UK Government only driving strong progress on 17% of SDG targets, analysis finds

Progress in the UK towards the delivery of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has remained fairly stagnant, with performance only classed as good on 17% of the targets relevant to the domestic delivery of the Goals.

UK Government only driving strong progress on 17% of SDG targets, analysis finds

The report reveals worsening poverty and no meaningful improvements to health issues relating to air pollution

That is the headline finding of the second ‘Measuring Up’ report from the UN Global Compact Network UK. Published today (28 September), the report is the first full update to the series since 2018.

The report reveals that, over the past four years, improvements have only been made in relation to 23 targets. These include reducing the maternal mortality ratio and the ratio of deaths of children under five; “substantially” increasing the share of renewable energy in the energy mix; enhancing scientific research; improving regulation of financial markets and institutions and cutting food waste.

For the vast majority of the targets – 65 of them – no change has been recorded by the Network. This suggests that policy interventions on a variety of issues have been insufficient or poorly designed. No change was recorded in integrating climate considerations into national policies and the planning process, nor on improving education on climate-related issues. Progress has also been slow on tackling marine pollution and protecting marine and coastal ecosystems; promoting sustainable forest and land management; reducing violence; achieving the sustainable management of natural resources and ensuring access to “adequate, safe and affordable housing”.

Regression has been recorded in relation to 18 targets. The report expresses concern that poverty is deepening, with the number of people facing in-work poverty having increased even before energy and food prices began to increase late last year. Now, one in five people in the UK are living in poverty, the report states.

Also expressed are concerns about the UK’s slow progress in improving air quality which, in turn, has led to poor progress in reducing respiratory issues. The report concludes that there has been no meaningful progress in delivering SDG 3.9, “substantially reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination”.

Given that the seventeenth SDG is Collaboration for the Goals, and that this underpins the delivery of all of the other Goals, the report concludes that policymakers are not properly considering the need for a holistic approach to policymaking and collaboration to maximise positive outcomes with co-benefits across the Goals. This lack of joined-up and strategic thinking is the reason the UK is not yet an SDG “success story”, the Network has stated.

The Network’s executive director Steve Kenzie said that there “is cause for hope” due to the “inspiring examples of work already being done by the business community, investors, civil society, academia, and governments to advance the Goals”. This must now be turned into action from policymakers in the UK under new Prime Minister Liz Truss, the Network is urging.

The co-chair of the APPG on the UN Global Goals, Lord McConnell, is supporting the report. He said: “No one doubts that the economic and security situation facing the world is very serious, but that is a reason to use the SDGs as the framework for recovery, not a reason to roll back on our ambitions agreed in 2015. National and local governments in the UK need to up their game, setting out clear targets and measuring their impact. We cannot afford to leave more people behind, at home or around the world.”

Responding to the report, SDG Changemakers’ co-director Claire Benson said: “We need to acknowledge that all the SDG goals and targets are interrelated. For example, the current food system, inflation, and inequalities across the food value chain – such as the price farmers are getting for their product – have a direct impact on land use and quality, biodiversity as well as the health and nutrition of the population. In addition, they also have a party to play in the current energy and cost-of-living crisis, which could lead to unseen levels of poverty in this country, at least for the past two decades.

“Considering the UK Government’s levelling up agenda and the cost-of-living crisis, the UK really needs to do more to reduce inequality in this country. There’s been a lot of talk, promises and white papers, but very little action. And just recently we’ve seen the latest announcement of Government Investment Zones – which didn’t really touch on what is really needed to ‘level up’ and develop a green economy.

“We desperately need increased collaboration across government, business, academia, and NGOs for systemic change. And what we mean by this is less of the performative statements and more transformative action.”

Catch up with edie’s Sustainable Development Inspiration Sessions

Last week, edie hosted three webinar sessions dedicated to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in partnership with Neighbourly and the Woodland Trust.

The sessions are now available to watch on-demand for free and feature experts from organisations including UN Global Compact Network UK, Diageo, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and IAMTHECODE. Click here to see the full agenda and to watch the sessions.


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