On September 25 world leaders from 193 nations gathered to adopt the new United Nations post-2015 global development agenda. Their purpose is to achieve three extraordinary things by 2030: end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change. The global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could accomplish this, worldwide, for everyone. They are meant for Canada too.
The SDGs build on the success of the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which helped to galvanize development efforts and guide global and national development priorities. Although progress on the MDGs has been uneven within and across countries, there has been significant progress on achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality, and improving maternal health.
The SDGs advance this earlier effort by addressing the root causes, as well as the symptoms, of a wide range of issues. The SDGs are broad in scope because they address the interconnected elements of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. They are the result of a negotiation process that involved the 193 UN member states and also unprecedented participation of civil society and other stakeholders, representing a wide range of interests and perspectives. Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs will apply to the entire world, developed and developing.
There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets proposed for adoption. While some of these have a social focus (e.g., end poverty, and achieve gender equity), most integrate environment, economic and social considerations (e.g., ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, and achieve food security). There is one goal specifically on cities.
Canadian cities have been preparing integrated community sustainability plans (or equivalent) for years now. There are over 1000 of these plans in Canada, most of which include a range of sustainability topics including transportation, water, waste, food security, land use, local economy and housing. Our Canadian community sustainability plans align nicely with helping achieve the global SDGs. The challenge will be to ensure these plans are implemented and renewed.
Progress on sustainable development in Canada will take efforts from federal, provincial, territorial and local governments, as well as the private sector, civil society and academia. Several Canadian provinces are already demonstrating significant leadership in addressing these questions and considering the responsibilities and opportunities the SDGs pose for Canada over the period to 2030 and beyond. However, leadership from the federal government has been notably lacking.
In general, SDGs could help set the direction for change for Canada. For example, whether we are talking about poverty, education and employment outcomes, air and water quality, infrastructure needs, personal security or access to justice, it is clear that Canada will need to prioritise addressing the ongoing needs of Aboriginal peoples. Under the SDG agenda, another key issue for Canada will be balancing environmental integrity and economic prosperity, particularly in the natural resource sector.
Some Canadian businesses are taking the lead on integrating sustainability concerns into their business strategy, but significant opportunities remain. Whether it is about increasing the Canadian share of the renewable energy markets, reducing food waste in production and supply chains, improving recycling and composting rates, or increasing resource efficiency, there are win-win ways Canadian businesses can help implement the global SDGs. The long-term challenge will be to ensure our businesses are well positioned in the low-carbon economy of the future.
During this election, Canadians need to know from each party leader how they intend to implement the SDGs in Canada and abroad. What is their understanding of sustainable development? What will we do as Canadians to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change? How will each party address these interconnected issues in an integrated and reinforcing way, so that we get win-win-win solutions, rather than pitting these goals against one another?
We, as Canadian citizens, organizations, companies, and governments have a role to play in helping achieve these global SDGs. Our common future depends on it.
Dr. Mark Roseland is a Professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University, and Director of the SFU Centre for Sustainable Community Development.
Dr. Amelia Clarke is an Associate Professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development at the University of Waterloo, and Director of the Master of Environment and Business program.