English local authorities encouraged to align with SDGs in green recovery planning

The body representing 335 of the UK's 339 local authorities has launched a guide for engagement and alignment with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which it claims should be accelerated in efforts to "build back better" post-pandemic.

English local authorities encouraged to align with SDGs in green recovery planning

Councillors in cities such as Newcastle (pictured) have already pledged to align planning and policy with the Global Goals

Produced as part of the Local Government Association’s (LGA’s) partnership with UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD), the guide states that the full scope of the SDGs will not be achieved by their 2030 deadline without local leadership.

Beyond the fact that SDG alignment is “the right thing to do” over the coming decade, local authorities have much to gain from accelerating action across the scope of environmental, social and economic indicators, the guide states.

It argues that the SDGs provide a strategic framework for streamlining planning and policy review; that SDG-aligned action will improve health, wellbeing and the economy on a local level, minimising healthcare costs; and that the SDGs can help councils foster productive, mutually-beneficial partnerships with each other, NGOs, charities, businesses and other stakeholders.  

SDG alignment is also the natural next step following a climate emergency declaration, the LGA claims. The majority of English and Wlesh local authorities (299) have declared climate emergencies since the IPCC published its landmark report on global warming in 2018, with many having since set net-zero targets that are more ambitious than the national mandate.

“Addressing climate change merits very high priority, but the issue is too large and too complex – and the stakes too high – for it to be tackled in isolation,” the guide states. “It must be dealt with alongside other pressing environmental issues, such as air pollution and biodiversity loss, and action should be taken in ways that complement and give equal weight to the pursuit of inclusive growth and social justice.”

The guide goes on to provide a four-step process for SDG alignment, complete with case studies highlighting councils at each stage of this journey. Councils should conduct materiality assessments to identify priority SDGs before developing initial plans to ensure they deliver the maximum positive impact for minimal cost, it states. This activity should be followed up with work to accelerate engagement and forge partnerships, plus a costed and time-bound schedule of implementation and monitoring.  

Once councils have committed to SDG alignment, they should report annually on progress and advocate for other organisations to follow suit, the guide concludes. These moves will help identify opportunities and challenges, boost transparency and drive wider progress, it states.

“While councils across the country continue to grapple with the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus crisis, many have come to recognise their unique position as leaders of place,” the LGA’s chair of City Regions Richard Leese said.

“The SDGs provide a guide to rebuilding our economies in a resilient and sustainable way, focusing on creating good lives on a healthy planet for all people.”

Councils which have already committed to mainstreaming SDGs in their policies include Liverpool City Council, Newcastle City Council and Bristol City Council.

Local leadership

Since lockdown first began in the UK, Ministers have faced mounting calls for devolved funding and powers to help local authorities rebuild after the Covid-19 crisis. Proponents of such support argue that it would help the Conservative Party deliver against its manifesto pledge to “level up” socio-economic factors across all regions.

The LGA’s latest analysis outlines how the UK could create almost 700,000 new green jobs within a decade, and a further 488,000 through to 2050, if central Government works with local authorities, businesses and charities to create economic recovery options centred around renewable energy, clean technologies and energy efficiencies.

Joining the LGA in such calls to action have been the Renewable Energy Association (REA), Green Alliance and UK100 – the latter of which is calling for the Government to reskill 2.2 million Brits for jobs in the low-carbon economy.

Last month, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) produced what it claims is the first green recovery plan from a UK council. The framework complements WMCA’s 2041 net-zero target, outlining a roadmap for the delivery of projects which will decarbonise energy, heating and transport while improving health and wellbeing. Speaking exclusively to edie, WMCA’s director for public service reform Ed Cox said he hoped other local authorities would follow suit, but adapt their plans to account for region-specific context.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie