Government needs coherent plan on SDGs

25th April 2017

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MPs on a parliamentary committee have criticised the government for failing to set out a strategy to implement the sustainable development goals (SDGs) domestically.

The UN goals were agreed internationally in September 2015. They follow on from the Millennium Development Goals, but a key difference is that they cover all countries, not just those in the developing world.

In its latest report published today, the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) accused the government of having done little to promote the goals domestically and for failing to raise public awareness of them.

‘While the government is making big claims about what it can do to implement the goals on the international stage, our inquiry has revealed that it is doing very little at home,’ the committee said in the report. Cabinet-level ministers were not willing to give evidence to the committee on the issue, it noted.

The committee called on the government to publish a report setting out how it intended to take a cross-government approach to implementing the goals in the UK. The government had said that it would incorporate work on the SDGs into individual departmental plans, but the committee said that it was ‘deeply sceptical and concerned’ about this plan.

An independent advisory body, similar to the Committee on Climate Change, should be established to provide independent, evidence-based advice to a cabinet-level minister and the prime minister, and audit the government’s performance against the long-term targets in the goals, the MPs suggested.

Mary Creagh, chair of the committee, said: ‘During this general election campaign, politicians of all parties should show their commitment to ending poverty, violence and hunger here in the UK, so that we can build a “global Britain” where no one is left behind.’

The conclusion of the EAC backed that of a separate parliamentary inquiry held last year by the International Development Committee and sustainability charity Bioregional, which was involved with the UN in setting the goals.

During its inquiry the EAC learned that the Office for National Statistics had dropped work to develop a set of national indicators against which to measure progress against the goals. It has asked the government to urgently clarify whether the ONS will report on performance, and ensure a timely and transparent release of information on progress.

If it is the case that the ONS is not establishing indicators, there will be no scorecard or baseline against which to measure progress towards the goals, it noted. ‘The move risks reducing the level of engagement and participation from non-government bodies and it increases the temptation for the government to cherry-pick indicators and focus on areas where it is performing well,’ the report states.

The committee noted that many businesses were engaged on the SDGs. It called on the ONS to work more closely with businesses, and hold a competition seeking ideas for how the UK’s progress against the goals could be branded and communicated widely.


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