Agenda 2030 Graduate School blog

Lund University Agenda 2030 Graduate School is a global, cutting-edge research school and collaboration platform for issues related to societal challenges, sustainability and the 2030 Agenda. The 17 PhD students from all faculties at Lund University enrolled with the Agenda 2030 Graduate School relate their specific research topics to the Sustainable Development Goals. In this blog the PhD students of the Graduate School discuss topical research and societal issues related to the 2030 Agenda.

Accountability and SDG-Wrapping in Swedish Urban Planning

Cyclist in front of church and urban buildings. Photo.
Photo by Martin Magnemyr on Unsplash.

Posted on 12 October 2020 by Alva Zalar (Department of Architecture and Built Environment)

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

My field of practice is within spatial planning. Urban planning in Sweden is to a high degree controlled through governmental measures; municipal planning monopoly, a development towards stronger regional networks and strong state support e.g. through the guidance by the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning (Boverket). This means that we have a solid platform on several policy levels to achieve collective implementation of Agenda 2030. Does it also mean that we have a platform for accountability measures?

Most of the time, the answer is both yes and no. The National Board of Housing in Sweden has evaluated their own work with Agenda 2030, concluding that plenty of work has been initiated and pursued but that only a few is considered fulfilled[1]. Region Skåne regards the regional use of Agenda 2030 as scanty but that there is potential to develop it further, recommending to integrate the goals selectively to find what is relevant and also work actively with exposed goal conflicts[2]. On municipality level, the work with Agenda 2030 seems to differ a lot but there is a general call for better communication of national priorities and further support in follow-up[3]. Agenda 2030 seem to have increased the expectations to work actively with sustainability within urban planning and we see examples of trying to evaluate this work. It also seems to have exposed some goal conflicts, although the handling of such conflict might be pushed towards the future. The idea of choosing goals selectively is probably the most efficient way to go, although also poses a risk of neglecting certain perspectives.

Both the exposure of goal conflicts and selecting relevant goals to work with puts power relations to the test. For whom is a certain sustainability discourse sustainable? From what perspective, what scale? Accountability builds upon accepting the responsibility for the consequences, from all perspectives, of your actions. For urban planning, this actualizes the time perspective as well. Usually, urban planning is evaluated on the terms of the historical city and the outlook is the future city. This is often time frames on 50-100 years, which might give a clue on why there is a tendency to push conflicts into the future. Therefore, a remaining question is: how can we be held accountable for our actions from all perspectives, both long-term and short-term?

Urban planning is in many ways a slow, ongoing process in the constant production and negotiation of ‘what is the city’. Perhaps we also need to see accountability as a process, a continuous transparent evaluation of the sustainability discourse and the Agenda 2030-related work. The exposure of goal conflicts is a good start, but we must continue to strive towards productive struggle between different perspectives. Not to reach consensus, rather to acknowledge how we are accountable for the effects and outcomes of sustainability discourses.

[1] Boverket. (2016). Boverkets redovisning av uppdrag till statliga myndigheter att bidra med underlag för Sveriges genomförande av Agenda 2030. Stockholm: Boverket.

[2] Region Skåne. (2018). En analys av relationen mellan Det öppna Skåne 2030 och Agenda 2030. Malmö: Region Skåne

[3] Nordregio. (2019). Globala mål för lokala prioriteringar: Agenda 2030 på lokal nivå. 2019: 5. Stockholm: Nordregio.

This blog post is part of the series Accountability and the SDGs.
On 14 October at 17.00-18.30 we continue the discussion on this topic in a panel discussion, which is part of the Lund University Future Week.

Join the panel discussion on Accountability and the SDGs – via Facebook event.

October 12, 2020

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