On target for 2030? Review finds Scotland must match ambitions with actions to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals

Ben Wray

Is Scotland meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals it signed up to four years ago? CommonSpace analyses a new UWS-Oxfam report

A report examining how Scotland is doing at meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 has found overwhelmingly that Scotland has the right values and commitments to meeting the goals, but needs real follow-through to deliver.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were ratified by the UN four years ago and were immediately endorsed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who then integrated them into the Scottish Government’s National Policy Framework. The SDGs are made up of 17 commitments to be met by 2030. 

The report, published by the University of the West of Scotland and Oxfam Scotland on Monday [1 July], sees civic organisations take a SDG relevant to their area of expertise and examine how Scotland is doing in meeting it. 

The report, described as an “Independent Snapshot Review”, does not offer an overall conclusion of this analysis, but does state: “Many contributors conclude that whilst there is clear policy and political commitment on all of the Goals in Scotland, more needs to be done in order to meet the 2030 targets”.

“Poverty and inequality provide a thread that runs through many contributions. This is an important theme, given the ‘leave no-one behind’ focus of the SDGs,” the editors’ add.

CommonSpace looks at the main points made on each of the SDGs.

1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere

 Clear progress had been made between the mid-1990’s to 2011-12, but this has now gone into reverse as cuts, especially to welfare benefits, have seen poverty rise, especially among children. There is a “real political and policy commitment” from the Scottish Governmen to tackle child poverty, and a new income supplement – in the form of a top-up child benefit – was “the number one priority” in meeting SDG1.

2 End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture 

“Little substantive progress” has been made on the key aspects of SDG2, including eradicating hunger, ending malnutrition, improving the income of small-scale farm producers and the sustainability of agricultural practices. Implementing the ‘right to food’ would “underpin progress on this goal”.

3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

 Life expectancy and general health has improved, but not evenly across the population. Health inequalities have risen. While “the legislative and policy context for health improvements and for reducing health inequalities in Scotland is strong” there is “widespread acknowledgement that progress to implement these policies and strategies is slow.” A shift towards prevention of ill-health is required to move towards SDG3.

4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

The response to SDG4 looked specifically at Global Citizenship Education, and found that while GCE was given prominence at primary school level, at secondary school GCE is “often hampered by the dissonance between SQA exam requirements and the more creative and learner-led approaches”. GCE education needs to be protected after Brexit, the author argues.

5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls 

The Scottish Government has established legal frameworks to tackle gender-based discrimination and violence, and has taken action to address the gender pay gap, but there are “areas that require further work, largely centred around the full and effective participation of women and equal opportunities for leadership at al levels”. Various policies are proposed to continue progress including a zero-tolerance approach in schools to sexual harrassment.

6 Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Scotland is making good progress in meeting SDG6. Ensuring the 180,000 people who receive their drinking water from private suppliers receive as high quality supply as those receiving Scottish Water is one are to work on going forward.

7 Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

“Everybody in Scotland has access to reliable energy. Yet for many, energy is not affordable.” The Scottish Government has a “strong commitment” to tackling fuel poverty, but “can do more”, including tighter targets and greater public funding on energy efficiency and fuel poverty.

8 Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Record employment levels are talked up by politicians, but “a look behind headline figures illuminates real issues about the extent of decent work in Scotland”. Work is increasingly “low-paid” and “precarious”. A range of policies to strengthen trade union organisation and tackle low pay are proposed.

9 Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

The author focuses on social enterprise development, stating that Scotland is “leading the way globally” in this respect. Policy support in this area is strong, and the author proposes that further change requires “leadership” from civic society. 

10 Reduce inequality within and among countries

Little has been done to tackle income and wealth inequality, which is “higher than at the time of the Scotland Act 1998”. While policy making is “more progressive in Scotland than at the UK level”, the extent to which SDG10 has been truly integrated into the national policy framework “is questionable”. 

11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Housing conditions for many “are inadequate”, especially affecting “those on low incomes”. While communities have been given the ability to buy land and certain assets, “it could be questioned whether the resources and skills necessary to run, maintain, and sustain some of these endeavours have been as equally supported”. Governmenting spending and investment in sustainable communities is insufficent.

12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

The author found a disjuncture between responsibly producing high-quality food products, and consumption patterns in Scotland. “Consumers outside Scotland see it as a land of clean and sustainable food production, yet many Scots have a poor diet which barely reflects this view.” The author argues that “diet and health plans have struggled to make significant impacts over the last 20 to 30 years”, and proposes looking at another model, such as Finland, for a new direction.

13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

While “strong progress” has been made, it’s “now to ramp this up” to meet scientific imperatives for a sustainable global eco-system. “The current political and policy commitments do not stack up to the levels of urgent action we need to see over the next decade,” the author finds, adding that new policy’s are needed in areas like transport which have seen emissions rise over recent years.

14 Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

“Scotland has made some progress toward Goal 14, although the picture is mixed. Much of the legal and policy framework is to be welcomed and is indeed world-class on paper. In many cases it delivers welcome and tangible marine conservation successes. However, in other cases the gap between rhetoric and reality remains as concrete measures are awaited.”

15 Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Scotland’s biodiversity loss “has not yet been halted”. There is a “yawning gap between political commitments and firm actions” with the implementation gap “widening” currently. Transforming agriculture so it supports biodiversity is advocated.

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

Scotland is making “significant progress” and “can even be regarded as a world leader on some key targets”. However, most of the areas of responsibility for SDG16 are reserved to Westminster, and the UK’s sliding down the Global Peace Index rankings due to its prevalence in global arms sales “positions Scotland badly” when it comes to meeting the goal.

17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

On international development, the Scottish Government has few of the key responsibilities, but it “has no significant dis-alignment with SDG 17, and can be said to be progressing adequately within the limitations stated”. A priority for the Scottish Government going forward should be to “measure progress on international development”.

Picture courtesy of United Nation’s Development Programme

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