Nordic countries are in many ways frontrunners when it comes to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They are hubs of science, technology and innovation, and they are already exploring shifts towards more circular
economies. Many of the goals and targets are as good as achieved in the Nordic countries, and there are active national policies to address most of those that aren’t.
However, some import-hungry Nordics are uncomfortably near the top of the list when it comes to per capita environmental footprints. Bringing Nordic lifestyles and consumption patterns in line with global ambitions will be a major challenge.
Over the last year, Gaia Consulting and Stockholm Environment Institute worked with the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) on exploring the feasibility of, and possible roles for, a regional Agenda 2030 programme within the Nordic Cooperation framework.
We explored what individual Nordic countries had been doing to implement and communicate Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and we talked to stakeholders from government, business, civil society, science and the media about whether (and how) Nordic cooperation could add value to these efforts. The answer was a resounding “Yes!”.
Why a Nordic programme?
The Nordic countries are respected international actors and many are also members of cooperation bodies like the European Union and the OECD. Nevertheless, we believe that a programme within the Nordic Cooperation framework could not only enhance the Nordic countries’ implementation of the 2030 Agenda at home, but also their contribution to global sustainable development. Here are some key reasons why:
Common challenges, common opportunities
For all their diversity, the Nordic countries share much common ground: economically, socially, politically and culturally. Experiences in addressing the SDGs in one Nordic country could thus often be more or less directly applicable to its neighbours. And this holds true for national policy levers, right down to initiatives in individual schools or communities.
At the same time, while Nordic countries are taking active steps to align policy and action with the new sustainable development agenda, there are still many challenges. Some challenges are institutional, while others are related to common issues like immigration, integration, ageing populations, marine pollution, energy and consumption footprints.
We found a strong interest in platforms for learning, not just between government actors, but between businesses and between parts of civil society too. A clear advantage of Agenda 2030 and the 17 SDGs is that they provide a common language and a way to structure experience-sharing on different aspects of the transition to more sustainable development. Regular Nordic Agenda 2030 events would provide natural arenas for this kind of broad-based learning and cross-fertilisation.
The Nordic identity and Agenda 2030
The Nordic identity has already proved a valuable asset for sustainable development. In international settings, ideas coming from the Nordics are associated with progressive principles such as respect for human rights, neutrality, egalitarianism, cooperation and internationalism, as well as strong scientific and technological foundations.
The 2030 Agenda is a good fit for this Nordic identity, and can help extend and refresh it. At a project event last November, several stakeholders seemed to feel strongly that the 2030 Agenda could serve as an overarching vision and narrative that could give meaning and greater validation to individual and local actions in their communities. This is an opportunity we believe Nordic Cooperation could exploit, both within the region and globally.
Linking all the Nordic countries
Nordic Cooperation is the only framework that links all Nordic countries. It includes several regional programmes on key issues directly relevant to the SDGs, and provides regional dialogue forums, funding for regional projects, and platforms to present Nordic ideas, innovations and successes in international settings.
Elements of a programme
The Nordic Council of Ministers recently published our report Sustainable Development Action – The Nordic Way. In it we summarise national progress and the opportunities and challenges we see. We also make some recommendations about the form a potential Nordic Agenda 2030 programme could take.
The operative word for our vision of the programme is action. Guiding the programme is a sense that by pooling pan-Nordic energy and resources, we can generate a critical mass of urgency, solidarity and “buzz” to ensure that the SDGs do not turn into another talking point, but instead Nordic actors keep actively working towards them. It is important for Nordic actors who are already engaging with sustainable development to see how their efforts connect and are supported by the others, and for there to be a structure within which this can happen.
Most logically, the programme should start by focusing on issues emphasised both in the SDGs and in the Nordic Sustainable Development strategy, such as environmental quality, inclusion and inequality, and health. We also recommend that the programme should include a number of concrete projects on themes that Nordic actors already know and care about – for example sustainable lifestyles. Importantly, it the programme should not try to reinvent the wheel but be a means of mobilising existing efforts, coordinating new efforts, and inspiring future work.
While the Nordic Council of Ministers and its Expert Group on Sustainable Development must have a strong role in programme design and overseeing implementation, the programme must engage all of Nordic society.
Finally, the programme should furthermore aim to facilitate intra-regional dialogue and sharing of policy tools, statistics, analysis etc. And this sharing can support Nordic engagement with, and learning from, SDG implementation beyond the region.
The Nordic Council of Ministers will decide on the establishment of a Nordic 2030 Agenda programme in September. Stay tuned for more information on Sustainable Development the Nordic Way!