This article questions whether the Strategic Vision for the 2020-2030 Portuguese Economic and Social Recovery Plan proposed by António Costa Silva (ACS) published on July 5th, 2020, is aligned with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs or the UN Agenda for 2030 results from the debate that started in 1972 around Sustainable Development (SD), and more formally since 1987 when the UN Brundtland report defined SD as Sustainable development can be classified as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations. 

SD represents a mind shift from development, usually associated simply with GDP and economic growth, adding social cohesion and environmental protection. This represents a new challenge where agendas for People, Planet and Prosperity (3Ps), known as the three dimensions of SD, have to be aligned; it was easy to agree but difficult to implement and for this reason in 2015 the UN added two Ps: Peace and strong institutions and Partnerships. The People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and, Partnerships (5Ps) form a new path for development. They not only expect visions and strategies to integrate social cohesion, planet protection, and economic prosperity but they incorporate the ingredients for implementation to be successful, adding strong institutions and partnerships that comprehend the three sectors: the public, the private, and the civil society. Considering the challenge of equating simultaneously 3Ps, as the Sustainable Development Game, considering Institutions to be the Rules of the Game, and Partnerships as the Players of the Game, it can be said that the SDGs represent a New Development Paradigm, with a New Game, implying New Rules and opening the door for New Players. 

The 5Ps approach to the SDGs, are integrated and indivisible and create the base to address the 17 goals, reflecting multiple sectors that are interlinked, from SDG #1 No Poverty, directly associated with Leave No One Behind, to the key enabler SDG #17 Partnerships for the Goals. This new development language includes a transdisciplinary approach, requiring work to happen across and beyond disciplines, eliminating their boundaries. In academic terms, this implies that development goes beyond economics as usual, as the challenge is far greater than managing scarce results, integrating social and environmental outputs and outcomes, but more importantly focused on impact. One interesting fact about SDGs is that after creating this new development language, the UN agenda asks that every country, every nation, and indeed every city, to define its strategy, using a flexible geometry to achieve the SDGs.

Bearing all this context in mind, is it possible to see the SDG spirit, the language, and the objectives in ACS Strategic Vision?

ACS recognizes that society demands a recovery plan to be aligned with the 2030 Agenda, and the three dimensions of SD guide ACS vision, as described: to recover the economy and protect employment in the short term, and ensure, in the medium and long term, the transformation of the Portuguese economy, making it more sustainable socially, environmental and economically, more resilient, more inclusive, more efficient in the management of resources, more digital, more innovative, more interconnected. Also, the conceptual architecture of the economic recovery plan consists of a horizontal strategic axel that is the engine of economic transformation. This reveals an integrated and transdisciplinary approach aligned with the strategy to achieve the SDGs.

Regarding the strategic axes the relation can also be established with the 17 SDGs:

Axe 1: A network of indispensable infrastructure is reflected in Goal #9;
Axe 2: Qualification of population, acceleration to digital transition, digital infrastructure, science, and technology, reflected in Goals #4 and #9;
Axe 3: Reinforcement of the Health Sector, reflected in Goal #3;
Axe 4: Social Sector, reflected in Goals #1, 5 and 10;
Axe 5: Reindustrialization with clusters on mineral strategic resources, renewable energy, hydrogen, sustainable bioeconomy, and the ocean cluster, reflected in goals #6, 7, 13, and 14;
Axe 6: Industrial Reconversion reorienting logistic and supply chains, manufacturing machines and equipment’s and circular economy, reflected in goal #12;
Axe 7: Energetic transition and electrification of the economy; reflected in goals # 7, 8 and 11;
Axe 8: Cohesion of the territory, including the hinterland in the national economy, dynamization of the agriculture and forest and landscape transformation; reflected in goals # 2, 10, 11, 15;
Axe 9: A new paradigm for cities and sustainable mobility; reflected in Goals 9 and 11;
Axe 10: Culture, Services, Tourism, and Trade; reflected in Goals # 16 and 17.

Translating national and subnational, as well as corporate development plans into SDG language can be done, considering a flexible geometry approach, and guarantees a common denominator among development experts. With this perspective, it can be said that there is an alignment between ACS vision and the SDGs, which leads to a new challenge.

One day after finishing a conference in Bulgaria and facing the current development challenges in this country, asked a colleague from Estonia: why is your country different? what made Estonia development accelerate after the collapse of the Soviet Union? The answer was: We are not waiting for the Czar! We understood it was up to us, to work together and to create a better country for the next generations.

A good vision, needs to be followed by successful action plans focused on the expected impact, so the question for us all could be: are we going to wait for Dom Sebastião? Or are we ready to go beyond the government (the Czar), and to cooperate? Are we ready to join hands and work together (pro-active academic research centers, corporations, third sector) and to use the pandemic as a leverage point to break away from negative path dependence? Are we ready to use the Post Covid-19 era to Build Back Better?

Have a great and impactful week!

Pedro Neves
Global Solutions - Founder and CEO
UNECE Task Force Advisor for the implementation of SDGs

This article refers to edition #50 of the "Have a Great and Impactful Week" Newsletter.
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