13 September 2016

The United Nations’ sustainable development agenda is ambitious but complex, and Australia will need to take a creative approach to it.

That’s the warning from University of Queensland researchers in a discussion paper released ahead of the UN General Assembly in New York today.

World leaders are in New York to discuss how to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals  announced by the UN in 2015.

UQ Global Change Institute researcher Dr Nina Hall has identified risks associated with taking a “list-based” approach to meet the goals.

Dr Hall and her UQ colleagues argue that any attempt to redress the 17 goals in chronological order could be counter-productive.

The goals, agreed to by 193 countries, provide a pathway to end poverty, improve health and education, and enhance environmental outcomes globally, irrespective of a country’s level of development.

Dr Hall said the goals on climate action and global partnerships had to take priority.

“While working through the Sustainable Development Goals from number one to 17 may seem logical, it would lead to a haphazard approach that makes it difficult to achieve real change,” she said.

“The interdisciplinary nature of the goals means we need serious heavy lifting from governments globally, but this is crucial if we are to improve overall sustainable development and, ultimately, health and wellbeing.”

Global Change Institute  Deputy Director Professor Karen Hussey said the broad scope of the goals placed enormous pressure on governments to coordinate activities and initiatives across multiple government departments, with input from other stakeholders in the economy and society.

“Not only will governments here and abroad need to carefully consider the order in which the goals are addressed, but they must also develop processes and mechanisms through which the many challenges in the 17 goals can be tackled across the length and breadth of a country,” Professor Hussey said.

“Our research found that 21 government departments across Australia have a stake in the goals, all of which will have their own methods for capturing and using data to inform decision-making, so it’s a monumental task to coordinate and lead that process over the coming years.”

Dr Hall has co-authored an article on the discussion paper for The Conversation.

Media: Dr Nina Hall, n.hall2@uq.edu.au; Ron Hohenhaus, r.hohen@uq.edu.au, +61 438 285 283.