Foreword and summary from our report: An explicit leadership for societal transformation – how to jointly accelerate transformation towards sustainability
The 2030 Agenda and sustainable development goals (SDGs) are the global plan for a sustainable climate transition. Unlike its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, the 2030 Agenda is aimed not only our planet’s poorest countries, but every country, regardless of development level. Sweden is one of the countries that has most visibly pursued sustainability issues and was also a driving force in the development of the 2030 Agenda. It is therefore natural that Sweden’s Government has an express ambition that we will be world-leading in the implementation of the Agenda and the SDGs, and at first glance, we are also succeeding in this. Sweden ranked second in the 2021 Sustainable Development Report, right behind Finland. This is as close to world-leading as it gets, which is great news, of course, but is primarily due to what has been going in our country for decades rather than the 2030 Agenda. The welfare state, a strong export industry and hydroelectric power have given us good conditions to rank high in international comparisons. Having these conditions in place, however, means that we have not only the ability, but also a responsibility, to aim higher.
In addition to achieving the SDGs by 2030, Sweden’s ambition must be to earnestly set in motion the societal transformation that is the objective of the Agenda. This is much more far-reaching and difficult than achieving a number of goals (however ambitious they are). Based on the understanding that our resources are limited, this involves building a society capable of using those resources efficiently, without jeopardising the world we live in or the world we hand over to future generations. We do not yet know what exactly we need to do to carry out this transition, but it is clear that it involves building up societal systems and organisations based on a different logic than that applied today. One of the clearest examples is our economic development, which has thus far had a direct correlation with our greenhouse gas emissions. Another example is the widening gap between different social groups, both in Sweden and globally, which tears societies apart and fuels tensions. The understanding that we need to transition to sustainable development must also be followed by the understanding that a transition in only one or a few areas of society is not sufficient. It is not enough to ‘just’ solve climate challenges; we must also achieve equality and protect biodiversity. We must work on all these issues simultaneously and, first and foremost, create societal systems that are capable of doing so.
As national coordinator, my understanding is that my job is not to work on each of the 17 SDGs individually, but to work towards the overall transformation. Identifying the factors that drive societal transformation and attempting in various ways to strengthen those factors have been my primary focus for the roughly two years I have had this mandate. One of my key takeaways after all the meetings and discussions with social actors who are attempting to contribute to the transition in various ways is that societal transformation requires much clearer political leadership. A sustainable society requires a political leadership that is capable of implementing comprehensive reforms on a broad front.
Gabriel Wikström, National Coordinator for the 2030 Agenda
In 2015, world leaders agreed on the most comprehensive initiative ever to transform the countries of the world into sustainable societies – the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDGs are due to have been achieved in eight years’ time. For Sweden, this is two electoral periods away.
In February 2020, the Government appointed a national coordinator for the 2030 Agenda (‘the Coordinator’), whose mandate from 20 February 2020 to 31 March 2024 is to support the Government in implementing the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs in Sweden. In brief, the Coordinator’s task is to initiate, promote, stimulate, strengthen and deepen other actors’ efforts to contribute to achieving the SDGs.
The Coordinator is focusing on the Agenda’s three dimensions, i.e. the social, environmental and economic dimensions, and their interdependence. The Coordinator has thus chosen not to prioritise or specifically work on the individual SDGs. The term ‘transformation’ is primarily used instead of ‘transition’ so as to emphasise that the Agenda prescribes a broad and universal transition.
There is deep engagement in Sweden for a transition to sustainable development. The Coordinator’s mandate is to contribute to getting more actors to work harder and more effectively to accelerate the pace of the transition. The Coordinator is concentrating his activities on five prioritised areas:
- leadership for societal transformation;
- sustainable economic development;
- transformation at local and regional level;
- data for sustainable development; and
- sustainable consumption and production.
The first two areas concern the conditions required for transformation at societal level. The third area involves helping to ensure that, as key actors in the transition efforts, municipalities and regions have the conditions and capacity they require. The fourth area focuses on developing and making data available for sustainable development. The fifth and final area focuses on sustainable consumption and production, an area in which Sweden faces major challenges.
In his report, the Coordinator presents proposals for a stronger citizens’ dialogue. He also presents proposals for ensuring the production, development and availability of statistics to follow up Sweden’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda at national, regional and local level.
The Coordinator considers it necessary that his work also address issues aimed at more sweeping changes to improve Sweden’s possibilities to implement the 2030 Agenda. He also sees a need to strengthen political leadership for societal transformation together with the conditions necessary for the economic system to be the engine of the transition.
The Coordinator recommends that the organisation of the Government’s working methods be reviewed with the aim of creating better conditions for coordination, a concerted approach and a long-term approach to decision-making.
Moreover, the Coordinator recommends that an action plan be drawn up to accelerate the pace of Sweden’s transformation to a sustainable society, as expressed in the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. Moreover, there should also be a special function to support the Government’s work to implement the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs at national level beyond 31 March 2024.
In addition, the Coordinator recommends that the financial policy framework be reviewed to investigate how the framework can better support the transformation to a sustainable society. This review should also include an analysis of how financial policy sustainability goals can be tied to both environmental and social sustainability aspects.
Finally, the Coordinator recommends a comprehensive review of the tax system to ensure that it can better support the transformation to a sustainable society.