Making the Global Goals relevant for citizens

2 Jun 2017 Ryan Miller    Last updated: 2 Jun 2017

Scope talks with the Northern Ireland Environment Link about their plans to improve awareness and understanding of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Some of the major issues in the world would best be tackled by unity across national borders.

When some of the truly global institutions set targets for social, economic and/or environmental improvement, often they sound truly impressive and aspirational.

But how well do these messages translate to the needs of local communities? Sometimes the accusation is that your average person feels at a great distance from socio-political monoliths, but are most people even aware enough of their work to feel disengaged?

Even for people who work in the third sector, these initiatives can feel irrelevant. But that can change.

In September 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which together comprise its high-level strategy for helping societies across the globe until 2030. The SDGs are the successor to the Millennium Development Goals that covered the period 2000-2015.

The SDGs include an exhaustive list of headings for social aspiration. This means they are relevant to, in some way or another, to any aspect of community development (including anything that a third sector organisation would ever consider its mission).

But to match these ideas to the specific demands and solutions within individual communities requires work. And that is something the Northern Ireland Environment Link (NIEL) is aiming to do.

Plugging in

If the SDGs are laudable then we should be trying to make them work. To do that needs local planning.

Scope spoke with Dr Jonathan Bell, NIEL’s Policy and Project Manager, about how the organisation is hoping to use open government measures to link together local people, including both their needs and their ideas for dealing with local problems, with Stormont (if and when it returns) as well as the UN’s new development agenda.

“The aim of the Pioneer Project is to open up the process through which government and civil society jointly work towards the Sustainable Development Goals across the UK

“The SDGs are intended to be transformational and universal in nature.  The UN emphasises the importance of involving citizens in the development of national SDG action plans.

“Our project is about developing the capacity of civil society and securing government actions and commitments at the devolved level. Progressing the SDG agenda will require a coordinated approach across government Departments.”

Comprehensive plans

NIEL is the networking body for the environment sector and so, between itself and its members, it has a direct handle on a lot of the sustainability work that is ongoing in Northern Ireland.

It feels it is in a good place to help coordinate work across the goals – which are for sustainability not just in the environment but across all sectors.

However, there are some local difficulties at present. Jurisdictions within the General Assembly Members of the UN are required to provide plans to the UN as to how they will progress the SDGs. Northern Ireland, which currently has no government, is not in a position to do this.

“The SDGs are so broad ranging - it’s really the UN setting out a vision and strategy for the world - and we need to make that relevant to people at a local level.

“The principles of accountability, participation and transparency, must inform the process by which we pursue the SDGs throughout the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of a Northern Ireland SDG action plan.

“It requires leadership from the Executive Office and a coherent approach to delivery across government.  We hope that once the Executive is restored government will rise to the challenge and create a roadmap outlining: how the SDGs will be implemented in Northern Ireland, Department leads for each Goal, Sustainable Development Indicators to measure progress; and a clear plan for involving citizens.  The Pioneer project can utilise the extensive network of NIEL members and the NI OGN to work with government and facilitate citizen input.”

The third sector, as well as local people, has an opportunity with the Sustainable Development Goals. The goals are good ones and could lead to funding opportunities, either directly or through partnerships.

Joining the dots – from local communities, through third sector organisations, Stormont, and up to the UN and the SDGs themselves – takes some work. NIEL is making efforts to smooth this process.

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