Government must embed SDGs into Brexit strategy, report urges

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be placed at the heart of the UK's Brexit strategy, according to a new report stating that government policy is performing inadequately across three-quarters of the targets listed under goals.

The report, published today (3 July) by the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD), gathered insight from more than 100 businesses, charities, trade unions and government agencies to outline current legislative actions against the SDGs.

Of the 143 targets considered relevant to the domestic delivery of the goals, the report notes that the UK is only performing well on 24% of its targets. According to the UKSSD, policy gaps or inadequate performance were listed alongside 57% of the targets, while 15% had “little to no policy in place” to address them.

One of the key recommendations of the report is for Theresa May to appoint Cabinet-level ministers to spearhead approaches to key SDG ambitions, including reducing poverty, tackling inequality and protecting and enhancing the natural environment.

Presented to MPs at the House of Commons today, the report states that targets relating to water quality and the environment are currently performing well due to existing legislation deriving from EU Directives. Upon departure from the EU, the UKSSD warns that failure to retain these laws could have “significant impact” on achieving them.

UKSSD partner and chief executive of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, Michael Izza, said: “Meeting the SDGs gives us the best chance to deliver on promises of fairness and equality in the UK after we leave the European Union. These commitments must not be seen as a burden, but as a way of addressing some of the most urgent issues we face. This is a positive vision of a UK with a future very few could argue with.

“The UK has already made good progress towards some of the SDGs – but we are in danger of slipping behind in other areas. By looking at UK performance across every aspect of our country, the need for cross sector action becomes clear.  Today we are calling for a united, national effort to meet all our targets by 2030.”

The UK Government is yet to produce a Voluntary National Review for the gaols and the UKSSD believes that updates on targets are needed to inspire cross-sector collaboration to tackle areas where the UK is lagging.

Previously, the UK Government’s attempts at addressing and implementing the SDGs have been labelled “a total fail” by the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) Mary Creagh.

Sustainable consumption and production

Three key areas where the Government is failing to mobilise action, according to the report, are goals relating to sustainable consumption and production, clean energy and climate action.

There are currently voluntary industry-government agreements to reduce food waste and associated emissions by 20%, between 2015 and 2025, but the report notes that this falls short of target 12.3 to halve food waste per capita by 2030.

However, the report does note that the forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy can act as a catalyst to increase ambitions and drive resource efficiency in the UK. The report also recommends that all large companies are mandatorily required to report on sustainability impacts in line with the SDGs.

For goals relating to climate action, the report calls for the re-establishment of a high-level body to drive progress on national decarbonisation – described as a “prerequisite for any government serious about meeting its obligations”.

Alongside calls to publish succinct plans setting out how the UK Government intends to deliver the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, the report recommends that new CfD auctions open to solar and onshore wind; the Capacity Market is reformed to allow all technologies to compete; a new zero-carbon homes standard is introduced, and a new Green Deal created to unlock investments into energy efficiency.

The report claims that UK businesses and charities must play a greater role in striving towards the goals. Research from PwC found that two-fifths of businesses are still failing to engage meaningfully with the SDGs, while a UN Global Compact study found that the private sector is failing to follow through on commitments.

Specific examples are highlighted in the report where government policy can help sectors increase action towards the goals. A policy framework to increase the output of new, affordable homes, for example, should be conducted in collaboration with the construction industry to “support sustainable systems” and implement practices that allow for adaption to climate change.

The development of alternative low-carbon fuels – such as hydrogen – and increased use of carbon capture, usage and storage in heavy industries were also outlined as desired steps.

UKSSD’s network director Emily Auckland added: “We believe this report provides a solid platform for the UK Voluntary National Review to the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at the United Nations in 2019.

“We hope it makes a valuable contribution and a starting point to the UK Government’s official approach to implementation of the SDGs. As Measuring Up shows, the consequences of not taking action are damaging for both people and places across the country.”

edie’s SDG Power Hour webinar

UKSSD’s Emily Auckland will appear on an hour-long webinar later this month, discussing how businesses can drive engagement with the global goals.

Taking place Thursday 26th July, 2pm – 3pm (BST), the webinar, brought to you in association with DNV GL, will seek to answer these crucial questions by hearing from a spread of business leaders and sustainable development experts to explore how to make the Global Goals resonate with colleagues – from the boardroom, to the ‘shop floor’.

For more information or to register for the webinar, click here.

Matt Mace

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