It could be considered a miracle that all 193 countries at the September 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Summit agreed to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 sub-targets. Maybe, if that is possible, is it possible to actually attain all these goals by their 2030 deadline?
Highlighting the new political landscape in Canada, members from the BC Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) asked VIU students and members of the public this question after their presentation during VIU’s International Development week on February 1. The BCCIC is a civil society organization that networks people, groups, and organizations in BC working towards sustainable development, with the vision to engage all British Columbians in global citizenship and issues.
SDGs are built on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) created at the turn of the century, which were aspired to be reached by 2015, but were not completed. The eight MDGs established universally-agreed upon objectives for things such as eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, preventing deadly but treatable disease, and expanding educational opportunities to all children.
Born out of a more collaborative and universal approach, the 17 new SDGs are more expansive and include social, environmental, and economic pillars that the MDGs did not.
At the VIU event, BCCIC communications officer Kareen Wong asked the audience whether the SDGs are idealistic, realistic, or both. When asked to illustrate by a show of hands who thought the SDGs are achievable, the verdict was split. One reason for the doubt surrounding the SDGs may be the fact that some individual goals appear to contradict each other, but “these tensions and contradictions in the SDGs inspire action and aspirational thinking,” claimed BCCIC Event Coordinator Dan Harris.
Wong explained that the SDGs are about the acknowledgment that these issues are universal and not confined to borders. “We are all developing countries now,” she said. “It’s about public life, expressing interests and value to others, and growing democracy,” she said.
BCCIC Board of Directors member Colleen Hanley highlighted the “fundamental shift” on these issues that took place on October 19 with the election of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party, stating that while the Conservatives did not accept universality, the Liberals now do. She explained that Canada’s growing involvement in climate, putting forth an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and taking leadership roles by encouraging others to join movements is essential to making progress with the SDGs. “If Canada can do it, other countries can as well,” she said. “We’re all in this together.”
Yet, politicians do not hold all of the answers, as partisan burdens on society will always have the potential to cause challenges. To combat this, the responsibility falls to civil society to act as a “check and balance,” Wong said. She explained that BCCIC is an important resource for British Columbians to get involved and take actions to work towards these goals because BC is not a hub for international development. “Achieving these goals will be super tough, but I believe we can do it,” she said.
While the new political landscape is a starting point to Canadians making progress with the SDGs, it is each of our individual actions that will make the real impact, said Hanley. “Get involved, contact your MPs, just do something.”