UN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS: A ROADMAP TO RECOVERY
The 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the international framework to tackle all the big challenges we face today. In the context of the COVID-19 recovery, they are the only international framework of their kind where all governments are committed to deliver a greener, more inclusive and sustainable global economy. They represent an international roadmap to build back better, make trade work for everyone and tackle inequality.
One of the many benefits of the SDGs is that the goals are impossible to argue with. Eradicating poverty, providing clean water, education and digital connectivity for all, as well as promoting inclusive global economic growth; these are common goals we can all sign up to without disagreement. International cooperation is at the heart of the SDG framework – no country can do this alone. We all have to work together, both nationally and internationally. This is also the case for the COVID-19 recovery, as well as climate change, digitisation, economic growth and other key priorities.
The timing is good – we are in the final 10 years of action on the SDGs to deliver the goals by 2030, and are facing at least 10 years to recover from COVID-19 and reset the global economy. Closer to home, the UK is also embarking on a new path post-Brexit and re-balancing the economy. Now is the time to put the SDG framework at the heart of the strategy to build back better.
In 2019, the UK was quite rightly heavily criticised for its poor performance in implementing the SDGs. The UK is one of the worst performers globally, and could perform so much better if the SDG delivery framework were incorporated into the national strategy for recovery. The goals are already there, but it does require a change in approach to put the SDGs front and centre of the plan.
There is a crucial flaw to the UK approach to the SDGs; the responsibility for delivery is meant to be the Cabinet Office, but it largely sits with the development arm of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This gives the impression the SDGs are an overseas development agenda when they aren’t. As a result, awareness of the SDGs is at one of the lowest levels of any country. It has also meant the development community dominates the agenda. Success requires everyone to be at the table, particularly the private sector.
Ownership for the SDG delivery should sit in the heart of No.10 and the Cabinet Office to ensure a high profile, cross governmental approach. All the countries that are performing well have adopted this approach – led by the Prime Minister or equivalent. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to learn from others, follow best practice and, importantly, embed the SDG framework into the heart of the plan to build back better. This would bring far greater policy coherence and help everyone understand what we are trying to achieve in the next 10 years.
The UK hosting COP26 and G7 in 2021, and collaborating closely with Italy on G20, gives the perfect opportunity to advocate for this approach and would help build international consensus, which, in the current fractious geo-political environment we live in, would have no downsides. This would also help accelerate innovation and fresh thinking in a host of key areas where the UK has much to offer the world – green finance, de-carbonisation, energy efficiency, trade, education, governance and digitisation, to name but a few.
For those of us outside government, we can lead by example by integrating the SDG framework into our strategies and plans. This will ensure we align to investor goals and the overall direction of travel thereby reducing regulatory risk and positioning ourselves to seize the opportunities that will inevitably come.
If you are interested to find out more, we’ll be continuing this conversation at the ICC International Trade and Prosperity Week w/c 19 October and then again in February with Parliament and throughout 2021 on the road to COP26. Come and join us!
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