Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: A Canadian Perspective

Shannon Kindornay CCICFraser Reilly-King

By Shannon Kindornay (@Skindornay), Adjunct Research Professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University and Fraser Reilly-King, Senior Policy Analyst at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (@CCCICCCIC). They are co-editors of Transforming our world: Canadian perspectives on the Sustainable Development Goals.

After three years of inter-governmental negotiations, consultations with millions of people worldwide, and input from thousands of experts, 2015 saw the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Now that the framework has been set, the next step is both harder and more substantive: implementation.

Unlike its predecessor, Canada’s new government has acknowledged and embraced the sustainable development agenda and its universality, agreeing to develop a plan of action to implement the agenda both at home and overseas. The mandate letter to the Minister of International Development includes implementation of this new agenda as a top priority.

But realising the SDGs in Canada will be no easy feat.

To begin reflecting on the implications of this agenda for Canada, last week the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) released a collection of articles, entitled Transforming our world: Canadian perspectives on the Sustainable Development Goals. It assembles reflections from Canadian experts on the 2030 Agenda, the 17 goals, with separate child, disability, indigenous and youth -focused perspectives. Contributors are as diverse as the Canadian Bar Association and the Mayor of Montreal, the David Suzuki Foundation and Canada Without Poverty, and Oxfam Canada and the Assembly of First Nations.

So what are some of the key messages that arise from the articles in this publication?

First, this is an ambitious agenda at a time when we need ambition. While some authors questioned whether the SDGs might in fact be too ambitious, the goals are an honest response to the real challenges we face to advancing sustainable development at national and global levels. All of the goals are relevant, and the absence of any one of the seventeen would be a huge oversight. Looking forward, we need to be better at acknowledging and respecting the complexity of sustainable development.

Second, the complexity of this agenda is clearly illustrated by the degree to which the three pillars of sustainable development cut across the different goals. It is an integrated agenda with crosswalks between the different goals. While some of these crosswalks fall short – for example, better connections could have been made between the rule of law and all other goals, and gender could be better integrated into peace and security – none of the authors were able to talk about their respective goals without referring to the others. Looking forward, we need to make sure those connections are maintained, and we don’t fall back into our siloes.

Third, because it is an integrated agenda, realising these goals will require a multi-stakeholder response. It requires everyone to play their part – the three levels of government (Federal, provincial and territorial, and municipal), citizens, civil society, the private sector and academia – bringing their respective experience and expertise with them. As one author puts it, this means a “whole-of-Canada, whole-of-government approach.”

Fourth, leaving no one behind is a critical aspect of the SDGs. Canada will need to consider the poorest and most marginalised in the adoption of the new agenda to ensure that all Canadians benefit from economic, social and environmental progress – in particular Canada’s indigenous population. This will require us to better target programs at those being left behind, at home and overseas, drawing on more and better disaggregated data.

Fifth, to ensure no one is left behind, Canada needs a plan to realise the SDGs – including a plan to commit resources. Across the 17 goal areas, authors highlight the need for federal leadership on the new agenda. They noted the need to establish national implementation plans, as well as specific plans in areas such as poverty, health, gender equality and peace and security.

Sixth, the universal nature of this agenda means any national plan must articulate how Canada can advance these goals at regional and global levels. This will not be easy. But the goals also create new space for thinking about development and global cooperation in ways that break down silos and artificial borders on issues that affect everyone everywhere.

Seventh, this will not be cheap. A number of the articles note that Canada needs to step up resourcing these goals if we are to realize them both at home and abroad. Some authors point to declining resources for civil society groups and women’s rights organizations. Others point to specific services that have been eroding over the past decade, such as legal aid. Similarly, Canada’s municipalities, which will have a significant role to play in localising the agenda, are sorely in need of additional resources.

The size of the task and its financial cost is enormous. But the cost of failure – to peace, to people and to our planet – is even more unimaginable.

As we close the door on 2015 and the MDGs, we leave behind an approach that looked to technocratic solutions to realize change. As we look ahead to the next 15 years, the United Nations has given us a political agenda to transform our world.

 We – all of us – must respond to that challenge.

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