​The Sustainable Development Goals: from signatory to implementation

In an interview, Tari Bowling talks about the SDGs targets that countries aim to achieve by 2030. Are they actually a real and achievable goal, given our global track record? She discusses this from her perspective as a WASH practitioner and expert. This article looks more closely at the momentum behind the SDGs.

Making progress on, and eventually achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will require engagement from the highest level in government through to the implementation efforts in conjunction with civil society. Due to the transdisciplinary nature of the SDGs, tracking progress, monitoring success, and integrating lessons learned into future activities requires a concerted effort.

This article explores how governments are working to support and achieve the SDGs, from the moment they sign on to them through to national and multi-national approaches to examining examines sustainability performance, trends and issues, potential futures and options, and sustainable development solutions.

Signatory countries to SDGs

The SDGs were agreed upon by 193 countries in September 2015 at the United Nations. Signatories include countries like Australia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Laos, and Fiji.

The SDG Knowledge Hub indicates that 22 countries presented reports on their own progress and challenges in 2016, and almost twice as many have volunteered to do the same in July 2017.

Asia Pacific countries are taking on national and regional actions to achieve SDGs.

Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam have all pledged to tackle hazardous chemicals, marine pollution, climate change, air pollution, water and sanitation, and destruction of coral reefs, according to another SDG Knowledge Hub announcement.

The ministers and high-level officials of the 14 Asia Pacific countries made these resolutions, resulting in the Manila Declaration on Health and Environment calling for action on specific SDGs and identifying areas of collaboration within and between countries.

The interconnected nature of the SDGs

WASH expert Tari Bowling sees the SDGs as aspirational goals.

“We have to set them to such a high standard to motivate governments to strive towards achieving them,” Bowling explains. “One of the issues with governments such as here in Australia is that they can change every four years. We’ve got these goals that are extending far beyond the four-year term. By doing that, it tries to keep governments on track regardless of changes in leadership. The SDGs are long term and while we may not achieve all the goals we really need to have that aspirational target to motivate us to think creatively.”

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are interconnected and while identified as separate goals, should not be treated as silos. Achievements in Goal 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, will have positive impacts on goals for health, education, equality, and reducing hunger and poverty. By identifying which goals individual sectors or organizations can realistically achieve and focusing their resources accordingly, additional goals will be impacted. This flow-on effect is true for all the SDG goals, not just water and sanitation, says Bowling.

When sectors and organizations are aware of these linkages, and support one another, particularly through knowledge exchange, we have the opportunity to generate a higher level of achievement that will move us closer towards realizing the SDG goals as a whole.

Where to get started – one example

The Monash Sustainability Institute (MSI) is spearheading an initiative to provide Australian and Southeast Asian/Pacific regional leadership to develop and implement SDGs. “The initiative’s two main components look at what the SDGs mean for Australia and what they mean for the Southeast Asia/Australia region,” explains MSI. “Both are being carried out through a series of high-level workshops and the development of papers to support them. Two workshops take place annually – one in Australia and the other in the southeast Asian/Pacific region. Participation in the workshops is by invitation and includes senior leaders from government, the private sector, civil society and academia.”

Each workshop examines sustainability performance, trends and issues, potential futures and options, and sustainable development solutions. Outcomes are published and shared with organizations implementing processes aimed at realizing the SDGs.

MSI is also working with regional arms of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) in Southeast Asia and other regional partners to understand the impact of SDGs in that region, including priorities and implementation

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