We must raise awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals in Parliament, in Whitehall and across the UK
If we are to achieve a world where poverty, inequality and injustice are a thing of the past, we must all work together to drive change, says Baroness Sugg.
World leaders came together four years ago to agree 17 goals to make the world a better place by 2030. The UK was instrumental in shaping these Global Goals, from ending poverty, to achieving gender equality, and taking meaningful action to stop climate change and protect our oceans, forests and all life on Earth.
The ambition is huge, but the challenges we face in the UK are becoming increasingly interconnected with the challenges facing the rest of the world.
In the face of the potential catastrophic effects of a climate emergency and huge numbers of people displaced by humanitarian crises, droughts and famine, it has never been more important to take action.
The Global Goals, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals, provide a blueprint for development that doesn’t just measure countries by their GDP, but sees success as sustainable development for all countries. This universal approach aims to achieve peace, security and prosperity for all, looks beyond aid and aims to leave no one behind.
When the Global Goals were agreed in 2015, every UN member state also committed to producing a Voluntary National Review, or VNR, to update on its progress. Today, I am at the UN in New York with International Development Secretary Rory Stewart to fulfil that commitment.
This review of the UK’s progress has been a significant undertaking involving the whole of Whitehall and 350 organisations across the devolved administrations, charities and business. All have made invaluable contributions to the review, from doctors from Edinburgh working to tackle the spread of Ebola, to Torriano Primary School in Camden where the goals are part of the curriculum and single use plastics are banned.
Compiling the VNR has shown us how far we have come since 2015, both here in the UK and the countries we support through UK aid. But we must also acknowledge that there are things we need to reflect on and learn from.
On gender equality for example, Goal 5, the world has come a long way. We have introduced free sanitary products in all English secondary schools and colleges to tackle period poverty. And in countries like Rwanda and Kenya, where girls face stigma during their periods and too often have to skip school because they can’t access pads or tampons, UK aid is working to break the silence and give girls the products they need. But there is still a long way to go; the gender pay gap still exists and women’s rights are still being infringed upon across the world.
Nothing serves as a greater reminder of the interconnectedness of our planet than climate change. This will affect us all and the UK is taking urgent action on this, under Goal 13. The UK has committed to net zero emissions by 2050. Around the world, UK aid has contributed to protecting natural areas equivalent to the size of Brazil and the planting of over 1 million trees in Madagascar. However, we need to do more if we are going to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. That includes prioritising low-carbon growth and climate resilience in all our support for the world’s poorest people, as the Prime Minister announced at the G20 last month.
The Global Goals cannot be achieved by Government alone. We need to draw on the expertise and capacity of everyone from the private sector to individuals making everyday lifestyle decisions to support the goals.
Like UK aid’s work with British scientists at the Met Office using NASA satellite data to help predict and prevent major outbreaks of cholera and save lives in war-torn Yemen, we can achieve more when we work together – Goal 17.
There has been valid criticism that there is not enough awareness of the Goals in the UK, in Parliament and Whitehall, let alone the rest of the country. Across government, we need to articulate more clearly how departments will co-operate to deliver the goals and create an environment that enables them.
The VNR is not the endpoint. It is a moment to take stock. It offers a snapshot in time of how we are doing and what we need to do if we are to achieve the goals by 2030.
If we are to achieve a world where poverty, inequality and injustice are a thing of the past, we must all work together to drive that change.
Baroness Sugg is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development.