moving in the right direction with the refresh of the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework (NPF). This measures and reports on progress of government in Scotland and the Scottish Government has committed to aligning it with the SDGs.

Streamlining the SDGs into the national framework is essential and using the NPF to measure Scotland’s progress on the Goals makes sense, but will the refresh turn out to be a square peg in a round hole exercise or will it help Scotland to deliver the SDGs? Will SDGs be cherry picked or will the refreshed framework embrace their interconnectedness, their holistic approach to policy and planning and acknowledge the trade-offs between each of the 17 Goals?

A great deal of work has gone into refreshing the NPF, which will be scrutinised by Parliament this year. This presents an opportunity for us to examine what looks to be a key part of Scotland’s strategy to implementing the goals.

A ‘whole-of-government’ approach to implementing the SDGs is vital. It’s why Scotland’s SDG Network delivered an open letter to members of the Cabinet requesting they outline the actions they are taking to see that the SDGs are achieved. The letter was also sent to all Scottish Parliament Committees, who have a key oversight role in SDG-proofing all legislation.

Governments, civil society organisations, businesses and communities must work together and learn from each other if the SDGs are to be achieved. The project I’m coordinating is seeking to build this stakeholder forum through Scotland’s SDG Network, and we’re developing Scotland’s National Platform for the SDGs.
None of this would be possible without the people and organisations that are already embracing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and contributing to an awareness of the SDGs in Scotland.

More work is needed to highlight the opportunities for organisations created by the SDGs, but businesses and civil society organisations are already seeing their value in helping to showcase the broad nature of their work and the contributions they make to society.

Communicating how organisations already connect to the SDGs is key, but they shouldn’t be used to continue with business as usual. Organisations are using the SDGs to attract funding and building new partnerships to better their work. A clearer plan in Scotland would demonstrate how many more stakeholders can contribute to delivering all 17 Goals.

Now in our third year of action, there are signs of progress towards a National Implementation Plan for Scotland. We need coherent implementation of the SDGs across Government and a meaningful forum for all parts of society to take part in achieving Agenda 2030.