Yixian Sun, Nicki Schantz, Edoardo Eichberg, Taimiya Khalid and Michael Bloomfield report proceedings from an Earth Systems Governance (ESG) workshop on meeting SDG goal. A modified version of this post was originally published on the ESG website.
On 5 June 2023, the Earth System Governance Research Centre Bath organised a workshop in Bath to discuss the future of the SDGs. In collaboration with the ESG Taskforce on the SDGs. This hybrid event gathered over 40 experts on the SDGs – including both researchers and practitioners from various organisations and countries including Utrecht University, Radboud University, University of Oslo, University of A Coruna, Warwick University, Australian National University, Lund University, UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, Bath and North East Somerset and Bristol City Councils, Action for Sustainable Development, Brookings Institute, Chatham House, Ideas and Action for Public Good and International Institute for Sustainable Development. Participants discussed key challenges in SDG implementation and goal-based governance approaches and brainstormed policy recommendations to governments and the United Nations.
Prof Frank Biermann (Utrecht University) presented key findings on the SDG impact assessment led by the GlobalGoals project published in 2022. These indicate that the impact of the SDGs remains largely discursive and has limited transformational effect. He encouraged participants to identify actions and reforms needed for SDG implementation towards and beyond 2030. Prof Jonathan Dawes (University of Bath) introduced his research on network analysis of SDG interlinkages. He showed that there are natural linkages amongst certain SDGs, underscoring that his findings provide a backdrop for rich discussion and raised several questions on policy interventions including which goals should be promoted further given their co-benefits and identifying pathways to steer interlinkages among the goals in the next seven years to ensure achievement of the 2030 Agenda.
During the world café, participants discussed a range of problems related to goal-based governance and challenges to SDG implementation. There is agreement that the SDGs provide a critical and needed framework and meaningfully outline what sustainable development looks like. However, not much seems to have happened on the ground, so a reality check is needed to assess what has prevented the goals from being more impactful. Some called for a radical simplification focusing on ‘people, prosperity, planet, peace and partnerships’, while others highlighted the lack of political will across governments in truly implementing the SDGs. Many participants also highlighted the need of greater monitoring and accountability mechanisms for SDG implementation as actors tend to ‘cherry pick’ the goals that can be more easily achieved and institutions dealing with different goals often work in a siloed way. A more critical view that emerged in the discussion is that the SDGs only reinforce the status quo without challenging the conventional business models causing many global crises.
Two presentations focused on the challenges of implementing the SDGs at different levels and identified policy recommendations towards and after 2030. Prof Pamela Chasek (Manhattan College) discussed the challenges of implementing the SDGs amidst a period of global crises, outlining how the global pandemic, Ukraine war, and existential threat of climate change have held back progress on the SDGs. She suggested that the SDGs are not an agenda to be accomplished by governments alone, so public awareness of and support for the SDG implementation is crucial.
Dr Aurelie Charles (University of Bath) used the case of Bath to discuss various challenges of implementing the SDGs at the local level. She shared her experience of working with local stakeholders to develop a Doughnut Economics Framework developed by Kate Raworth to support SDG implementation. Representatives from Bath and Bristol councils also shared their views on SDG implementation and the usefulness of the Doughnut framework.
On the ESG Taskforce on the SDGs
The Taskforce were launched in 2021 to provide a platform for promoting research on the SDGs. It includes around 100 scholars from more than 30 countries. If you are interested in joining the ESG Taskforce on the SDGs, please contact SDG@earthsystemgovernance.org.