Scotland and the sustainable development goals: a national review to drive action

This review provides a statement of our pre-COVID-19 ambition on driving progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in Scotland. It brings together evidence, actions and stories of how we are making progress to meet the Goals.

Next Steps

This review has highlighted some of the key legislation, policies, services and actions that contribute to the SDGs and the challenges and next steps relevant to each Goal. We know that the accelerated pace of change in Scotland and across the world will reveal as yet unknown challenges on our journey to 2030. Producing this report has given us the opportunity to reflect on priorities for our local adaptation of the Goals in line with our National Outcomes. It is intended that this report, in conjunction with Scotland’s Wellbeing: Delivering our National Outcomes, is useful to inform these conversations and decisions, and to provide a stimulus for others to make Scotland a more successful country.

The SDGs in Scotland – progress so far

Undertaking this review has provided us with a valuable opportunity to focus and accelerate our thinking and planning around SDGs implementation in Scotland. It has also thrown into sharp relief underlying practical questions about how progression of the SDGs can be interlinked with delivery of the National Outcomes. Further, by mapping the actions we have taken to deliver the SDGs and assessing how well we are performing against these, it has provided us with a good evidence base upon which to judge future performance. The challenge now is to reflect closely on Scotland’s story, and drive action. This report is an important step in what will be a long journey through to 2030.

Rather than simply meeting our obligations, we have the ambition in Scotland to turn the SDGs into a positive advantage socially, environmentally and economically. Much has been achieved to set in place the right conditions for moving forward on this vision, for example through action to support and invest in innovation and new thinking.

Framing the achievements and challenge

The UN Goals are necessarily far reaching and interdependent, which creates a challenge in itself. Ensuring we are well placed culturally and in terms of our planning, systems, skills and capacities to encompass the scale of the task is essential. It is also apparent that meeting the 2030 Agenda will require intensive, multi-partner cooperation across all aspects of our delivery eco-system. We will need to use all the tools we have at our disposal to achieve this. Through the work of the SDG Network Scotland we have identified key elements of the SDGs and the National Outcomes delivery eco-system in Scotland. The building blocks and challenges in the summary below apply to both the NPF and the SDGs, however, the summary of achievements relates to what has come through the process of this review of the Goals.

Scotland’s SDG and National Outcomes delivery eco-system

Building blocks



Policy and enabling environment

  • Legislation
  • Strategic base – national, local and regional planning processes

Localising the Goals, targets and indicators into the national arena through the NPF

Knitting together national and local strategies and plans, and clarifying the links between the SDGs and Outcomes


Political commitment and leadership across sectors

Secured effective, cross sectoral and cross political party support for this agenda

Enrolling leaders and champions from all areas of Scottish society including children and young people

Institutional mechanisms

Institutional principles, norms, rules, roles, mechanisms and practices

Focus on Goals evident in organisations and Parliament

Extending examination of organisation and system delivery readiness across sectors

Creating ownership

  • Public and professional awareness
  • Partnerships, relationships and trust

Established the Scottish SDG Network and close working partnerships between civil society, the Scottish Government, local government and other sectors based on an Open Government approach

Increasing awareness of and interest in the SDGs and the NPF across the population and with the full range of potential delivery agents

Leaving no one behind

Enabling environment for all

Introduced NPF Values based on kindness, dignity and compassion, strong legislative framework

Removing barriers to involvement and creating the conditions for everyone to take part


  • Public and professional level actions
  • Skills, knowledge, training
  • Resources and budgetary considerations
  • Delivery infrastructure – organisations, initiatives and programmes

Undertaken multiple SDG target focused actions across communities, organisations and sectors – as detailed in the Goal based chapters of this report

Reaching and equipping new actors, intensifying and coordinating delivery efforts, focusing on the right things and resourcing activities

Data and reporting

  • Evidence on performance
  • Reporting systems
  • Parliamentary scrutiny

  • Evidence focus through the NPF
  • Reviewed Scottish performance on the SDGs, contributed to UK Government VNR and provided an overview of existing policy, practice and delivery infrastructure in Scotland

Improving the development and reporting of our performance story, meeting data challenges

We are aware that it will not be possible to tackle all elements of our delivery eco-system simultaneously, and as meeting the Goals and the related National Outcomes is a long term commitment, our approach will be built up incrementally over time and informed by a wider discussion.

Our transformation pathway

It is clear from our evidence and from those working closely to deliver the SDGs that we do face challenges around:

  • Low profile of the SDGs and NPF among the general population and within specific sectors
  • Resolving possible conflict of resources, priorities and trade-offs
  • Achieving a balance in data between the universality of the SDGs as a framework for all countries and the recognition that they need to be localised and adapted by each country

Whilst identifying where we need to improve, deciding what to prioritise and what is right for Scotland is critical, reaching agreement on what approach to take is also important. The SDG Network Scotland has provided an invaluable home for discussions around this, drawing together ideas and helping us reach broad consensus on our underlying principles, approaches and expectations. Our approach to delivery in Scotland is based on the following characteristics:

  • Sharing responsibility and building around strong partnerships
  • Being realistic about our priorities and resources
  • Adopting an enabling approach and sharing resources and good ideas
  • Taking a long term, incremental approach – a phased and focused method
  • Basing action on evidence and honest appraisal
  • Being broadly inclusive, open and participatory and adopting an Open Government approach
  • Creating and generating influence and ripple effects

The NPF provides an overarching platform for collaboration across the whole spectrum of Scotland’s civic society, including public and private sectors, voluntary organisations, businesses and communities. It is based on delivering the National Outcomes and the Goals to improve quality of life for the people of Scotland and beyond. Action is therefore required on both the National Outcomes and Goals simultaneously. Much of what we are trying to achieve sits in the places in between traditional policy parameters and to be effective we need to work flexibly across boundaries, institutions, sectors and the Outcomes and Goals themselves.

Initial considerations for this, our longer term transformation, could include:

  • Awareness
    Increasing public and professional awareness and understanding of the SDGs and NPF – leaving no one behind
  • Collaboration
    Working across sectors to establish new and active networks and partnerships to drive the agenda forward
  • Support
    Providing guidance and skills support to encourage organisations and communities to become involved
  • Policy alignment
    Progressing integration of the SDGs alongside the National Outcomes and securing greater policy coherence at local and regional level to help embed the agenda into practice
  • Systems
    Building internal systems, and reforming key governance structures and processes within sectors and organisations
  • Measurement and reporting
    Improving evidence on achievement on the National Outcomes and SDGs, policy reporting, and connection to spending

With over 380 members, the SDG Network Scotland is a key mechanism through which to animate and pursue these aims. Supporting and extending the reach and ambition of this group would greatly help to move this work into new communities of practice and zones of influence. The strength of this partnership and the work of others around it has been instrumental in delivering our achievements so far and on producing this review. Encouraging the growth of other networks and collaborative models would diversify our delivery infrastructure. Drawing the National Outcomes and the SDGs into the frame of these groupings would help to clarify what our joint and transformational vision consists of in practical terms. It would also encourage the coherent, nationwide response required to meet the 2030 Agenda and to drive the direction and ambition of the NPF.

A call to action

The 2030 Agenda and the NPF provide us with a blueprint to create a more successful country and play our part in nurturing a peaceful and prosperous planet. Scotland faces choices on how to meet the challenges and make the most of the opportunities the journey to 2030 will present, and through this review we ask you to make the choice to join us in realising this ambition.

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