MPs accuse UK government of having ‘no clear’ SDG implementation plan

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker. Brussels, October 2016. [Number 10/Flickr]

The UK government has failed to set out a clear plan to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or encourage businesses to do likewise, according to new research from a cross-party watchdog. EURACTIV’s partner reports.

The government should look for effective ways to promote responsible business behaviour, MPs insist.

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The SDGs were agreed by nations in 2015 and are considered to offer significant economic opportunities, but a report released yesterday (26 April) by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) claims that the government has done little to promote public awareness.

“Ours is the generation which can end poverty and ensure that our children inherit a fairer, healthier and more sustainable country,” EAC chair Mary Creagh MP said. “That is what the global goals are all about. As the UK leaves the EU, the government has a once in a generation opportunity to use the global goals to forge a cross-party consensus on sustainable development in the UK.

“However, the government seems to regard the goals as a developing world issue and has no clear plan to implement them domestically.”

‘Doughnut-shaped hole’

The government’s drive to deliver the SDGs abroad has not been replicated domestically, MPs say, leaving a “doughnut-shaped hole” in place of efforts. Ministers are criticised for showing an unwillingness to appear before the committee, with the EAC viewing this as a sign that the issue is being “quietly dropped” by the government.

To address this accountability gap, the government is urged to establish an independent advisory body, and appoint a cabinet minister with strategic responsibility to implement the SDGs across all departments. Ministers should publish a new report which sets out how government objectives can be aligned with the SDGs, MPs insist.

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The EAC also urges all major political parties to use the upcoming General Election to display their commitment to the Goals.

Prime Minister Theresa May is personally criticised for a lack of leadership on the issue. The EAC, does, however, welcome May’s recent statement in a 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”.

Corporate goals

Given the non-binding nature of SDGs, the committee recognises that implementation will rely on the goodwill of governments, alongside businesses pursuing economic opportunities presented by the SDGs. The government should look for effective ways to promote responsible business behaviour, the EAC maintains.

Research has shown that the goals could add $12trn to the global economy. However, the EAC inquiry heard evidence from business representatives of low levels of SDG committment in the private sector. This chimes with mounting evidence that private sector progress towards each of the 17 SDGs has been slow.

However, reports show that momentum within the private sector is gradually building as companies begin to witness material opportunities, rather than feeling they are subjected to SDG goals solely due to internal and external pressures. Corporate giants such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, SABMiller and Unilever have all mapped their sustainability targets against the SDGs that concern them the most.

Business commitment to achieve the SDGs requires a new way of looking at development finance. As such, the World Bank has issued its first ever set of green bonds that directly link financial returns to companies performing to the standards and aims on the SDGs.

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