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Sustainable Development Goals must guide all decision making

Image by: Timon Schneider / Alamy Stock Photo

4 min read

At the current rate most targets will be missed with devastating consequences for us all

Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the world’s best hope of meeting the challenges before us: climate change, inequality, global pandemics, mass migration, conflict and poverty.  

I grew up inspired by the global movement for racial justice. At that time, the world was responding to the threat of nuclear war and demanding reform of outdated institutions of governance. This was the context in which I joined the Labour Party in 1966. I don’t believe that we should be consumed with angst and nostalgia for the spirit of those times in which everything seemed possible, but instead open our eyes to what is happening right now and get on with doing what’s needed.

The Sustainable Development Goals are a global commitment to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality, respect human rights, empower women and girls, all whilst protecting the planet. 

The decisions we make need to recognise our mutual interdependence. This applies to how we perceive our own struggles. I never cease to be inspired by the picture of cheering Lancashire women millworkers surrounding Mahatma Gandhi in 1931 when he visited England to press the cause of freedom and an end to trade discrimination. Those inspirational women recognised that the injustice of one group of working people threatened all working people everywhere and that there was a mutual interest in securing fair trade.

The challenge for our politics and institutions is how we incorporate the SDGs into our thinking, our policy proposals, and mechanisms for delivery – not just in our institutions but our own choices as citizens and consumers. We could start with the Budget. 

Budgets reflect the policy choices and political trade-offs we make (I was responsible for two government spending reviews under the last Labour government). Therefore what money is set aside in the Budget is critical if we are to have any hope of meeting our 2030 SDG targets.

What money is set aside in the Budget is critical if we are to have any hope of meeting our 2030 targets

A cut in aid spending for programmes to support water and sanitation in the developing world is likely to have a bearing on the cost of pandemic resilience and migration control in our own country. Understanding this and evaluating the impact of our spending in different government departments is central to improving value for money for the taxpayer.

Incorporating the SDGs into department spending plans will assist in avoiding failures – like that of the government’s recent renewable energy auction that failed to attract offshore wind developers – and drive an industrial policy which enhances our manufacturing capacity to handle the changes in supply and demand that a low-carbon economy necessitates.

On a local level, the decisions councils make about their budgets and priorities need to be made through the lens of the SDGs: to be climate friendly, promote growth, overcome unequal outcomes, and be cost effective.

Unesco has demonstrated how higher education and more equitable global research partnerships have a crucial role to play in the delivery of the SDGs. 

These actions on an institutional level can be mirrored in our personal choices as consumers and the demands we make on the providers of goods and services. The time has come to take action and put the SDGs at the heart of all that we do – not just in preparation for government but also in the decisions we make in our own lives.

No more waiting for the “big idea” to be handed down from on high. The SDGs are already here and the 2030 target for their delivery is almost upon us. At the current rate most targets will be missed with devastating consequences for us all. So “Vukuzenzele” as they say in South Africa: Let’s just get up get out and go for it.

Lord Boateng is a Labour peer and former chief secretary to the Treasury

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