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Could the Global Goals provide a framework for the green recovery?

A blog post by Catherine Gee

Catherine Gee
Operations Director

Posted 03/09/2020

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At this time, as we unfurl from the health pandemic that has restricted us to our homes and local places, finding the balance between the economic, social and environmental drivers of sustainable development has never been more important.

‘The Green Recovery’ is what Scotland has committed to.  It is what the charity I work for has committed to.  But, what does it really mean to us as individuals?  What does it mean for those of us who have a dream for our families, our businesses and our friends; who have had visions of the future put on hold because of the health pandemic that has, rightly, been first and foremost in our minds.

If we look back at history, it is the economic drivers that have always won first place in building back better.  Now we have an opportunity to rebalance.  The green recovery isn’t just about putting our environment first; an effective green recovery should harness the opportunities to tackle our nature and climate crises and use them to propel us towards positive change regarding social, health and justice disparities too.

Covid-19 has exposed the inequalities and challenges that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change set out to address.  It has shown us that governments across the world can respond decisively to a crisis, and at a scale we didn’t dream was possible. 

At the very end of July I was delighted to see the publication of the Scottish Government’s landmark review of the progress Scotland has made in delivering the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals) – which as a nation we signed up to in 2015 – with the aim of protecting the health of our planet, reducing poverty and addressing inequality.

The review - developed in partnership with the SDG Network Scotland, a coalition of over 500 organisations and individuals of which I am extremely proud to be an interim steering group member - provided a detailed and honest analysis of Scotland’s progress.  It highlights that as a country we are making great headway.  But sadly, it also acknowledges that more needs to be done, much more.  There were gaps and challenges before Covid-19 shook the world, and now in the context of the pandemic, there is even more need to address these and crucially to embed the framework of the Global Goals in a global green and just recovery plan.  

When it comes to the Global Goals, Scotland is leading the way and we play a crucial role.  Our Government has already aligned its National Outcomes to them, and over the next decade has committed to strive to deliver against them.

I truly believe that the ambitions of the Global Goals have never been more important.  In 2016 Keep Scotland Beautiful fully aligned activities to them, and for the past three years our annual review has reported our contribution.  As an environmental charity we know we must back the global effort to protect our planet and people.   And, we have been working hard to bring the Global Goals to those we work with in simple and easy terms: through our Eco-Schools and Climate Ready Classrooms programmes we have helped young people understand the part they play in their lives; we have broken down the myths of the Global Goals to the community groups we work with across the country as part of our It’s Your Neighbourhood, Upstream Battle and Cup Movement campaigns; and we have linked our climate emergency training to the ambitions of Goal 13 on Climate Action.

Financial and job security represent huge concerns for people across the country at present. Yet economic recovery measures need not conflict with the imperatives of sustainable development: indeed, a recent Scottish Environment LINK poll shows that 76% of people living in Scotland believe measures for a #GreenRecovery should be prioritised in the Government’s response to the pandemic.

We’ve all experienced the health benefits of spending time in our local green and blue spaces during the global pandemic, so it is no wonder that the interconnected social, health and justice benefits of a greener, more sustainable recovery have become more apparent. 

If we are to create resilient societies that can cope with the challenges ahead - not least those posed by the climate emergency - a global approach will be crucial.  We urgently need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity for the future of our young people, and we need to use the Global Goals as a framework for a much-needed reprioritisation.

First published in The Scotsman on 03 September 2020.

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