SDGs for the UK?

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has produced a report on the SDGs.  This is the summary:

By adopting Agenda 2030 the Government has committed itself to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals - or the Global Goals - in the UK as well as overseas.  However, the Government’s doughnut-shaped approach - which is to see the Goals as something for the UK to help other countries do, rather than drawing on other countries’ experiences in implementing the goals here at home- suggests that it has little interest in, or enthusiasm for, maximising the opportunities and benefits presented by the Goals.  Successful implementation would not only encourage greater cross-departmental collaboration and policy coherence in Government, it would bring economic, social and environmental benefits to the UK.  The Business & Sustainable Development Commission have estimated that the economic prize to business of implementing the Goals could be worth up to US$12 trillion by 2030.  As the UK leaves the EU, the Government has a once in a generation opportunity to form a cross-party consensus about the direction of travel of the UK.  The Goals should form the basis of that new consensus and this should be enshrined into law.  All new government policies should be assessed for how they contribute towards achieving the Goals so that Britain in 2030 is a stronger, fairer, healthier society in which no one is left behind.

Raising awareness and encouraging engagement with the Global Goals will increase the number of people and organisations able to contribute towards meeting the Goals.  But today few people in the UK know about them.  The Prime Minister’s recent statement in response to an open letter from leading businesses ‘that we, as governments, international institutions, businesses and individuals, need to do more to respond to the concerns of those who feel that the modern world has left them behind’ is a good start.  However, the Government seems more concerned with promoting the Goals abroad, and has undertaken no substantive work to promote the Goals domestically or encourage businesses, the public sector and civil society to engage with the Goals and work towards meeting them.  The Government should work with the BBC and other national media to launch a national campaign to raise public awareness of the Goals.  It should also support initiatives designed to encourage businesses and others to contribute towards meeting the Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals represent a positive and ambitious commitment to develop sustainably from this generation to the next.  We will only achieve the Goals if the Government provides strong leadership and a high level of ambition from the very top - something which has been lacking.  There is no voice at the top of Government speaking for the long-term aspirations embodied in the Goals and the interests of future generations.  In order to address this accountability gap the Government should appoint a Cabinet-level Minister in the Cabinet Office with strategic responsibility for implementing sustainable development, including the Goals, across Government.  The Government should also publish an implementation report and commit to participate in a voluntary national review by 2018, and every three years after.  We are concerned that the Government appears to have changed its mind about the ONS developing a set of national indicators.  This suggests an attempt to bury data which will be seen by the public - and us - as going against the spirit of the Goals.

You can see the whole thing here.

It's instructive to note the witnesses that were called:

  • Abigail Self, Head of Sustainable Development Goals, Office for National Statistics,
  • Dr Graham Long, Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University,
  • Elizabeth Stuart, Head of Programme, Sustainable Development Goals, Overseas Development Institute
  • Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer, Aviva,
  • Geoff Lane, Senior Partner, UK Sustainability and Climate Change Team, PwC,
  • Dr Christine Chow, Associate Director, Hermes Investment Management
  • Dominic White, Head of International Development Policy, WWF,
  • Stefano D’Errico, Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning Manager (IIED)
  • Nienke Palstra, Policy and Advocacy Adviser, UNICEF UK
  • Dr Carl Wright, Secretary-General Emeritus, Commonwealth Local Government Forum
  • Dr David Pencheon, Director, Sustainable Development Unit for NHS England and Public Health England
  • Catherine Pearce, Director of Future Justice, World Future Council
  • James Wharton MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development,
  • Chris Skidmore MP, Minister for the Constitution, Cabinet Office,
  • Gwen Hines, Director, International Relations Division, DFID
  • Richard Curtis and Kate Garvey, co-founders of Project Everyone

Given their complaints about the lack of awareness and engagement within the UK, it's odd, perhaps, that there were no witnesses from educational programmes that focus on global learning (etc), or that Global Pearson wasn't called.  Similarly, where was the input from Wales where ESDGC has been the spirit of the land for many years now.  No sign of UNESCO UK either.

Their suggestion that:

"The Government should look at possible changes to the national curriculum to provide ways for young people to become agents of change and engage with the Goals. This would form part of a national conversation about the Goals with a view to enshrining them in law, so that future Governments put sustainable development at the heart of every new legislative proposal."

... suggests that the committee never got to hear about DfID's Global Learning Programme which has spread across schools despite DfE indifference.  The bloke from DfID didn't seem to mention it in his evidence.

This issue of how the SDGs should apply within the UK is an interesting question, however.  There's one approach which might focus minds: identifying within-UK targets for the goals; that is, replacing / reformulating the 176 existing targets with UK ones – or maybe English / Northern Irish / Scotland / Wales targets; or maybe ones particularly pertinent to communities.  Maybe Manchester would need different targets than Maidenhead.  Glasgow than Galashiels. Bangor than Brecon.  Etc.

It strikes me that the process of agreeing such goals would be a worthwhile exercise and might provide much needed clarity about the differences across these lands.


Meanwhile, I see that DfID has produced into own report on the goals: Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals.  More on this later – maybe ...

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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