A project by Deakin researcher Dr Ameeta Jain is helping one local government meet its contribution towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Set in 2015, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is an international framework of targets that’s aimed to set the world on a more sustainable, prosperous and peaceful path.
But how do countries and communities support this universal call to action – with its 17 goals, 169 targets, 231 indicators and looming deadline – through the local lens?
Localisation is a lynchpin of the UN’s SDGs and it’s widely recognised that local governments play a crucial role in delivering the 2030 agenda.
It’s also been the focus of a project by Deakin Business School (DBS) researcher Dr Ameeta Jain who has recently produced a report on how one local government area - the City of Whitehorse in Melbourne’s east – can implement SDGs relevant to its community.
Dr Jain, who in 2019 was awarded for her research on the challenges behind Timor-Leste’s adoption of the UN blueprint, is a recognised researcher on the SDGs and issues of sustainability.
She says the SDGS are based on the premise that sustainable development is a bottom-up approach that requires contribution from each individual and from every level of the government, public and private sectors.
‘This means it requires the identification of the most relevant SDGs to one’s own environment. And in Australia, like in many other parts of the world, local or city councils are charged with grassroots development.’
It was during Dr Jain’s research on Timor-Leste - which has only one level of government - that she recognised the significant role held by local government councils in progressing the SDGs.
‘It made me aware of the importance of not only localisation but building awareness of the SDGs agenda and performing a formal review of government activity,’ she says.
When the Whitehorse City Council commissioned DBS to undertake an evaluation of its activities, Dr Jain first mapped the city’s existing programs against the SDGs then provided suite of recommendations on how it could better align activities and improve implementation at a local level.
She says that even though many local government councils may not recognise it, most are working towards the UN’s SDGs but the issues that hinder progress are common to most local governments across Australia.
‘SDGs are often not seen as council business,’ she explains. ‘Local governments also do not have fiduciary, legislative or planning rights so it means they need to look at alternative and creative sources of funding for their own goals, in this case the SDGs. My project helps the Whitehorse City Council put into perspective the relevant SDGs for the city which allows for better goal-directed activity and better alignment of current and future plans with the SDGs.’
The recommendations in Dr Jain’s report Localising the Sustainable Development Goals in the City of Whitehorse –The 2020 Report include the need to raise awareness of the SDGs within the council and across its stakeholders, and also incorporate existing key strategy renewals and practices that council has identified, but has not yet committed to or found a way to progress.
‘My report is a critical review of existing systems in council and how they integrate (or not) towards achieving sustainable development. It will require discussions with appropriate council staff and other stakeholders. Subsequently, mapping council policies against state and/or national SDGs policies are the critical next steps that will allow the council in consultation with major stakeholders to identify the most relevant SDGs,’ she says.
The report, which also includes an eight-step simple framework to help all other councils localise their SDGs, is now before council for the proposed adoption of its recommendations.
‘The support of local councillors and council staff is vital in any such endeavour. Ongoing commitment and political will is required to adopt the recommendations generated by any such review,’ says Dr Jain.
With the COVID-19 crisis adding to the considerations of federal, state and local governments, Dr Jain add that the pandemic has further highlighted the world’s interconnectedness.
‘It has powerfully reiterated the importance of sustainable development and the SDGs agenda. As councils and all other levels of government grapple with the economic, social and environmental impact of the pandemic, ignoring the SDGs at this juncture will only exacerbate inequality and postpone the inevitable adoption of the SDGs.’
Dr Jain’s published project on Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Sustainable Develpment Goals page can be found here.