Guest Article #26

Regional Nordic Activities Contributing to the Post-2015 Agenda

Sustainable development has been high on the agenda of Nordic cooperation since the call from the Prime Ministers in 1998 to draft the first regional sustainability strategy. Our current strategy, A Good Life in a Sustainable Nordic Region, sets the ambitious goal that all the activities across the Nordic Council of Ministers should have an integrated sustainability perspective. Our activities are not just directed towards the Nordic region but also have a wider European and global reach, so it is natural that one of the priorities for the coming years is to implement the outcome of the Rio+20 Conference. I would like to share with you some of our regional activities contributing to the Post-2015 Agenda and the process of defining Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) is the seat of governmental cooperation between Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, along with the Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Åland Islands. Besides being a platform for ministerial decisions, the Council is a hub of activities in the Nordic region, producing new knowledge and providing networks within the various fields of sustainable development. The hallmark of Nordic cooperation is a holistic and cross-sectoral approach, pooling resources regionally to explore common solutions.

The NCM publishes around 100 reports annually that can be used by policy-makers and experts in many areas. One recent example is a study dispelling myths about sustainable consumption. This policy brief draws attention to the gap between the interests of researchers and policy-makers: while researchers aim to challenge existing views and generate new knowledge, policy-makers need knowledge that is easy to use and offers clear solutions. Consequently, there is a need for knowledge brokerage to provide more information explicitly geared towards policy-making.

This is not a challenge unique to sustainable consumption, but applies to policy-making in general, and was also a topic discussed at an international workshop funded by the NCM and the Ministry of the Environment Finland in the beginning of November in Geneva, Switzerland. The workshop was organized by Finland, in cooperation with Denmark, Norway, Sweden, UNEP and Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC). Scientists, government experts and stakeholders gathered to debate the relevance of planetary boundaries and environmental tipping points for sustainable development, the SDGs, and the broader Post-2015 Agenda. Participants discussed how to incorporate scientific messages on critical environmental issues into policy and, specifically, how to include the consideration of planetary boundaries in global sustainability discussions.

One of the key background documents for the workshop was the draft discussion paper ‘Global Sustainability and Human Prosperity' from Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), commissioned by the NCM. The final paper is not yet published, but I would like to give you a sneak preview of the recommendations. The authors suggest that future design of SDGs should stick to the approach of development within Earth's limits, with twin priorities: protection of the biosphere as the non-negotiable life-support system, and reduction of poverty as an essential part of a fair and just global society.

When building on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a deeper analysis of the multiple interconnections, trade-offs and synergies between SDGs is required. There is also a need for scalable indicators for use at national, regional and international levels. The discussion paper points out that many existing global environmental agreements link closely to planetary boundaries, and can form a robust policy framework for further work on SDGs. Greater integration across the social and environmental dimensions can help to close the current implementation gap.

Recommendations suggest considering gross domestic product (GDP) and other current measures of national income accounting in the context of SDGs. As SRC points out, one single measure cannot capture the full complexity of human well-being and its relation to the biosphere. Various kinds of complementary indicators do already exist; they should just be used more.

The NCM has recently launched a new cross-sectoral project in cooperation with the national statistics offices in the Nordic countries. The aim is to increase the use of these underused, complementary welfare indicators in political decision-making processes. We are aiming to initiate ministerial level discussions between the environmental, finance and business sectors on this issue during 2014.

The Nordic Council of Ministers also publishes statistics and data from the Nordic region, and the latest initiative is a new set of sustainable development indicators. These indicators correspond to the cross-sectoral focus areas of our strategy: the Nordic welfare model; viable ecosystems; changing climate; sustainable use of the earth's resources; and education, research and innovation. We have also published a short overview of their status in 2013.

The indicators can be used by practitioners in the field but, even more importantly, they provide knowledge for decision-makers and hold them accountable in terms of sustainability goals and policies.

The unique aspect of the Nordic indicators is that they cover the entire region in an integrated way, while linking to the ongoing political dialogue between the Nordic countries. While the indicators provide an easy, factual overview of sustainability status in selected areas, they also serve as a regional benchmarking tool that can have potential beneficial effects in a world facing ever-increasing cross-border challenges.

These are just some of the ways in which the Nordic Council of Ministers is making a constructive contribution to the work of advancing the Post-2015 Development Agenda.