Scotland's Sustainable Development Goals Network
SDG Network Scotland

Open letter – bring forward a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development (Scotland) Bill

Over 70 organisations across Scotland have added their support to SDG Network Scotland’s open letter to Scotland’s First Minister and other Party Leaders in Scotland asking them to bring forward a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development (Scotland) Bill during the next Parliament (WSD Bill). 

In some ways, the rhetoric around the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Scotland has been ahead of the curve in UK terms for many years. However, this has not been backed up by enough concrete action to ensure policymaking and decisions are genuinely always supportive of sustainable development outcomes, here and elsewhere.

More importantly, as the new year gets underway, many of us around the world still find ourselves in the grip of a global pandemic. The impacts on our collective health and wellbeing have already been grave; the social, environmental and economic determinants of inequality put under the spotlight; and our interdependencies starkly illustrated.

To ensure we do not make our planet uninhabitable through irreversible biodiversity and climate chaos, leave people behind or lose sight of what is important in terms of our own wellbeing and how that connects to others, it is more important than ever that we find a way to make sure we work together better and in a systematic way, especially in government, but also across the whole of society.

Those of us who understand and support the holistic ambition of the SDGs get this more than most. By coming together and building on existing legislation with a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Bill, the next Scottish Government can ensure that policy-makers and decision-makers, from national to local, are bound by sustainable development principles in everything they do. 

The Community Empowerment Act 2015, which puts Scotland’s National Performance Framework (NFP) on a statutory footing, was a good start. The latest iteration of the NPF (2018) sets out 11 National Outcomes. There is broad top-level alignment to the SDGs and it has the stated aim to ‘reduce inequalities and give equal importance to economic, environmental and social progress’.

However, this act only requires Scottish ministers to consult on, develop and publish a new NPF every five years. It does not require public bodies, the Scottish Parliament or local authorities to consult on the way we measure progress towards those national outcomes, nor does it require institutions to assess the impact of their decisions and actions against the 11 National Outcomes.

There is also limited understanding of how progress on the different outcomes impact upon one another. This act alone, then, cannot ensure a coherent approach to policymaking towards the realisation of the national outcomes contained within the NPF, nor the broader SDGs.

To that end, the legislation would make it a statutory requirement for all public bodies and local authorities in Scotland to take full account of the short and long-term Sustainable Development impact of their decisions, both in Scotland and elsewhere, and set objectives towards achieving all the SDGs and National Outcomes, ensuring that they impact positively on people’s wellbeing and the environment here in Scotland and globally.

Crucially, this would include a requirement to ensure, minimally, that decisions not only avoid negative social, economic and environmental impacts here in Scotland but also have no negative impact on the lives and livelihoods of people elsewhere, particularly in low-income countries.

The legislation would also be linked to the SDGs and the NPF, would require that public bodies and local authorities set and monitor, with public participation, legally binding targets on all SDGs and National Outcomes, including:

  • Poverty and inequality, including gender equality;
  • Net-zero carbon emissions (including emissions created by goods & services produced overseas, but consumed in Scotland);
  • Recovery from biodiversity loss;
  • Universal human rights, linking directly to the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill and forthcoming Scottish human rights legislation incorporating social, economic, cultural and environmental rights;
  • Mitigation of Climate-related socio-ecological disaster risks, impacting differentially on vulnerable communities;
  • Social, economic and environmental impacts in majority world and lower income countries.

The Bill would also create an independent commission and knowledge exchange network to support public bodies to work towards sustainable development and wellbeing goals across their policy remits, monitor progress in setting realistic and achievable objectives, and review their outcomes. 

Now is the time for political parties in Scotland to demonstrate their leadership and commitment to the SDGs.

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