Sustainable Development Goals: a win-win for Australia

The Conversation

On September 25 world leaders will meet in New York to formalise the new Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 goals will guide efforts to reduce poverty and increase well-being, without destroying the Earth.

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Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs) that applied only to developing countries, the Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) will apply to all countries, including Australia.

The SDGs offer the opportunity for a “win-win” for Australia: by promoting more sustainable development we can improve the quality of life and opportunity here in Australia while also promoting prosperity in the many developing countries in our region. This will be vital for our economic future and security.

The SDGs are relevant to developed countries like Australia in two ways. First, they represent goals and targets that can make Australia itself more prosperous, fair and sustainable. Examples include improving gender equality and reducing non-communicable diseases. Second, they encourage actions by Australia that will contribute to global sustainable development. Examples here are more sustainable consumption and production, reduced carbon emissions, and support for overseas development.

Perhaps one of the most significant applications of the SDGs to Australia will be in helping reduce the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. A core principle underpinning the SDGs is that “no one is left behind”: the goals and targets are to be met for all income and social groups, particularly disadvantaged groups.

As one of the world’s most urbanised countries, goal 11, to make our cities safe, resilient and sustainable, is clearly important. As a dry continent with an important agricultural sector, ensuring sustainable water management in cities and rural areas is critical (goal 6).

And with some of the world’s highest carbon emissions per person, the goals of sustainable modern energy (goal 7), sustainable consumption and production (goal 12) and action to combat climate change (goal 13) are clearly relevant. Some of the social targets such as reducing inequality, strengthening prevention of substance abuse and increasing access to early childhood development also rated highly.

The SDGs and targets are meant to take into account different national realities and levels of development. Each government is able to set its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances. Potential Australia-specific targets could be for non-communicable diseases, technical and vocational skills, gender equality, water efficiency, affordable housing and sustainable cities. The SDGs and targets could be incorporated into national planning processes but also into those of the states and local government.

Perhaps most importantly, Australia should look for targets that incorporate the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. It is in this way that we will maximise well-being for all rather than continue the unsustainable path of trading off social and environmental needs for economic growth.

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