City Talk: From the United Nations to St. John’s, A Call to Action

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ambitious set of goals promising to “leave no one behind” and include: no poverty, zero hunger, quality education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, sustainable cities and communities, and climate action.

In September 2015, Canada and 192 other members of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We usually think of “Sustainable Development” in an environmental context, but it encompasses social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ambitious set of goals promising to “leave no one behind” and include: no poverty, zero hunger, quality education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, sustainable cities and communities, and climate action.

Haven’t heard of the SDGs? You’re not alone. According to a 2017 Abacus Data survey, only 11% of Canadian adults were aware of them. To meet these goals, that percentage needs to grow.

Is Canada on-track to meet the SDGs by the 2030 deadline? Not really, according to Julie Gelfand, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. This April, Ms. Gelfand released a report declaring that Canada is not prepared to meet the SDGs by 2030. She criticized the federal government for not having a clear plan to meet the agenda and pointed to a dispersion of responsibility across five federal departments. “It is difficult,” she indicated, “to move forward with ten hands on the wheel.”

Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we lag behind the rest of the country when it comes to many targets. According to “Who and what gets left behind? Assessing Canada’s domestic status on the Sustainable Development Goals,”  a 2017 Brookings Institute report, NL ranks last among the provinces on literacy and numeracy targets and on mortality rates due to cancer and major cardiovascular disease.

The Brookings report refers to the provincial government’s plan, “The Way Forward” (2016), as setting “some” targets related to the SDGs. These targets – which include a more efficient public sector, a stronger economic foundation, and better service outcomes – do not directly reference the SDGs or related targets and coincide more with “Advance 2030” (2018), a provincial plan for growth in oil and gas.

Goal 11 is the SDG most relevant to our municipalities. This goal – Sustainable Cities and Communities – calls on cities to be inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable, and includes targets related to housing, transport systems, heritage, planning and development, environmental impact, green spaces and more. Here in St. John’s, we’ve seen our Mayor, during his election campaign, commit to a sustainability plan which would include environmental, economic, and cultural lenses, and, in recent months, councillors have brought attention to affordable housing, transit, waste management, and heritage. The 2017 draft of the 110-page municipal plan makes only six references to sustainability, but it was created before the election and is being revised.

To make progress toward the 2030 goals as a municipality, a province, and a country, we must all work together. Happy City supports the SDGs in St. John’s and would love to hear what you feel needs to be done and how you can help.

You can email us at info@happycity.ca – and contact your ward councillor and others at the City to urge increased attention and effort towards these important goals. If you are working in the SDG space, we would love to connect. Find out more about the SDGs at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/

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