Research on SDGs in Canada Recommends Prioritization Framework, Roles for Key Actors
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A working paper from the Brookings Institution titled, ‘A Canadian North Star: Crafting an advanced economy approach to the Sustainable Development Goals,’ is written by Margaret Biggs and John McArthur.

The paper identifies issues in Canada that are “on track” for success and issues that need a “breakthrough”.

The paper also sets out recommended roles for several groups of actors, including for Indigenous people and communities to be front and center.

6 March 2018: The Brookings Institution released a working paper that, through a focus on Canada, provides a framework for tracking SDG progress in advanced economies and taking policy action. The paper also identifies issues in the country that are “on track” for success as well as those that need a “breakthrough.”

The paper titled, ‘A Canadian North Star: Crafting an advanced economy approach to the Sustainable Development Goals,’ is written by Margaret Biggs and John McArthur. They suggest that below its surface, Canada faces serious challenges, including environmental risks and rising inequality and economic and social exclusion for segments of its population.

“Perhaps surprisingly,” Canada is not on track for any of the indicators for SDGs 2 (zero hunger), 5 (gender equality), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 10 (reduced inequalities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) or 13 (climate action), the paper reports. In some other areas, Canada’s trends are assessed as “Moving backward” or “Breakthrough needed,” showing that current approaches are not working. Among these trends are: increasing rates of food insecurity, child obesity, and substance abuse; declines in the share of teenagers showing core competencies in numeracy and potentially also in literacy; rising incidences of reported sexual violence against children; and a rising number of unsentenced detainees as a share of the prison population.

The paper addresses the desire to prioritize, and encourages policy makers to pit trajectories against each other rather than pit goals against each other. The authors suggest an approach to determine the issues on which new approaches should be prioritized. They acknowledge advantages for advanced economy countries, such as having “the bandwidth to tackle the entire SDG agenda,” and note that already, each SDG target falls within the explicit mandate of at least one ministry. Another factor working in Canada’s favor for SDG achievement, the authors argue, is being a decentralized federation, with a lack of “entrenched policy processes for sustainable development.” This can facilitate new forms of problem solving, which the authors encourage exploring in a “whole of Canada approach.”

The paper recommends that Canada pursue: a consistent focus on 2030 outcomes; a commitment to measurement and reporting, in which actors at all levels can provide regular public reports and support databases that inform learning and decision making; locally defined targets, coordinated by federal, provincial, territorial, and community leaders wherever “the official SDG language is unclear”; shared scorecards, by which provinces, cities, universities, and industry associations track progress among peer entities on a common set of indicators; and sustained public spotlights. The authors stress that the SDGs “will matter in Canada once enough people believe they matter.”

The paper also sets out recommended roles for several groups of actors, to spur SDG progress. In particular, they call for indigenous people and communities to be front and center. For the levels of government, the authors envision: the federal government as “leader, convener, and catalyst;” provincial and territorial governments as “leaders across the full SDG landscape;” cities and communities as being on the frontlines for citizen feedback and solutions; business as “leading the shift from compliance to performance;” universities and colleges as hubs for intergenerational collaboration; and philanthropy and community-level action as “kick-starting collaboration and innovation.”

This paper is also forthcoming as a chapter in a book to be published by Brookings Institution Press titled, ‘From Summits to Solutions: Innovations in Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.’ [Publication: A Canadian North Star] [From Summits to Solutions Webpage]

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