Your Voice Matters Series: Barriers to Implementing the SDGs

*This blog post was developed based off the study ACIC study, Your Voice Matters: Engaging Canadian Youth on the Sustainable Development Goals, as funded by the Government of Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals Program. The whole report can be found here.*

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In our study on how best to engage youth with the SDGs, it was important to also discuss barriers to their implementation. While 2030 appears to give us plenty of time to implement large-scale changes to our global society, there are challenges that can and will affect this progress. We asked the youth and youth-serving professionals of our study about what barriers they felt were in the way to reaching the Goals.

One of the main themes that came up during roundtable conversations was politics and leadership. Participants expressed concerns that current political leaders were not as highly invested in the SDGs as they should be. Youth who belonged to youth-led groups expressed issues with getting politicians to commit to work related to the SDGs as well. This poses as a barrier to achieving the SDGs, as political leaders and parties are the ones able to make the larger, policy-backed changes needed to implement some of the goals. Seeing a lack of interest or commitment from these parties can be discouraging for those people, especially youth, who are working on the SDGs.

Another major barrier for implementing the SDGs is resistance to change. Participants in the study recognized that working to implement the Goals would result in compromises and lifestyle changes that some Canadians would not be lightly willing to make.

This resistance is connected to another of the barriers: a sense of being overwhelmed. The problems of the world, the seriousness of the work required, and the element of the unknown connected to implementing the SDGs were cited by participants as being an overwhelming barrier to their implementation.

Many of the participants saw Canada’s potential for successful implementation of the SDGs as being inherently dependent upon healthy relationships and partnerships with Indigenous peoples and systems of governance, and the ability, as a country, to honour the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Participants in the roundtables expressed concern that Canada already has a responsibility to this work, and that our government cannot fully advocate for the Goals until there is true progress towards reconciliation and decolonization.

Participants also cited inequities as a major challenge for Canada’s work towards the SDGs. On a global scale, and despite its commitment to international assistance, Canada is still among the more developed countries that rely on labour and products produced in developing nations, which affects achievement of the SDGs in those countries. At home, and on an individual scale, some Canadians are unable to participate in work towards the Goals due to their financial circumstances, food security, or health situations.

Another big barrier to the implementation of the SDGs is the lack of awareness some people have. Some participants only learned about the goals through the study and felt that more could be done to increase broader public awareness.

Ultimately, the barriers participants gave voice to represent major challenges to implementing the SDGs in Canada. However, through continuing the discussion, we can raise awareness of these issues and work to reduce inequalities while increasing inclusivity, with the aim of leaving no one behind.