Championing the SDGs in your neighbourhood! A short guide to the sustainable development goals for local councillors, campaigners, citizens, and changemakers.

The Sustainable Development Goals agreed by all UN member states, including the UK, require engagement and implementation across all government levels. In other words, cities and towns across the U.K have a great opportunity to pitch in and help advance the SDG agenda! This article discusses some great examples of work already being done on the ground.

What are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The SDGs are 17 goals covering a wide range of pressing issues faced by society. From protecting our oceans to improving health and well-being and ending poverty, the goals serve as a guide for governments around the world to create inclusive, peaceful, sustainable, and resilient societies.

UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030

The SDGs in the U.K.

In 2019, the U.K government published the Voluntary National Review (VNR), documenting our progress on delivering the 17 goals.

The VNR is a detailed review of the actions and policies currently being done by national and sub-national governments that contribute to the SDGs and identifies challenges and lessons learned for the future. For more info on this see  Voluntary National Reviews .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform

The review noted the importance of local authorities and cities in delivering the SDGs across the U.K, ensuring ‘no one is left behind’. ‘Leave no one behind’ is a core principle behind the SDGs. In practice, this means that strategies to address the SDGs should be anti-discriminatory and inclusive for all members of society. Therefore, local authorities have an important role as they are well-placed to engage with the most vulnerable members of their communities. 

‘Councils are the key drivers of sustainable development at the local level’

Chairman of LGA’s Improvement and Innovation Board

Localizing the Goals SDGs in the community! 

Developing local strategies (bike paths, community gardens, food-sharing networks, repair workshops, etc.) are great ways to contribute to the goals. These kinds of actions go towards delivering the goals like the ones below:

What can LA’s do?

Local authorities have a key role to play in delivering the SDGs. Therefore, councillors and policymakers need to be aware of how they can apply the SDGs to council activities. Importantly, given the resource constraints, local authorities face, realizing the goals does not require huge increases in spending. Councils may already be doing lots of work towards the goals and can map them onto existing plans and policies. Furthermore, they can use the goals as a guide to determine where more work is needed. 

They can also reach out to local businesses and residents and engage them with the SDG agenda.

Raising Awareness 

‘A 2017 study by the OECD of public awareness of the SDGs in Europe found that only 1 in 10 people were aware of the goals’.

In 2018, the UKSSD (UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development) published an extensive review on the progress of the UK in delivering the SDGs. It reported that awareness and engagement with the goals were low among the public. 

Both national and local governments have a part to play in improving the awareness of citizens to the global goals. A first step to raising awareness is to create interest and broad stakeholder support. 

How to Engage? 

Utrecht, a city in the Netherlands, declared itself a Global Goals City. Initiated not only as a way to contribute to the goals but also to promote and increase the awareness of citizens. For example, the municipality engaged its citizens through a series of activities including free SDG-themed dance events. Additionally, they launched a campaign (HeelUtrechtU), which publicly rewards citizens and companies doing work that contributes to the SDGs.

Where to Start?

1. Connect the goals with local priorities 

  • Create a win-win situation

Utrecht Council had established healthy urban living as a key priority (to deal with local issues such as heavy traffic and air pollution) and found the SDG agenda compatible with their future visions for the city. Similarly, in the U.K, Newcastle City Council has recently incorporated the SDGs into the work-plan for their Wellbeing for Life Board to improve the lives of communities. 

As the SDGs cover a wide range of issues (health, equality, inclusive growth, and environmental protection), most councils will be able to align their priorities with the goals. 

2. Setting measurable goals   

  • A great way to check progress

A goal set by the city is to make 75% of Utrecht citizens aware of the SDGs by 2030, a citizen survey from 2017 found that 28% of the public knew about the goals. 

3. Partnerships and collaboration 

  • A problem shared is a problem halved

The local government partnered with a local independent foundation, Utrecht4GlobalGoals to deliver a local awareness-raising campaign and connect with a broader audience. 

4. Engaging with the grassroots

  • Make the most of local resources

A case study of active engagement closer to home is the city of Bristol, which has a history of grassroots activism and environmental campaigning. In 2021, Bristol City Council initiated an engagement programme to improve SDG awareness among its citizens. The programme will use techniques such as community champions and street art murals to promote participation among hard-to-reach groups. 

Local authorities have multiple options in how they choose to educate citizens and raise awareness of the SDGs. For instance, connecting the goals to existing events, as was done in the Dutch city of Tilburg with themed SDG attractions at a local funfair. Another option could be to implement a local grant or subsidy scheme that supports grassroots initiatives contributing to the SDGs with a focus on awareness-raising. 

If they commit to the SDG agenda, local authorities have a great opportunity to be catalysts of change for their communities. Not only could they help address the wicked problem of climate change, but they can also use their power to drive inclusive economic growth, create green jobs, boost health, and spread more wealth in the community. Above all, they can ensure that no one is left behind.

Do you have an idea or innovative solution that could contribute to the SDG agenda? Or do you just feel inspired to make small impactful changes in your community? Join our community of doers, thinkers, entrepreneurs, and innovators! Together we can take steps towards a more sustainable future.

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