The sustainable development goals are a universally adopted set of challenges to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. There’s 17 of them, including zero hunger, reduced inequality, and climate action. We have until 2030 to achieve them, and individuals, communities, and institutions around the world have begun to take action accordingly. I believe museums and other cultural organizations can be key players in achieving the SDGs if they chose and dared to step up.
The SDGs are the successor of the MDGs or millennium development goals. They ran until 2015. There were less of them – just eight -, and they were less explicit in their ambitions – “reduce…” instead of “zero…”. Nonetheless, the achievement made by the global community on the MDGs are impressive. For instance, child mortality rates have halved, avoiding 16,000 unnecessary deaths of children under-five each day.
Although the SDGs may seem like a continuation of the MDGs, there are considerable differences. The first is that achieving the MDGs relied on the work of specific professionals. Achieving the SDGs relies on all of us.
Also different is that, unlike in the MDGs, culture plays an explicit part in the SDGs. For the first time, museums and other cultural organizations have been given global responsibility for sustainable development. Specifically, there is SDG 11.4, which encourages everyone to safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage. More generally, we’re at the table!
Like healthcare, education, sanitation, energy, and so many other sectors, culture has been given responsibility for sustainable development. This is a tremendous responsibility indeed.
It is an individual responsibility, as humans and professionals, to dedicate our time, energy, and creativity to making the SDGs a success.
More importantly, it is a collective responsibility to show that museums and cultural organizations contribute to sustainable development. As Andrew S. Potts said at an event in Brussels recently, now that we’re at the table, we need to prove we are worth it to have a seat.
Being at the table means museums and others need to step up their efforts. Libraries are doing so. IFLA has set up an ambitious programme to advocate for libraries as partners in sustainable development, starting programs and showing the UN their impact. Science museums around the world have adopted the SDGs and are offering their services. In the UN’s global registry some museums and others in the world of cultural heritage have expressed their voluntary commitments. Also, many museums take action targeting specific goals through projects.
It is not enough for museums to take individual action, however. We need to talk about our impact. Like libraries, we need to advocate that we are a key player in sustainable development. Museums need to push their governments to include culture and progress on 11.4 in their Voluntary National Reviews. We need to share our best practices and activities with others in other sectors. We need to convince the international community that it was correct museums and other cultural organizations have a seat at the table.
The sustainable development goals are a fantastic opportunity for the world. They allow us to end poverty, create fair and equal societies, and protect our planet. For museums and cultural organizations, the SDGs are an equally compelling opportunity to show that the world can rely on culture for sustainable development.
Update: more about museums and the SDGs in the two follow-up posts:
Throughout the summer, I will look into the role museums, and others play in the SDGs and success stories worth sharing. I will share the results on this blog. This work is (also) part of broader research for an upcoming publication. Email me if you’d like to stay informed.