Councils are on the frontline of many of the challenges the SDGs seek to resolve, including those we have witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. National and local government needs to recognise that achieving them will be a shared responsibility which requires adequate resources and active partnership.
The main reasons why councils should investigate and implement the UN’s SDGs are:
- Making progress towards these comprehensive and universal global goals by 2030 will depend on action at the local level, and councils are key actors at that level.
- The SDGs can help focus efforts on the health and wellbeing of people that are the furthest behind.
- Engagement with the SDGs supports and complements the declaration of a climate emergency.
- The SDGs can provide councils with a framework for strategic planning, policy review and action for sustainable development – for economic progress, social justice and inclusion, protection of the climate, environment and biodiversity, and ensuring no one is left behind.
- The SDGs can help councils to foster strategic partnerships, framing joint actions and shared priorities in terms of the goals.
- The resource burden for initial engagement with the SDGs is low.
In this guide, we have set out four steps councils can take towards the SDGs. The first step on a council’s SDG journey is to spend a short time learning about the goals and appreciating their relevance to the local authority. Having decided to engage, mapping the council’s high level, strategic policies and plans against the 17 SDGs and their accompanying targets is crucial. This mapping exercise will lead the council into making choices about which SDGs and targets matter to its own locality and communities.
Given how wide-ranging and cross-cutting sustainable development and the SDGs are, there is limited value in any council engaging with the goals as a purely internal exercise. So, outreach and wider advocacy of the goals is essential, engaging local citizens in supporting the SDGs and reaching out to national and international audiences. This could also include creating local stakeholder networks or a more formal SDG partnership between the council and key local stakeholders. Finally, councils adopting the SDGs should monitor and report on their progress, to ensure targets are being met, provide learnings for further work and to hold themselves accountable.
The SDGs are a global effort towards a socially just and environmentally sustainable future, where no one is left behind. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown with devastating consequences some of what a future threatened by further pandemics or climate and ecological crises could look like. We can use the SDGs to rebuild our economies in a resilient and sustainable way, focusing on creating good lives on a healthy planet for all people. With 10 years left to achieve them, we all have a part to play and councils are some of the best placed institutions to drive progress.