Implementing the SDGs in the UK

Published: 26th October 2015 by Claire Hickson. Tagged in: , ,

In September, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a Summit of world leaders in New York.

These goals, which represent a historic agreement between all 193 member states of the UN, cover a wide range of issues, including poverty and inequality, sustainable production and consumption, economic growth, health, education and gender equality.

They replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that expire at the end of this year. However, they are very different from the MDGs in a number of important respects – in their breadth and number, the participatory way in which they were negotiated, and, perhaps most significantly, the fact that they are universal. The MDGs were seen as goals and targets for developing countries around which developed countries should focus their aid, but the SDGs apply to all countries – to the UK as much as they do to Malawi or Bangladesh.

Clearly not all targets are equally applicable to all countries. For example, the commitment to tackle extreme poverty, measured as living on less than $1.25 a day, is not relevant to the UK domestic context. But many are, and developed countries therefore need to look at how they are going implement, monitor and coordinate action around the SDGs.

The UK international development NGO network BOND wanted to start a conversation on how this should happen in the UK and commissioned Trio to come up with some ideas.

There are three strands to SDG implementation in the UK: a) delivering the SDGs domestically in the UK for all UK citizens, b) ensuring DFID, in its programming and policy, support the delivery of the SDGs in its priority countries, c) ensuring that domestic action on the SDGs has a positive impact globally.

Our report looks at how the UK Government and devolved administrations have dealt with sustainable development in the past and what mechanisms could be used in the future to embed the SDGs in UK policy, monitor progress against them and promote coherence within and between these three strands.

In summary, it concludes that:

  • Coordinated action requires leadership from the highest levels and the Prime Minister should therefore take the lead in outlining a clear strategy on how the UK will implement the SDGs based on a detailed review of what is required.
  • Since the UK Government has a commitment to Open Government, the development this strategy ought involve an inclusive participatory process, mirroring the ‘national conversations’ that have taken place or are planned in, for example, Germany, Scotland and Wales.
  • Coordination across departments would most effectively be promoted through the creation of an Implementation Task Force on the SDGs, chaired by the Prime Minister, with the Minister for Government Policy in the Cabinet Office taking day-to-day responsibility for sustainable development, reflecting their role in policy coordination.
  • A national level body, similar to the Sustainable Development Council in Germany, should be created with a membership drawn from academia, business and civil society to independently review progress against the UK’s SDG strategy.
  • To ensure effective parliamentary scrutiny across departmental boundaries, a cross-party SDG/sustainable development select committee should be established to bring together chairs or representatives of all the key select committees.
  • Drawing on its approach to the Open Government Partnership, the UK Government could support the development of a network on sustainable development similar to the Open Government Civil Society Network, to cooperate with the Government in reviewing the UK’s progress against the SDGs/national indicators and the development of new strategies.

The report was launched to coincide with the UN Summit and will be used by BOND to continue the conversation with the UK Government. It was also presented to the House of Commons International Development Select Committee in the margins of Summit.