Last week, the Environmental Audit Committee published a report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UK.
The countries of the United Nations adopted this set of 17 goals in September 2015, aiming to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. By adopting Agenda 2030, the Government has committed itself to implementing these goals both in the UK as well as overseas. The report assesses Government’s progress towards the “Global Goals”, and it is not flattering.
While the Global Goals are highly relevant for the UK, thus far, Government has done little to promote the goals. Responsibility for the SDGs lies within the Department for International Development (DFID), and according to the committee report, Government regards the Global Goals as “a developing world issue and has no clear plan to implementing them domestically”. While the SDGs are to be incorporated into the Single Departmental Plans, achieving sustainable development requires cross-government and cross-departmental working; DFID is not in a position to facilitate this. The Committee suggests appointing a Cabinet-level Minister in the Cabinet Office with strategic responsibility for implementing sustainable development, including the SDGs, across Government.
To date, there is no accountability framework in place. The report suggests to establish an independent advisory body to provide independent, evidence-based advice to the responsible minister and the Prime Minister; this body would also audit successive governments’ performance against the long-term targets enshrined in the goals.
Achieving the Global Goals needs effort not only within government but also in business and civil society. Some UK businesses have embraced them, but the goals are largely unknown to the general public. The report suggests launching a national media campaign to raise awareness.
It remains to be seen whether the SDGs play a role in the election campaign and whether the next government will take the opportunity to use the Global Goals to create a fairer, healthier and more sustainable country.