A close up image of a pair of hands, which are now a deep dark blue from working with natural dyes as part of the weaving process.
Crafting Futures in the Silalang sub-district near Pua, Thailand. This area is surrounded by forested mountains which provide communities and women artisans with the source materials for their natural dyes.  ©

Simon Mills

What kind of world do we want to live in? How can we nurture and preserve it, whilst ensuring social and economic progress? What is needed in our ecosystem to ensure lasting peace? And how do we work individually and collectively towards making the world a better place? 

These are some of the questions that the United Nations Agenda 2030 attempts to answer and are even more pressing in the context of Covid-19. The Agenda provides a universal and global framework that aims to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, focused on People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnership (the five Ps).

Culture is the glue that binds humanity together: from our traditions and practices passed down to us over generations; to our creative expression of the world around us; and our innovative imagination of the future, culture is all around us. And yet, in the UN Agenda 2030 there is no specific goal on Culture. It is not formally recognised alongside the three pillars of development — social, economic and environmental.

'The Missing Pillar' explores the place of culture in the SDGs through research, policy and practice. It analyses where arts and culture as a sector and as a creative process can fit within a number of goals, including their targets and indicators. 11 British Council programmes provide examples of cultural initiatives around the world, tackling a variety of issues and cutting across sectors, such as sustainable fashion, creative inclusion, and cultural heritage protection. 

The recommendations from the report advocate for the SDGs to be more accessible to the cultural sector, for them to be embedded in the delivery of cultural initiatives based on local needs, and for their impact to be measured accordingly. The report recommends taking an inclusive approach, involving communities and local actors to understand cross-cutting needs and ecosystems to ensure sustainability. It also calls for a focus on digital technologies to raise awareness and a clearer response to the climate emergency from the cultural sector.

This report is a tool to increase understanding of the link between arts and culture and sustainable development. It is a first step at framing the impact of our British Council programmes alongside the SDGs.  We will continue to advocate for the value of culture as a fourth pillar of sustainable development and a key part of cultural relations.

Rosanna Lewis 

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been adopted by 193 Member States of the United Nations. The Agenda sets out a future global vision for social, economic and environmental development encompassing people, planet, peace, prosperity and partnership (the five Ps). As part of the process for reviewing and monitoring progress towards the Goals, all UN Member States are expected to carry out a national review of progress towards the Goals at least once in the period to 2030.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals:

1: no poverty
2: zero hunger
3: good health and well-being
4: quality education
5: gender equality
6: clean water and sanitation
7: affordable and clean energy
8: decent work and economic growth
9: industry, innovation and infrastructure
10: reduced inequality
11: sustainble cities and communities
12: responsible consumption and production
13: climate action
14: life below water
15: life on land
16: peace and justice and strong institutions
17: partnerships to achieve the goals

Further reading and resources

Culture 2030 Indicators report

UNESCO's Culture|2030 Inducators is a new framework for measuring and collecting data on culture at national and urban levels. The indicators support  countries and cities to monitor their own progress regarding the outcomes of their policies and the effectiveness or robustness of policies specifically in relation to culture and sustainable development. In a context where culture-related data is fragmented and produced by different institutions and agencies, the framework brings the data together and highlights linkages and intersections between culture and other policy areas. For example: the framework proposes measuring the data in relation to the 'Expenditure on Heritage' indicator by calculating the expenditure on the preservation, protection and conservation of heritage per population. The methodology of the Indicators has been developed in response to existing data, and acknowledges that collecting and updating data is a demanding and costly process, particularly for countries with limited statistical capabilities.

Voluntary National Review of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals

This review includes information on how the goals are reported within the UK devolved nations. This could be useful to cultural practitioners in the UK looking to deepen their understanding of how the goals are currently addressed locally and to imagine how culture could be more present within this development narrative.

Culture in the SDGs: A Guide for Local Action

This publication by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) provides practical guidance to local and regional governments, civil society organisations, private organisations, culture and development professionals, and other stakeholders interested in strengthening partnerships, policies, projects and practices around the place of culture in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Culture and International Development: Towards an Interdisciplinary Methodology

This study by J.P. Singh assesses literature and documentation in the area of culture and development and provides a methodology that can be used in the creation of policy and planning of future interventions.

The UN Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030

UCLG Good Practices Case Studies 

Watch The Missing Pillar Talks series

The Missing Pillar Talks is a series of panel conversations about culture’s contribution to sustainable development. These conversations respond to the recommendations of the report on advocacy, evidence and access, and consider the gap between policy and the practice. The first two Talks have taken place, but you can catch up on them via the button below. Watch this space for information about the third Global Missing Pillar Talk.

Heritage and sustainable development – learning from the past, shaping the future
This Talk took place on Monday 29th March 2021

Working together – culture, place and partnership for sustainable development 
This Talk took place on Tuesday 24th May 2021

Watch the recordings of the Talks