Written by Andrea Byfuglien
Our house is on fire. It has been for a while, more and more are starting to notice. Can you see it yet? Can you smell it? If not, you’re lucky. Many are watching their house burn already. We need to help put it out, to keep it from spreading further before it’s too late. Right now, we can still contain it.
Containing the fire
So then, how can we contain something so aggressive, something that seems so beyond our control? We need to recognize that we do have the power to influence the fire, that we have the tools we need to put it out. However, we need to organize our efforts and find the willpower to do it.
The Sustainable Development Goals
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the product of the world’s largest consultation exercise, and serve as a common vision of the world we want by 2030. They aim to promote shared prosperity, environmental sustainability and ensure that progress on sustainable development leaves no one behind.
Efforts to achieve the SDGs will be efforts to put out the fire. The Goals represent a powerful framework for shaping action towards a sustainable future. Still, in order to take advantage of this framework it is necessary to make the SDGs seem relevant to people’s lives, and to make them applicable to communities. How can the Goals help fires that are already burning? They must be localized, adapted to help specific communities in need.
Localizing the SDGs
Localization of the SDGs refer to the process of capacity-building, so that local actors including businesses, organizations, local and regional governments, and individuals can contribute towards the overall realization of the SDGs. Where are the fires in the local area? What do we have already that can help contain them, and what do we need to put them out? Localization further includes showing how the SDGs can serve as a framework for local development policies.
It is often the case that fires burn due to processes that originate outside the locality. Children not accessing schools, coral reefs dying, Indigenous women going missing; these fires cannot be put out by a single locality. They require unified efforts. We are all co-creators of the future. The SDGs can seem abstract and unachievable, so it is crucial to make the Goals relevant to individuals and communities. Their value as a framework for social justice and ecological sustainability requires people to be aware of them, and that they are locally actionable. Advancing the SDGs through participation is therefore essential.
Local Action for the SDGs
To put out the fire, we need to make citizens aware of the global ambition. Topics like climate change, inequalities, and poverty make people feel powerless. They seem like fires that cannot be put out, destined to burn forever. Therefore, creating a link between the SDGs, the local community and the common future is important for empowering people and making them realize their power in addressing these issues.
One example of a localized implementation plan comes from Whistler, B.C. Whistler is a mountain community known as the host village for the 2010 Olympic Games. Outdoor activities such as skiing, mountain biking and hiking are core values in this community. Still, there are multiple fires burning. The community faces challenges with poverty, inequality, and biodiversity in the area is threatened. Local community members recognized the SDGs as a framework to address these issues, and created a campaign, “Thinking like a mountain.” This was a conversation series with the SDGs as an inspiration. Throughout the series, they engaged fellow community members in conversations of the needs of their community and what they could do to contribute. The authors describe how
“… people began to make the important connection that they can make changes to their own actions and lifestyle, and lead by example. They can talk to others and then start to invite others on board. And soon you will have a movement, or a “cultural shift” if you will. As an individual, you can also join in with others who share your values.”
To produce these shifts, we need to adopt new mindsets and values that are different from those that lit the flames in the first place. Instead of chasing profit and growth, we must value social justice, women’s rights, education, biodiversity and environmental sustainability. With effective engagement at the local level, the possibilities to transform outcomes are higher.
Putting out the fire
Fires burn differently in different localities, and we have everything we need to put them out. We need to work together to find them and influence decisions that affect people’s lives. Local, bottom-up participation is the most important catalyst for driving change, successful SDG implementation and putting out fires.