In the wake of September’s adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, this second edition of the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development’s quarterly newsletter focuses on SDG 16, which aims to “ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”, among other targets.
The UK Government hasn’t yet involved the public or any other stakeholder in discussions about the relevance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for domestic application in the UK. According to BOND’s report on Bringing the Goals Home: Implementing the SDGs in the UK, there has been some discussion across Whitehall, but the results are not publicly available. This is very different to Scotland and Wales, where there has been fairly widespread engagement, and specific commitments made by governments.
SDG 16, which is the theme for FDSD’s Autumn 2015 Newsletter, focusses on “peace, justice and strong institutions”. It appears as though the UK Government feels this SDG, like the others, is aimed predominantly at ‘developing’ countries. But, like Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) (Goal 12), or reducing inequality (Goal 10), it is applicable to the UK, and in ways which may not have been appreciated.
FDSD is particularly interested in two sub-goals: 16.6 Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels; and 16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.
Given the current challenges to our political system, with widespread disaffection, and a reluctance to move away from centralised policy-making (despite flirtations with somewhat disconnected and limited ‘localism’), these two goals are clearly part of moving towards a more participative, and deliberative democracy. At the same time, a more open and engaged democracy can be more effective at bringing together government, business, the public and civil society, to understand and tackle complex challenges such as climate change, or excessive inequality.
Fellow Trustee Cat Tully talks in her latest Provocation about The critical role of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. Our Submission to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) Inquiry into “The Government’s Approach to Sustainable Development” also underlines the importance and opportunities for greater participation and accountability to achieve the SDGs and sustainable development more generally. But first, a large part of the UK, and its political representatives, need to recognize that the SDGs are actually relevant.
It’s very different in Wales and Scotland. Mind you, if you are based in England or Northern Ireland, you wouldn’t know it by reading the mainstream press which does not seem to have grasped that the SDGs might also be relevant to us. To some extent, the SDGs’ wording emphases reducing poverty in the poorest countries, and its universality, as well as appropriate targets, are either purposely or inadvertently downplayed.
But Wales, inspired by the UN’s WorldWeWant international consultation, took a bottom-up approach to see what people wanted for their future through TheWalesWeWant conversation. The recommendations became part of the Well-being and Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 which came into force in July 2015, and whose policies, practice and monitoring stress the importance of ongoing and widespread participation of people and stakeholders (including business) to realise their objectives. It was also the first legislation to mention the SDGs, and how Wales is contributing to them.
Scotland directly addressed the relevance and implications of the SDGs through the creation of a cross-sectoral Post-2015 Working Group, with particular coordination by CIFAL Scotland and NIDOS. It continues to arrange, events and workshops around Scotland to raise awareness of the goals, discuss priorities and explore what might be possible to address them, for example, by engaging the business community. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, announced that Scotland would sign the goals back in July 2015, and is committed to their adoption both at home and abroad. She cited their compatibility with Scotland’s National Performance Framework, which among other things is focused on tackling inequality.
As we noted in our EAC Submission, the UK Government is already committed to transparency and engagement. It is an active participant in the international Open Government Partnership and the Cabinet Office is leading on Open Policy Making.
The SDGs provide a renewed impetus and necessary excuse to get moving on addressing sustainable development challenges. SDG 16 provides the means to do it effectively, transparently and accountably. The challenge is there for Westminster to catch up with the rest of the UK, start the conversation, and bring people together to make things happen – or else for local authorities, business and civil society to do it themselves.
Open data is a term used to describe data that is free and openly available for anyone to use. Many governments around the world are challenging software developers to help identify applications that help citizens and organization make innovative use of open data. Some US cities have had a number of successes. Examples include apps that leverage vacant city lots or track cyclist activity as a way of planning cycle infrastructure.
The World Bank’s August 2015 policy paper, “Open Data for Sustainable Development” identifies a number of benefits of open data in enabling the monitoring and achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The paper also highlights two areas particularly related to SDG Goal 16: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Although the collection and use of good data will enable all the goals to be more effectively monitored and reached.
Firstly, the World Bank paper suggests that open data will further accountability because it enables more stakeholders to access data about government performance, thus discouraging and sometimes exposing corruption. The paper notes that, “several national governments are considering open contracting standards, which would bring new transparency to government contracts — a move that could increase trust in those governments both among citizens and for foreign investors.”
And secondly, open data also facilitates creative and cooperative sharing of data, which might help in developing more accountable and responsive services. Some governments are providing open data on extractive industries, and indeed The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative offers guidelines for this type of open data.
Ultimately the paper highlights that successful open data initiatives require both willing governments and active communities of programmers and end users who can help leverage the data for good governance outcomes.
You can download the report here (pdf, 1.4MB).
James Patterson, Florian Koch, and Kathryn Bowen have written an article examining key governance issues underpinning the success of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which were adopted in September 2015.
In, “How can we prevent the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals from failing?” the authors highlight factors such as bringing together the right stakeholders, making trade-offs, and building in accountability.
You can read the full article here.
Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, which focus primarily on social development priorities in low-income countries, the Sustainable Development Goals are intended to apply to developing and developed countries alike.
In her Green House essay What do the Sustainable Development Goals mean for the UK?, Ann Pfeiffer argues that underestimating the SDGs “would be to underestimate their ability to provide a means of holding up our own government’s domestic policies on renewable energy, austerity and economic growth to scrutiny on a global stage”. In her view the “current limited approach by the UK government risks giving a superficial interpretation of what the SDGs are designed to achieve.” “If groups that stand to benefit from the Goals do not understand how they can be used in campaigning and fail to take ownership of them from the start, there is a risk that the implementation of the Goals will become diluted and toothless.” Applying the right vision and strategy is key to ensure that they will be a useful lever and powerful indicators of real progress going forward.
You can download the essay here (pdf, 231 K).
BOND (the UK membership body for NGOs working in international development) and Beyond2015 UK published ‘Bringing the Goals Home: Implementing the SDGs in the UK‘ in September 2015. The report urges the Westminster Government to clearly outline its strategy for the SDGs “based on a detailed review of what is required of the UK to achieve each goal and target”, link up departments to ensure policy coherence and more effective delivery, as well as develop clear processes for accountability and scrutiny.
Its recommendations include a Cabinet-level Minister responsible for SDG implementation support by a junior Minister for Sustainable Development, a Cross-Cabinet Committee and cross-party Sustainable Development select committee to oversee the SDGs, an external stakeholder scrutiny body along the lines of the German Sustainable Development Council as well as a focus on ensuring wider participation and accountability. For example, they suggest that the strategy for implementation includes participatory processes similar to the ‘national conversations’ that have taken place in for example Wales (WalesWeWant) and Scotland.
In his latest essay Climate Policy: Democracy is not an inconvenience, Professor Nico Stehr – founding director of the European Center for Sustainability Research – reflects on the growing number of climate scientists who are not only expressing their impatience with Western democracies, but openly practise their sympathy for authoritarian political approaches.
“Scientific disenchantment with democracy has slipped under the radar of many social scientists and commentators”, he says, but “attention is urgently needed”. In concentrating only on a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, the calls for technocratic leadership fail to acknowledge that “environmental concerns are tightly entangled with other political, economic and cultural issues”. In his view, “scientific knowledge is neither immediately performative nor persuasive” and it is “only a democratic system (that) can sensitively attend to the conflicts within and among nations and communities, decide between different policies, and generally advance the aspirations of different segments of the population.”
The full essay can be found on the Nature website.
Image: CC by 2.0, courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr.com
Ecological crises can make politics horrible: panic-inducing scarcity, ethnic and religious conflict, hunger driven imperialism. In his latest essay “Climate Apocalypse and/or Democracy“, Professor Jedediah Purdy is shedding light on the fact that an ecological apocalypse is a fundamentally political problem and needs to be tackled before turning into a harsh reality. In his view, a “livable Anthropocene future would have to be democratic (…): a people would have to accept, willingly, limits on the demands they make on the natural world.” Professor Purdy argues that the chance at a workable future is crucially dependent on an “international democratic effort to take joint responsibility for the planet: “It isn’t (even) that a democratic Anthropocene is a nice idea”, he says, “it’s just that its slim chance is better than any alternative.”
Image (modified): CC by 2.0, courtesy of Doc Searls/flickr.com
Felix Dodd has blogged about this new book, Governance for Sustainable Development, that collects the best insights from three recent workshops held by the “Group of Friends of the Governance for Sustainable Development” that was created to help prepare the Rio + 20 Conference.
Recently the governments of Mexico, Romania and the Republic of Korea, with the technical support of the Tellus Institute and the organization ARTICLE 19, reinvigorated the Group of Friends as a flexible and informal space to discuss issues related to good governance and foster cooperation between multiple actors in the context of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
The three participatory workshops, in November 2014, January and May 2015, gathered government representatives, UN officials, experts, and civil society to discuss the institutional architecture for the Agenda’s implementation, follow-up and review.
Governance for Sustainable Development is edited by: Hoonmin Lim, Sara Luna and Oana Rebedea, David Banisar Felix Dodds and Quinn McKew. The PDF is available here:
The National Assembly for Wales will appoint a Future Generations Commissioner as early as December 2015, says Peter Davies, the Welsh Commissioner for Sustainable Futures. The announcement came during his keynote speech at the FDSD relaunch event on 29 June.
Speaking to an audience from the legal, academic and third sectors, Davies outlined the far-reaching Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, passed in April. “The intended effect of the Act is to provide a framework for how the public sector in Wales does business,” he said. “It’s about building in mechanisms that improve our governance for the long-term.”
After hearing from Davies, audience members broke into groups to consider how lessons learned in Wales could be applied elsewhere. We’ll hear from some of them in a later blog post.
The event also launched a new direction for FDSD. John Lotherington, Chair of Trustees, said: ‘We want to make sure that we seed ideas, connect ideas. And also, just as we’re doing here tonight, gather together some of the people who can make those ideas fruitful and start to make the sorts of changes we need to better connect democracy and sustainable development.’
The talk, titled ‘The wellbeing of future generations: how can the Welsh act inspire the UK and beyond?’, was hosted by the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Westminster University in London.