Embed the SDGs into Covid-19 recovery plans, leaders urge Boris Johnson

More than 100 leaders from across the UK's business and public sectors have called on Boris Johnson to ensure that the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are placed at the heart of the UK's Covid-19 recovery planning, in a bid to couple the economic reboot with social as well as environmental progress.

Johnson has said his recovery plans should result in progress towards shared goals, such as the SDGs, getting "back on track"

Johnson has said his recovery plans should result in progress towards shared goals, such as the SDGs, getting "back on track"

The call to action has been made in an open letter sent to Johnson this morning (9 June), co-ordinated by UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) and UN Global Compact Network UK, and signed by businesses such as Unilever, Coca-Cola European Partners, HSBC, Intercontinental Hotels Group, NatWest, Nestle UK & Ireland and The Body Shop. Other signatories include investors, charities, mayors, Lords, Baronesses, trade associations and universities, alongside former Unilever chief executive Paul Polman and film director Richard Curtis.

The letter asks Johnson to further his verbal support for a “fairer, greener and more resilient global economy" with written confirmation that he will use the SDGs to “consolidate and future-proof recovery plans”, mindful of the fact that Covid-19 has had profound social impacts in addition to its environmental fallout.

Specifically, the signatories are calling for recovery measures which not only aid the transition to net-zero, but create a "healthy planet", prioritise the most vulnerable in UK society by levelling up regional and social inequalities, and help businesses work across sectors to develop a more resilient economy. Many business letters to Johnson in recent weeks have focussed on the environmental or social parts of this agenda specifically, but UKSSD believes it is important to couple these agendas. 

The letter highlights both the opportunity of stronger SDG action and the risk of weak action or inaction. On the former, it highlights the Business and Sustainable Development Commission’s past research, which concluded that embedding the SDGs in 60 market “hotspots” globally would create at least $12trn (£9.5trn) in business opportunities by 2030. On the latter, it reiterates UKSSD’s 2018 finding that the UK Government had made inadequate progress across 57% of the SDG agenda, and poor progress across a further 15%. The organisation fears that this picture will be worsened by the impacts of Covid-19 without robust and holistic policy planning.

“Covid-19 has placed a spotlight on inequalities in our society,” UKSSD's network director Emily Auckland said. “We have an opportunity to make sure our recovery from this crisis is fair and just so that people and places across the UK can prosper. This does not have to be in conflict with our net-zero carbon ambitions… the SDGs help us work together to create social and environmental outcomes, so all people have a happy life on a healthy planet”.

Johnson’s SDG standing

It is worth noting that when UKSSD conducted its ‘Measuring Up’ research, Theresa May was Prime Minister. Responding to the findings, May commissioned the UK’s first Voluntary National Review into the SDGs. The review found that ONS had been able to source good data on most of the Goals – reporting data on 74% (180 of the total 244) of Global Indicators in 2019. The review did note that data and policy gaps exist, mainly in line with UKSSD’s findings.

UKSSD convened a business coalition to make a fresh appeal to Boris Johnson in January, following May’s resignation and the 2019 General Election. It was met with a positive response.

More recently, Johnson said his Government’s post-Covid-19 recovery efforts should be centred around “working together to get shared goals back on track, including the SDGs and Paris Agreement”. However, further information is scarce at present. Johnson is due to deliver a speech during the latter half of June, in which specific plans for the UK’s economic recovery strategy will be laid out in full. News outlets are reporting that the speech will detail further support for businesses manufacturing low-carbon technology; a fund to ‘reskill’ those out of work, readying them for work in the renewable energy sector; and measures to restart key infrastructure programmes.


Emily Auckland's Blog 

UKSSD network director Emily Auckland has a blogging account with edie and recently penned an entry on how and why the SDGs should be used to build back better. You can read that piece in full here

Sarah George



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