Partnerships essential for the UN SDGs to transform lives

Dr Alison Vipond & Brett Cherry


“To successfully implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must swiftly move from commitments to action. To do that, we need strong, inclusive and integrated partnerships at all levels”. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

Partnerships are vital to making the UN Sustainable Development Goals a reality for everyone across the world. This requires developed and developing nations working together on all 17 Goals, spanning environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainable development.  The Goals are universal applying to all countries, including the UK, which has provided leadership in helping to make the Goals an agreed global vision of what the future of our world should look like.

Newcastle University’s Institute for Sustainability recently joined the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development, (UKSSD): a network of businesses, civil society and academic organisations who are working to advance sustainable development in the UK. UKSSD’s mission is to help transform the UK into a sustainable society, by generating new partnerships, innovative solutions and providing thought leadership to achieve the Goals. The UKSSD second annual conference on 1st March 2017, focussed on the question of how we translate the ambition of the Goals into transformative action in the UK. Dr Graham Long provided an insightful introduction to how the UK is faring on the Goals – there is still a long way to go.


Examples of UK’s performance against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Credit: Graham Long/Newcastle University)

Business leadership needed

The talks at the UKSSD conference were upbeat, intelligent and enthusiastic about the future of sustainable development in the UK, stressing the crucial role of business in leaping forward on sustainable development. Leadership is key. CEOs already have tremendously busy lives, running the day to day and planning for the future, but they must now step beyond ‘business as usual’ and plan to be truly transformative.

Companies like Marks & Spencer, Siemens, Ecology Building Society and others are leading on sustainability in the supply chain and setting ambitious targets for zero carbon emissions, but this is the exception, not the rule. There was discussion about how all businesses can really start to make some headway on the Goals. Identifying the Goals (and underlying targets) which would be most positively affected by the business activities is a good way in. However, the full set of Goals can also be used to check whether business activities might be compromising some of the other targets, allowing action to be taken.

Indeed the importance of public awareness was something which emerged as a common thread at the conference. For businesses and governments to really get behind the Goals, there needs to be an expectation from citizens – the consumers and the voters. And for citizens to do this, they need to know about the Goals. So there needs to be a massive campaign for people to know what governments have signed up to.

Project Everyone (led by Richard Curtis) did an amazing job of raising the profile of the Goals when they were agreed, including developing the fantastic infographic that captures all the Goals, and engaging celebrities in the Global Goals campaign. That campaign needs to continue and expand. For the Goals to work, we need to all be talking about them.

Partnerships for solutions

Another common theme at the conference was the need to massively ramp up transformative activity which can drive sustainable development to achieve the Goals. 2030 is not far away.

So how do we ramp up? It is clear that Innovation across all spheres is needed (technical, social, economic and political), and working together is the best way to achieve that. Businesses are well placed to provide leadership in providing solutions and innovations for the Goals. In particular, financial institutions are beginning to think about the viability of their future investments, and that should translate to investing in a sustainable future.

Academic institutions are well placed to think ‘big’ and innovate, providing blue prints for achieving the Goals. Governments grapple with short term vote chasing and other pressing issues, but they must act and invest for a sustainable future. We were encouraged to hear at UKSSD from Lord Bates, Minister of State for Department for International Development (DFID), that all UK Government Departments will be required to work on the Goals which are relevant to them. Whether this leads to the exponential leap forward that society requires remains to be seen, and it will be up to civil society to make sure it happens.

Ultimately, partnerships between government, industry, academia, are essential. UKSSD has already shown it is fulfilling a much needed role in enabling progressive new partnerships to be forged.

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