Framing sustainable development challenges: accounting for SDG-15 in the UK

Madlen Sobkowiak, Thomas Cuckston, Ian Thomson

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    53 Citations (Scopus)
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    Purpose: Given the UK is already accounting for its biodiversity under the CBD and Aichi targets, producing and reporting on a comprehensive set of biodiversity indicators, what is the effect of calculating and communicating national biodiversity performance with reference to SDG-15? By studying how SDG-15 has affected the UK’s biodiversity accounting, this paper will shed light on how the SDGs are shaping national accounts of sustainable development.
    Design/methodology/approach: The multimethod research project commenced with document analysis to frame the development of UK biodiversity indicators in the context of international, national conventions, strategies and policies in the period 2005 and 2016. Themes that emerged emerging from the documents were then followed up a series with semi-structured interviews with key actors involved in the design, production and communication of national biodiversity indicators. The research is expected to include around 20 interviewees of which 18 have been carried out at this stage. These interviews were complemented with attendance at key meetings such as Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Science Support Group, BES/UK Conservation Agencies Symposium.
    Findings: the UK is currently identifying appropriate sources of data to report against the SDG indicators. Data either doesn’t exist or there is not a universally agreed method to collect and analyse the necessary information. Out of the 12 indicators the UK should report on under SDG 15, only 7 are being reported on, but with only 5 of them actually having an underlying data set and an agreed standard for analysis. This is surprising given that the UK currently reports on 24 indicators to assess national biodiversity under the CBD. The existing framework is largely ignored, leading to the creation of another framework to report on UK biodiversity, which consists of a much narrower set of measures. Whilst SDG 15 indicators do not augment the existing UK biodiversity accounting framework, interviews have highlighted how in the SDGs biodiversity is coming to be seen in a broader context, in which they act to raise political awareness for the issue of biodiversity loss and support more holistic political decision making.
    Originality/value: This study captures the contemporary emergence of systems and structures of biodiversity accounting practices in response to UN SDGS descibed by Bebbington and Unerman (2018, p. 3) as “the most salient point of departure for understanding and achieving environmental and human development ambitions up to (and no doubt beyond) 2030”. This study provides unique empirical insights into a context in flux.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1671-1703
    Number of pages33
    JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
    Issue number7
    Early online date3 Mar 2020
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2020


    • Sustainable development
    • Indicators
    • Framing
    • Biodiversity
    • SDGs
    • Calculability


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