When the world’s heads of state come together in New York later this month, they will sign off a set of 17 ground-breaking Sustainable Development Goals. Achieving the Goals would alter the way we do things across the world, and could mean the sort of change that we in WWF really want to see. Millions of people could be lifted out of poverty, we could address the climate change crisis, decarbonise our economies, and safeguard precious habitats. They could mean a world where people genuinely can live in harmony with nature.
In Wales, promoting sustainable development has always been one of the duties of our National Assembly since it came into being in 1999. Earlier this year, the Assembly strengthened this duty when a radical piece of legislation came into law called the Well-being of Future Generations Act. The Act places a duty on public bodies to ‘carry out’ sustainable development. It sets out seven long-term goals, among them ‘a prosperous Wales’, ‘a resilient Wales’, and ‘a globally responsible Wales’. It also sets out the things that public bodies must do and the principles they must adhere to in order to meet this duty. It should ensure that public bodies, including Government, change their strategic plans and how they spend their money to ensure they maximise their efforts to achieve the goals.
This law sees us working to develop a low-carbon economy; ensuring that healthy ecosystems are resilient in the long term; and thinking about how we can not only make decisions that benefit Wales now and in the future, but how we can make positive impacts worldwide.
By placing a commitment to sustainable development at the heart of decision-making in Wales, we will be seeking to meet our needs today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. That constitutes a radical shake-up in the way we do things, and the way we use our resources.
So what’s the link with the UN Sustainable Development Goals that heads of state will sign later this month?
Basically, this law is an example of how governments could implement the Sustainable Development Goals. The Welsh Government has been clear that this law is how it intends to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. Every five years, the Future Generations Commissioner, whose job is created by this law, will publish a report on behalf of future generations outlining the improvements that public bodies need to make in order to better safeguard the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
It is also significant that the Welsh Government decided that it needed to introduce a law in order to ensure delivery. After all, the National Assembly has had a duty to promote sustainable development for the past 15 years. We believe that with its legally-binding goals, its universal approach to sustainable development, and its review processes, this really is a radical and innovative piece of legislation. We intend to promote this approach to other governments as one of the ways they might best ensure delivery of the SDGs.
We believe that pushing for the real change that is necessary to deliver the goals is crucial to achieving our ultimate goal: we want a world where people can live in harmony with nature. We have the chance to realise our vision and we must not miss it.