5 sustainable development experts on what it’ll take to achieve the SDGs

How we can make progress on a better 2030

Why It Matters

The deadline for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is less than 10 years away, and much progress still needs to be made. And not only is the pandemic highlighting what progress still needs to be made on inequities in Canadian society, it’s creating an even greater need for a commitment to sustainability, for a stronger recovery and regeneration. This is our second story in partnership with the Waterloo Global Science Initiative in the lead up to the Together|Ensemble conference.

We’re 10 years out from 2030, the deadline for meeting the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many of these goals, like good health and wellbeing or zero hunger, have become even more critical during the pandemic, but the crisis threatens to derail progress on others, like climate action. The potential benefits of others still have come into sharper view — for instance, we’ve been able to see the environmental benefits of slower and more localized production and consumption, an important aspect of SDG 12. 

Thankfully, activists and advocates across Canada are paying attention to what the pandemic is revealing and intensifying when it comes to the SDGs. And many are gathering virtually this week for the Together|Ensemble conference, hosted by the Waterloo Global Science Initiative, to highlight innovative Canadian solutions addressing the SDGs. 

We asked five sustainable development experts in the Together|Ensemble network for one big way Canada can work toward a better future in 2030 — and why this work will matter even more in a post-pandemic setting. 


Develop an SDG framework to be used across the country 

Canada can work toward a better 2030 “by ensuring the commitment to the SDGs is not forgotten and that intentional effort is being made to integrate the 2030 framework across all sectors and industries,” says Laveza Khan, a legislative assistant at the House of Commons and moderator of the Together|Ensemble’s Our Future, Our Time panel, taking place Thursday at 11am EST. After the pandemic, she adds, “this work will matter because the SDGs are the road map to the world we want to see post-COVID-19. The current circumstances have identified how many elements of our current system are weak and need rebuilding. The 2030 Agenda is the blueprint to a healthier, equal and better world.


Build a more inclusive tech industry 

“To move forward in an equitable and sustainable way, we must promote diversity in both the talent working on and in tech, and inclusion of many communities in the applications of that technology,” says Muriam Fancy, a project officer for the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) Youth Initiative. “Diversity and inclusion in technology is an issue that the tech world was facing pre-COVID-19. However, in the new COVID-19 world, accessibility to technology is limited, and data reflecting communities who are suffering the most from COVID-19 are not included. Thus, the social-good applications of tech are significantly limited when even the smallest percentage of the population cannot access or be included in the use of technology. Canada cannot develop if these communities are not a part of this new digital society.”


Foster more innovative, sustainable urban development 

As a country, we need “to strive towards making our urban environments and cities more sustainable and inclusive by complementing harm-reduction strategies with transformational and innovative design approaches,” says Sherif Nader Alphonse Goubran, a Vanier Scholar and speaker on the Our Future, Our Time panel. Before now, he adds, we were solely focused on managing and mitigating known risks, but the current crisis is showing us how we should be more focused on the future and its possibilities. Agility, adaptability and resilience will be key in cities and human-settlements post-COVID-19. We have to start asking the more difficult questions. We have to put our ingenuity to work. In my own research I ask how buildings, cities, and human settlements can do much more than just save energy.”


Develop better sustainability education for tomorrow’s innovators 

“Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders,” says Maxime Lakat, the founder and chair of the Canadian Business Youth Council for Sustainable Development and speaker on the Our Future, Our Time panel. “If we want to prepare the next generation and mainstream sustainability, truly, across sectors and industries, we need to go to the root: education.” 

Lakat makes the case for business schools taking a leadership role in Canada’s sustainability agenda: “Business schools need to review how they rank themselves, based on how they are doing on sustainability. The Positive Impact Rating, for instance, is a new rating conducted by students around the world to assess their business schools on how they perceive their positive impact in the world. Another example is the Canadian Business Youth Council for Sustainable Development, formed to unite Canadian undergraduate student organizations in sustainable business, in order to grow the movement across the country by sharing best practices and disseminating essential knowledge on the topic. Youth in business need to advocate for a much more ambitious plan on sustainability than most business schools are currently considering.” 


Include youth perspectives in sustainability planning

Beth Eden, the national coordinator for the SDSN’s Youth Initiative, says “youth can be incorporated into decision making processes and plans in governments, corporations, and universities to ensure the SDGs are accounted for. The 2030 agenda is about intergenerational equity, valuing the present and future generations, and youth must be at the table to achieve that world.” 

Eden says youth perspectives will be essential post-pandemic, because “we will be reshaping our societies to meet new health guidelines, rebuilding our economy and accounting for climate change. We need youth to drive home the vision of building back better, to achieve a more prosperous, healthy, safe and just world. It matters now more than ever because youth are our future generation.”

These quotes have been edited for length and clarity.