Just over one year ago, global leaders came together to finalise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a set of goals to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all”. Next week the SDGs will take centre stage at a conference organised by WWF-Australia at the University of Sydney to work out how to stimulate national action on the 17 biggest social, environmental and economic challenges facing our country. The conference will bring together unlikely allies from business, government, civil society, NGOs and academia to understand the “why, what, and how” of implementing the SDGs in Australia.

Implied within the 2030 Agenda is an intention to “leave no one behind” and a focus on creating a better life for all people in all societies.

At a time of global political disruption and economic and social uncertainty, the Sustainable Development Goals offer a well-timed roadmap that articulates the priorities for making the world ecologically sustainable, socially just and economically prosperous for all.

Here in Australia we have work to do. We are ranked number 20 in the 2016 global SDG Index. And while we’re making progress in some areas, in others we lag behind. To deliver by 2030 we will have to raise the bar.

There is no reason why a wealthy and prosperous country like ours shouldn’t be in the top 10 by 2025. We wouldn’t tolerate it for our sporting rankings, so why should we tolerate it for the SDGs? What are the key actions over the decade that will put Australia on track to achieve the goals? And why is it so important that the built environment sector be at the centre of these discussions?

We need now to shine a light on the areas where we are not doing well, celebrate and learn from the areas we are doing well in, and to identify some of the priority actions we will need to take in the next five, 10 and 15 years.

Obviously we can’t look at each SDG in isolation. The 17 goals are interlinked and tell a story of the joined up nature of our challenges and opportunities.

According to the SDG Index, there are some areas where Australia is doing reasonably well – general health, education, inequality, liveable cities and sustainable consumption and production. However, there are a number of the SDG goals where Australia could and should be punching above its weight.

For Australia to have a chance of being in the top 10, a step change is required on a number of issues that fit fairly and squarely into the space of the built environment:

  • reducing food waste
  • addressing rising obesity
  • sustainable agriculture
  • water security
  • the transition to low-carbon energy
  • ambition on climate change
  • preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • continuing economic prosperity at a time of economic structural change
  • closing the gap for our Indigenous peoples
  • ensuring our cities are fit for purpose for a growing population
  • the institutional capacity to monitor progress on the goals

Within the corporate world there is considerable discussion taking place about the concept of “shared value” and the SDGs certainly demonstrate a part of this through the idea of “Shared Responsibility”. No one person or institution can alone take on responsibility for achieving the SDGs. It will require collaboration, hard work, difficult decisions and some trade-offs. We can’t have our cake and eat it all at the same time.

The US election is a sign of issues we cannot ignore – or face going backwards

The recent US election result is a sign of our extraordinary and uncertain times and it is possible that serious progress on climate change and the SDGs could be undermined. We can’t ignore the signs of social discontent, deep mistrust and concern with current political and business institutions. Unless these concerns are addressed we are likely to be tested and confronted with attitudes, beliefs and assumptions, which could send us backwards on progressing issues of concern.

WWF wants to be a facilitator and enabler of partnerships, and to play a leadership role in helping shape a healthy planet and sustainable future. The SDGs are an excellent platform for engaging in this conversation and Australia will need to raise our game to deliver the goals at home and across our region.

Monica Richter is business engagement manager – climate change at WWF-Australia.