In 2015, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that the Scottish Government would be one of the first anywhere in the world to commit to meeting the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development, both at home and overseas. Since then, all 193 UN member states have signed up to the 17 goals that seek to end poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change.

There’s little doubt that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a vision of the world that Scotland shares, but what progress has been made since the First Minister’s bold statement? Are the goals embedded in the work of government, civil society and business and do our actions live up to our words?

The third sector’s awareness of the goals is patchy and that’s no real surprise. A campaign designed to reach seven billion can be difficult to translate locally. Working with the Scottish Government to develop SDG implementation plans and aligning our campaigns and policies to the goals is where we should be, but we’ve been slow to hold the Scottish Government to account on its commitment at the same time as failing to make the most of the political appetite. 

Nearly 100 MSPs last month pledged support for the SDGs at both home and abroad. This included the First Minister, all the party leaders, the Presiding Officer and most of the Scottish Government’s cabinet secretaries and ministers. Each of the major parties have also supported the SDGs in their Scottish manifestos for the General Election. 

Our future supporters and workforces also have sustainable development on the mind. The goals form a key part in developing global citizens within Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence and they’re being used to support young people – Scotland’s future advocates for change – to identify the changes they would like to see in their community and the wider world.

Private sector organisations in the UK are also viewing the goals as an opportunity they can’t afford to miss. The future of poverty, inequalities, jobs, carbon emissions and so much more relies on the SDGs becoming a central part of business strategies and operations across the world, and companies are seeing them as an opening away from the make, use, dispose traditions of an out-dated, out-of-touch economy.

I’m yet to see evidence that the Scottish Government has a plan for SDG implementation – whether the do to talk ratio around the Global Goals changes will depend on domestic implementation becoming the responsibility of all Director Generals. Domestic leadership is what’s needed and that’s where civil society can come in.

We need to ensure that work is carried out by the Scottish Government to advance the goals and that this is delivered in partnership with us, and that citizens and civil society are equal parties to developing Scotland’s priorities that sit behind the goals. We need to work together to increase public awareness and engagement around the goals, and secure their implementation in Scotland.

The need for innovation and collaboration across sectors is also critical in solving the biggest challenges of our time. The scale of the goals is unprecedented and off-putting, but they provide the framework for Scotland to come together – government, parliament, civil society and business.

We’re only at the beginning of this journey but it’s an important start on a very long road. My next blog will consider how the third sector can get involved in a growing movement and look to use the goals to make better campaigns and policy decisions and in setting strategy in the longer term.

Join Scotland’s Sustainable Development Goals Network