Key thematic focus areas

In 2017, the Scottish Government International Development Team invited Scotland's International Development Alliance to present an informal paper on policy areas that demonstrated incoherence (with international development aims) and also suggestions to improve coherence. The thematic areas were: climate change, education, migration and economy/trade.

In response, the Scottish Government made a commitment in its inaugural Contribution to Development Report (2018) to work with partners, including civil society, on some of these themes - climate, health and education.

This page presents each of those areas others, contextualising any suggested actions/current work in relation to the OECD's 8 PCSD Building Blocks.

However, this page aims to go further - over time it is the hope that other thematic focus areas will be added by different stakeholders presenting work that has been done and needs to be done to enhance policy coherence for sustainable development across all 17 SDGs.

To this end, the last section of this page entitled 'Themes by SDGs' allows contributors to add content under each of the 17 SDGs.


In the current pandemic, what coherence issues have become more apparent? what can be done to improve them?

  • The concept of green recovery aims to be a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, where recovery simultaneously aims to help the economy transition to a sustainable footing, rather than simply a return to the previous approaches. This links broader agendas around human rights and our responsibility to the planet, in order to #BuildBackBetter in our recovery from the pandemic.

Climate emergency

Recommendation OECD Building Block Progress
  • Establish Just Transition Commission
  • Increase investment in clean energy
  • Cancel plans to scrap Air Passenger Duty (APD)
  • Climate proof international development projects
  • Climate finance should be in addition to ODA
Policy effects

Long-term planning horizons

  • Just Transition Commission[1] established in 2018
  • Plans to cut APD scrapped following Scottish Government declaration of climate emergency[2]
  • Climate finance continues to be part of UK 0.7% ODA spend
  • Introduce a mechanism to ensure budgetary alignment with Climate Change Plans
Political Commitment

Policy integration

  • Commitment to consult developing countries in future climate policies and legislation
Intergenerational timeframe

Stakeholder engagement

  • Commitment in Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 to ensure consideration of alignment with SDGs in climate change plans and in setting future emissions reduction targets

Climate change knows no borders. It disproportionately affects the poorest global citizens and risks significantly undermining progress made in global poverty reduction. From a policy coherence perspective, climate change is a primary issue. By including climate change in decision-making in all government departments, Scotland can both reduce and sequester greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and support resilience to climate change effects globally.

Concerns around policy coherence and climate change have been raised repeatedly by the Alliance and its members since 2013. These mostly related to the principle of “do no harm” and climate change mitigation, rather than adaptation. However, both are fundamentally linked to the principles of PCSD, as the effects of climate change demonstrably impact on the development of countries that have lower adaptive capacity and have also contributed least to anthropogenic causes of climate change. These climate change effects increase extreme weather events, threatening to undo development progress and the alleviation of extreme poverty, and by extension irreparably harm the planet also.

Some of recommendations, such as the establishment of a Just Transition Commission, have now been introduced by Scottish Government, and Scotland's new Climate Change Act 2019 makes significant progress in enshrining PCSD principles in law. Thanks to pressure from Alliance members and the support of opposition parties, especially Scottish Labour Environment Spokesperson Claudia Beamish, this new Act commits Scottish Ministers to consider the achievement of the SDGs when implementing climate policy and setting new targets for emissions reductions. It also requires Scottish Government to make contributions to international adaptation, through finance and the transfer for science and technology.

This is welcome progress. Furthermore, following extensive public pressure and civil society, this new Act also enshrines some of the highest emissions reduction targets in the world: 75% reduction by 2030, and net-zero emissions by 2045. These targets are for Scottish territorial emissions (and Scotland’s share of international aviation and shipping). Therefore, these targets do not include an assessment of Scotland's consumption emissions (often referred to as Scotland's carbon footprint) or the emission coming from oil and gas exports from Scotland burned elsewhere.

This legislation can help to drive policy action domestically, and is a strong commitment to the Paris Agreement. However, these targets fall short of what many organisations were calling for in light of Scotland's historical emissions, its duty to act as a wealthy country, and the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C which moved the goalposts away from the "well-below" 2°C target in the Paris Agreement, towards a moral duty to urgently act to hold global average temperature increases to the 1.5 target. Moreover, for greater policy coherence on climate change, especially given that climate change undermines the effectiveness of Scotland’s climate-sensitive development spend, more actions are needed above and beyond ambitious domestic legislation.

In March 2019, Alliance members met with civil servants from the Decarbonisation Division and the International Development Team to discuss how Government could better achieve policy coherence in this area. From this meeting, a number of new recommendations from the Alliance have emerged, defined under the mutual, but distinct, headings of “Do No Harm,” avoiding conflicting and incoherent policies, and “Beyond Aid,” adding value through skill shares and knowledge transfer, for example.

Do No Harm Beyond Aid
Include Climate Justice principles in the Climate Bill “Climate proof” international development projects
Explicitly align the Climate Bill with the IPCC target of 1.5°C Align the Climate Justice Fund (CJF) and international development projects with National Adaptation Plans (NAP) and National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) in partner countries
Consult developing countries in future climate policies and legislation Enhance the gender-responsiveness  of climate related international development projects

In 2019, a report on the UK approach to development and climate by the Westminster International Development Committee gave some stark warnings about incoherencies and the need to do more at UK level.[3] Scotland can lead by example on this issue.

Climate finance should be new and additional to ODA spend, so that education, health, and anti-poverty budgets are not reduced in order to tackle the effects of climate change on development in partner countries.

Nature crisis

Recommendation OECD Building Block Progress
Recognition that urgent action is required which helps to facilitate the meaningful recovery of nature and living within planetary limits.
Environmental justice principles must be built into the foundations of all climate, ecological, and related social policymaking.
By assessing the impact of policy on the environment at the very beginning of the decision-making process, future challenges can be identified and addressed.

Loss of biodiversity

The nature crisis with associated loss of biodiversity is closely inter-linked with the climate emergency, but it is not the same thing, and needs to be tackled in parallel. Maintaining, restoring and enhancing biodiversity will be essential to mitigate climate breakdown, adapt to current and future changes in the climate, and increase the resilience in both rural and urban environments.

To reach these ambitions, there must be widespread agreement on what is required to reverse the trends which are significantly impacting Scotland’s biodiversity. Cross-sector consensus is pivotal to facilitating the effective protection of Scotland’s ecosystem.

Restoring biodiversity

Scotland must maintain, restore and enhance biodiversity in order to mitigate climate breakdown, adapt to changes in climate, and increase the resilience in both rural and urban environments. Committed action must be taken to protect and restore Scotland’s biodiversity and natural assets.

Increased action to restore biodiversity requires increased awareness, the integration of biodiversity values in strategies and policies alongside the promotion of sustainable consumption and production. From these foundations, Scotland can begin to make steps forward.

Sourced from (SCVO 2020)


Recommendation OECD Building Block Progress
Continue to recognise and support the dual role of GCE in building public engagement, support and understanding of Scottish Government’s commitment to international development and as an entitlement for Scottish pupils under ‘Learning for Sustainability’

Develop national indicators in international development and across all education sectors that reflect GCE and the broad conception of Curriculum for Excellence

Long term vision


Policy Effects

Monitoring and reporting

Explore how Scottish Government action on closing the poverty-related attainment gap and on ‘Learning for Sustainability’ can be mutually reinforcing, focusing on Scottish GCE expertise in pupil engagement as a key driver in both policy areas. Policy Interactions

Policy Effects

Draw on Scottish GCE expertise to support policy makers in the embedding of  cross-government systems thinking for the implementation of the SDGs Institutional_Mechanisms
Join the Global Education Network Europe (GENE), an inter-governmental network bringing together representatives of both Education and International Development Ministries Stakeholder Engagement
Build alignment between domestic and international action on tackling poverty through the lens of GCE  which is underpinned by a local to global perspective and a social justice rather than charity/pity based model of poverty Institutional_Mechanisms

Policy integration

Global citizenship education (GCE) engages people of all ages with the global, social justice issues that are at the heart of Scotland’s approach to international development, its Curriculum for Excellence and the entitlement of all pupils to ‘Learning for Sustainability’. GCE supports the development of engaged citizens, capable of thinking critically about challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, food insecurity and gender discrimination in both their local and global manifestations and empowers them to take positive action.

It has additional relevance in the context of Scotland’s more recent commitment to deliver the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 4.7 identifies GCE as an essential component of ‘quality education’. It is seen by the UN both as a goal in itself, and as a means of supporting the delivery of all the SDGs by building the skills, values and understanding required for cooperating towards an inclusive and sustainable future.[4]

The importance of GCE within international development is recognised by the Scottish Government in its International Development Strategy, in Education Scotland’s international education strategy and in the funding commitment to the six regional Development Education Centres (DECs), currently in place to 2021. This last commitment meets the first recommendation of the the first PCD report, “Scotland’s Place in Building a Just World”. Other recommendations for broader funding and monitoring and evaluation have not been met. It should be noted that the inclusion of GCE as a PCSD focus area is unique among countries engaged in policy coherence and Scotland’s longstanding commitment to GCE in mainstream education, through the curriculum and in the Learning for Sustainability entitlement, developed through extensive partnership working between government and civil society, has been world-leading.

On paper the policy context for GCE in Scotland is healthy with civil society concerns focusing more on the resourcing and implementation of these commitments. The PCSD recommendations are focused on sustaining and developing the positive policy context through building shared understanding between the government’s Education, International Development and National Performance Framework Teams on the potential multiplier effects GCE offers in furthering their policy agendas. There is also a commitment to retaining and strengthening European links around GCE within an unclear context.

Why integrate Global Citizenship Education into Scotland's PCSD approach?

3 frameworks that work in unison

GCE carries the most tangible value when applied as a framework to deal with complex issues. It is a way of thinking and approaching problem-solving that allows the space for nuance and encourages us to look for links across different areas. The methods of GCE are therefore a perfect fit for interdisciplinary conversations that involve a lot of multi-directional moving parts - like the SDGs and PCSD. The fact that sustainability principles underpin the SDGs, PCSD, and GCE alike only strengthens the case for these three frameworks to be threaded together.

PCSD & GCE as means of SDG implementation

Just as PCSD is a recognised means of implementation for all SDGs, Target 4.7 is also viewed by the UN as a key enabler for achieving all the Goals. GCE can be applied across all the Goals and across sectors, providing a common language for engaging with sustainable development. The OECD outlined in 2019 the importance of working with stakeholders outside of government if a PCSD approach is to be implemented effectively. Equally, as emphasised in the 2030 Agenda, achieving the SDGs is only possible through collaborative action and partnership. If GCE is embedded within future PCSD planning and implementation, it would support cross-sectoral engagement, public awareness, and action for the Goals across policy and civil society. It is therefore a useful educational tool that can be integrated into Scotland's wider approach towards achieving the SDGs.

Building on existing foundations in Scotland

If we are to achieve a more just and sustainable future through policy-making and cross-sectoral partnership in Scotland, it is important we begin with learning and creating a common understanding. GCE is already established within the Scottish Government's approach to International Development, is a commitment evident in their funding contribution to the five Development Education Centres, and comes under the Learning for Sustainability umbrella which is integrated into the Curriculum for Excellence. In this way, many of the foundations are already in place for GCE to become further embedded not only within education policy but across Scotland's approach to policy coherence for the SDGs.


Recommendation OECD Building Block Progress
Adopt a holistic view of how the NHS operates, linking global citizenship to their existing internal policies around procurement, environmental impact. Policy effects

Scotland’s International Development Strategy sets out a three-pronged approach to Beyond Aid. This includes, “identifying other Scottish Government policies which can contribute positively to development outcomes and impact.”[5] Under this, Scottish Government has supported the NHS Scotland Global Citizenship Programme, which includes mentoring for healthcare staff from low and middle income countries; providing remote access support; and supporting healthcare system development. Whilst such support is invaluable, this programme is an example of how the NHS can add value to Scotland's role internationally, rather than a concrete example of better policy coherence.

Improved global citizenship outcomes of NHS staff are hugely beneficial but, for the NHS to genuinely embrace PCSD, a holistic view of how it operates across the board is necessary, linking global citizenship to existing internal policies around procurement and environmental impact.


Recommendation OECD Building Block Progress
Ensure the importance and reality of migration is incorporated into the Scottish Government’s International Development Strategy and into the planning of projects funded by Scottish Government Policy effects



Create jobs with acceptable labour conditions in Scottish Government’s priority countries, and encourage Scottish companies to do likewise, to give people the freedom to choose to stay in their country of origin if they wish. Policy integration
Explore how diaspora communities are supporting development remittances and how could the Scottish Government support this further Policy integration

Monitoring and reporting

Explore the net effect of migration to and from Scotland and its priority countries, in an attempt to capture and quantify the two-way impacts on, for example, health services of trained Malawian staff moving here, and vice versa. Monitoring and reporting

Scotland is a country of welcome and hospitality, whether to those seeking refuge or those simply looking for a better life, and we celebrate this. Migration benefits from strong political support at ministerial and civil servant level.

There is also broad acknowledgement that migration policies should support rather than hinder investment in international development. Although migration policy is a reserved power, the Scottish Government have shown compassionate leadership in this area; particularly in the wake of recent mass migrations and growing global humanitarian crises, as well as recognising the important contribution that people from around the world make to the economic, social and cultural life of Scotland.

The Scottish Government also has power over areas which are essential to the support and integration of refugees arriving in Scotland, such as health, education and housing. Whilst the government does not control the numbers, they can influence the experience.

Therefore, encouraging greater coherence between policies related to migration and development outcomes should be a priority. The following actions should be explored:

●    Ensure the importance and reality of migration is incorporated into the Scottish Government’s International Development Strategy and into the planning of projects funded by Scottish Government

●  Create jobs with acceptable labour conditions in Scottish Government’s priority countries, and encourage Scottish companies to do likewise, to give people the freedom to choose to stay in their country of origin if they wish. In Sweden, they are considering advocating for global agreements between Swedish companies and the trade industry instead of codes of conduct to encourage this.

●    Explore how diaspora communities are supporting development remittances and how could the Scottish Government support this further

●    Explore the net effect of migration to and from Scotland and its priority countries, in an attempt to capture and quantify the two-way impacts on, for example, health services of trained Malawian staff moving here, and vice versa.

International Trade

Recommendation OECD Building Block Progress
The Scottish Government should report on its progress against Chapter 6 of the Trade and Investment Strategy Monitoring and reporting

The Scottish Business Pledge should support responsible business domestically and internationally Policy effects
Add criteria on corporation tax to the Business Pledge and use procurement policies to reward those companies that do pay appropriate taxes and avoid those that do not. Policy effects
Ensure the Wellbeing Economy covers domestic and international wellbeing Policy_integration

The Scottish Government’s Trade and Investment Strategy 2016-2021 makes some good assertions around policy coherence and offers concrete actions that would enhance policy coherence, including dedicating one of the eight points of its action plan to responsible business:

Action to help business play its part in promoting and respecting human rights; to support development through trade; and to internationalise Scotland’s world leading approach to social enterprise.[6]

Chapter 6 on sustainable development and responsible business also includes suggested actions that could go someway to improving policy coherence. The Scottish Government should report on its progress in these areas:

  • Using trade as a way of facilitating knowledge and technology transfer between Scotland and priority partner countries; and
  • Learning from countries such as Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, establishing a ‘Good Growth Fund’ to help Scottish businesses support and deliver responsible investment and development in priority partner countries.

Furthermore, Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy 2016-26[7] makes reference to ethical consumption and business. The Scottish Business Pledge, a set of voluntary standards for the private sector, is domestically focused and could use a policy coherence lens to support responsible business in overseas supply chains. By aligning with SDGs, it goes some way in doing this, but it must go further and explicitly seek to enhance the role of business in supporting sustainable development at home and abroad.

The Scottish Parliament’s tax powers are limited and do not cover those taxes (e.g. corporation & international tax agreements) most relevant to international tax justice. Two possible practical policy coherent options include adding criteria on corporation tax to the Business Pledge, and using procurement policies to reward those companies that do pay appropriate taxes and avoid those that do not.

The Scottish Government is a member of the Wellbeing Economy Governments network. In May 2019, the First Minister hosted a Wellbeing Economy event with the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrin Jakobsdottir, and representatives from New Zealand and the OECD.[8] Such a model calls for a country’s economy to support not only economic growth but also wellbeing, of which the refreshed NPF includes as part of its overall purpose, is a good example. Scotland should make sure this covers the wellbeing of all those it impacts on, at home and overseas.

Further exploration of how the NPF can best support improvements in policy coherence can be found here.

Business and Human Rights

Recommendation OECD Building Block Progress
Introduce a dedicated human rights committee in Scottish Parliament or make business and human rights a standing issue for an existing parliamentary committee Policy effects
Introduce annual or biennial monitoring of Scotland’s activities. Monitoring
Use the OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct to shape SNAP Policy integration
Put pressure on the UK government to constructively participate in the process and support the establishment of a UN Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights political commitment

An international binding treaty on business and human rights

Business has a key role to play in tackling poverty and averting the climate crisis through job creation, technology innovation and taxation revenue. As a result, many governments and institutions have prioritised the private sector in their development strategies. There is growing public concern about the impact of business activities on human rights and environment, including the urgent need to decarbonise in order to avoid dangerous global effects of climate change.

In 2014, the UN Human Rights Council adopted Resolution 26/9 on the elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights. This established an open-ended inter-governmental working group (OEIGWG) with the mandate to elaborate such an instrument. Crafting an effective treaty requires governments – including the UK - to participate in the process and support such a treaty. Both the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights as well as the European Union Parliament have given strong backing to the treaty process.

In 2018, over 400 civil society groups, including environmental, development NGOs, women’s rights organisations, faith groups and trade unions participated in the 4th round of talks.

MSPs and Scottish Government should put pressure on the UK government to constructively participate in the process and to ensure the process receives the budget it needs to continue.

Scotland's National Action Plan

Scotland’s first National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (SNAP) came to an end in 2017. Drawing on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, SNAP is a good example of policy coherence: responsible business practices can prevent social and environmental damage and human rights abuses around the world. Scotland is currently developing its second SNAP, providing an immediate opportunity to develop policy coherence in Scotland.

A National Baseline Assessment, published in 2016, set out a number of recommendations that would support a PCSD approach. These include: introducing a dedicated human rights committee in Scottish Parliament or make business and human rights a standing issue for an existing parliamentary committee; and introduce annual or biennial monitoring of Scotland’s activities.[9]

The OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct provides an existing framework that could be used to shape Scotland’s PCSD approach to business and trade.[10]

Public Procurement

Recommendation OECD Building Block Progress
Develop a strong policy around ethical and fair trade procurement and support public bodies to explicitly state this into their own policies. Subnational & local involvement

Political Commitment

The importance of ethical and fair trade public procurement should not be underestimated. Accounting for a significant portion of Scottish GDP, public funds used correctly have the potential to make a transformative impact on the social and environmental wellbeing of many communities. In a world of increasingly globalised production and exchange, this means communities overseas as well as here at home.

There are already many great examples in Scotland of public procurement being used to support ethical and fair trade producers and suppliers - a good example of policy coherence. Fair trade featured in the Programme for Government 2018/19: “In the coming year we will conduct a review of Fair Trade in Scotland to inform action to further grow sales of Fair Trade goods, support growing awareness of the Fair Trade movement and contribute to Scotland’s role as a good global citizen.”[[11] It also committed to report on public procurement based on the highest spending public bodies to maximise procurement’s contribution to sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

The International Fair Trade Charter was launched across the world, with Scotland hosting an event at the Scottish Parliament. Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, said we need to put “justice, equity and sustainable development at the heart of trade practices”.

However, more could be done to promote ethical requirements for public purchasing. While the legal framework around public procurement is undoubtedly important, developing a strong policy around ethical and fair trade procurement will embed the commitment into the culture of procurement.  In Scotland, the approach to public procurement is to a large extent informed by guidance from the Scottish Procurement Directive and other public sources. More public bodies could explicitly restate the aims and guidance into their own policies. This would help to make clear within the organisation and to the wider community, suppliers and beneficiaries of services that the organisation seeks to improve its uptake of ethical and fair trade sourced products.  A clear policy commitment from the Scottish Government and its agencies would be a significant step forward and show how the spending of public money can be used to support wider international development commitments.

Practical problems exist for procuring ethical and fair trade products, such as a lack of suppliers or, for larger contracts, the small scale of some suppliers. However, as more demand is created through organisations working to ask more of suppliers, it is likely that these practical problems will be eroded. The current law should not be viewed as a barrier to fair trade procurement.

Scotland should continue to drive forward its reputation as one of the leading countries for trade justice. Procurement of ethical and fair trade goods is both a symbolic and a practical tool for achieving this. It demonstrates to the public in Scotland and beyond that its role as a good global citizen is ingrained in public bodies. Most importantly, it is a practical tool for improving exponentially the lives of those in some of the poorest nations.

Scottish National Investment Bank

Recommendation OECD Building Block Progress
Develop an ethical statement or framework to ensure the reinvestment of financial returns is done ethically and in coherence with global, sustainable development. Policy effects

Policy integration

Provide funding for climate projects Long-term planning horizons

The Scottish National Investment Bank is currently being developed. Scottish Government have committed at least £2 billion in investment in the first 10 years, with additional financing through co-investment funds. The Implementation Plan, published in February 2018, states, “The Bank should reinvest its financial returns, both capital and interest, to create a self-sustaining, lasting institution”.[12]

There is frequent reference to the bank taking an ethical and sustainable approach to investment, but it is not clear what is meant by this. In the 2017 consultation paper, it commits to publishing an Ethics Statement, which will be reviewed regularly by the Board. It goes on to say, “There is also scope to consider whether in terms of delivery of missions, the Bank should be specifically prevented from investing in certain sectors or areas as part of its ethical framework, and what these sectors or areas might be”.[13] This would be a good opportunity to build policy coherence in from the start. Such a statement or framework should ensure the reinvestment of financial returns is done ethically and in coherence with global, sustainable development.

The Bank may also provide a much needed source of funding for Scotland’s action on climate change. This has received support from the Cabinet.[14] The Bank could therefore be a vital mechanism for policy coherence.


The National Advisory Council for Woman and Girls (NACWG) 2019 Report calls for the creation of a “Scottish Approach to Gender Coherence” across all spheres of government, public services and business.

This approach to gender coherence would be intersectional, collaborative and kind, with highly effective co-designed feedback loops, and clear and sustained accountability mechanisms built in. The NACWG’s vision of a Scottish approach should clearly and directly feed into the National Performance Framework, the Sustainable Development Goals and national economic policy, with a long-term ambition to further align Scottish law and policy with international human rights standards.

The suggested component parts of a systems approach to gender equality in Scotland have been structured below under the NACWG’s three themes of Leadership, Accountability and Creating Conditions.


1. Creating a culture of gender equality policy-making in the Scottish Government:

1.1 The creation of a standalone Equalities Directorate along with the establishment of “Centres of Expertise” created in all Scottish Government Directorates, on intersectional gender competence.

1.2 The creation of a senior officials and leaders group.

1.3 The creation of “Policy-makers National Standards” to support quality standards and accountability on intersectional gender competence in policymaking, with a requirement that all policy and analytical staff will adhere to it. We call on Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and key business member organisations to consider the above and how these might be shared, adapted or mirrored in their own settings.


2. Scrutiny of gender competent policy-making:

2.1 We recommend Scottish Ministers deliver an Annual Statement, followed by a debate, on Gender Policy Coherence to the Scottish Parliament.

Creating Conditions

3. People powered policy-making:

3.1 The Scottish Government, Local Government and Public Bodies should build on existing work already underway (Scottish Approach to Service Design) to create a genuine effort in co-production of policy-making with evidence of lived experience at its heart.

3.2 Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission consider producing a set of scrutiny principles to support this methodology/ approach for public bodies, similar to their recent “Principles for Community Empowerment”, (linked to the Policy-makers National Standards).

3.3 We recommend adequate resourcing to enable the collection and analysis of robust intersectional data.


Water is key to delivering not only Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG) on water and sanitation, but underpins almost every other SDG. It is critical in addressing the coronavirus pandemic, the climate emergency and global inequality. 78% of jobs globally are water dependent, with 42% of these being heavily water-dependent.  The provision of safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is essential to protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including COVID-19. 63% of the urban population in Africa cannot access basic water services, and therefore can’t protect themselves or their children from COVID-19, or indeed many other diseases such as typhoid and cholera. Most of the severe impacts of the climate emergency experienced around the world are water related.

Typically, 170 million people are severely affected by droughts and floods each year with a severe toll on poverty and global ramifications in terms of migration and instability. When water problems occur, it is consistently poor and marginalised people and particularly women who lose out first and most dramatically – and often irreversibly. It is clear that water security and access is central to so many of our partner-country’s own prioritised needs and essential to realising their national and local plans. Explicit in Scotland’s role is the need to work together with others in the face of the challenges ahead, to “leave no one behind”, in line with the ethos of the UN SDGs. Scotland is a global leader on water, both through its status as a ‘hydro nation’ and pioneering international development work in Malawi and elsewhere; Scotland is already taking an active role in supporting good water stewardship, addressing climate change and COVID19 challenges. It has the opportunity to share this expertise globally. Yet there has been a lack of progress on SDG6 to date, with 2030 targets for expanding WASH coverage, improved water monitoring, and more currently off track.[15] Scotland needs to ramp up ambition and develop strategy to meet these challenges.

How domestic policy can “do no harm” in water

  • 62% of UK’s total water demand lies outside the UK through ‘virtual water’ embedded in clothes, food and commodities produced elsewhere[16]. In light of this, the Scottish government should commission a water footprint report to understand the water impacts of supply chains and prevent inequitable ‘water grabs’ that risk dispossessing communities in producer countries. We must insist that all importers of embedded water commit to a sustainable and equitable water footprint through the adoption of credible water stewardship in their supply chains, for example via certification against the International Water Stewardship standard.[17]
  • Domestic policy can also demonstrate ‘best practice’ through robust action to monitor and regulate water use, developing a clear strategy to minimise pesticide and fertiliser runoff into waterways, prohibit the discharge of untreated sewage, and respond to public demand by delivering bathing quality in lakes and rivers. Through prioritising nature-based solutions such as agroforestry and the restoration of wetland ecosystems to strengthen flood defence, Scotland can increase climate resilience while creating a pioneering knowledge base for integrated water and land management.
  • Through devolved policy, Scotland has the opportunity to draw a sharp distinction with the rest of the UK, and champion the principle of water as a public good (similar to healthcare or education). It can do this by restricting the involvement of for-profit providers and private equity in the provision of critical water and sanitation services, and ensuring accountability through citizen participation and oversight in water provision.

How international policy can be “water aligned”

  • By advocating for the adoption of water stewardship principles with regard to overseas aid and investment (differentiated by sector). Scotland should also champion the rights of governments to pursue social and environmental objectives in trade deals, without the threat of arbitration through Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) mechanisms.
  • By getting a proper deal on emissions and adaptation at COP26: A binding mechanism to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees. Without this, water challenges of the future will be simply impossible to overcome. They need zero carbon by 2030, not 2050 as a bare minimum.
  • By unlocking the $100 billion a year pledged in Copenhagen in 2009 to help developing nations adapt. We need this commitment to be met in spite of ‘Corona-recession’ if we are serious about the urgency of the climate crisis.

How Scotland can lead globally

Scotland is already doing great work through its hydro nation strategy. It hosts expertise through world leading universities, and specialist third sector organisations including WaterAid, Water Witness, and the Alliance for Water Stewardship. However, we can do more:

  • There is scope to draw in more expertise, creating a dynamic community of water experts in Scotland for development that connects NGOs, trade unions, civil society, business, and academia.
  • Scotland has the opportunity to showcase best practice around wetland protection and restoration, robust environmental monitoring and regulation, and citizen oversight in the water sector.
  • By championing a water tenure approach in international development policy, Scotland can ensure better alignment with social and environmental objectives, supporting the water entitlements of communities historically overlooked in formal water law.

Themes by SDGs

GOAL 1: No Poverty

GOAL 2: Zero Hunger

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

GOAL 4: Quality Education

GOAL 5: Gender Equality

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

GOAL 13: Climate Action

GOAL 14: Life Below Water

GOAL 15: Life on Land

GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal