Bringing the goals home — is the UK government ready for the SDGs?

U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening at the Youth Summit, where young people came together to raise their voices about the global issues they care about. Is the U.K. government ready to implement the 17 global goals? Photo by: Jessica Lea / DfID / CC BY-SA

The sustainable development goals set to be adopted by global leaders in New York represent a marked departure from their predecessors — the Millennium Development Goals — due to their universality, with commitments applying to rich as well as poor countries. This makes them potentially transformative, defining a new relationship of mutual accountability between the “global north” and the “global south,” yet it also throws up the question as to whether the U.K. government is really ready to bring these goals back home.

The Bond “Beyond 2015” campaign has already been thinking through how to implement the goals in the U.K., outlining a series of detailed options in its recent paper, Bringing the Goals Home. In the immediate term we’re calling on the government to take forward a five-point plan after the New York summit to kick-start implementation in the U.K.

1. There needs to be political commitment at the highest level to deliver the goals, with vocal and public support from the prime minister, building on the leading role his government has taken in the post-2015 discussions and exemplified by his co-chairing of the High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda in 2013. Continuing in this spirit following the summit in New York — and ensuring oversight for implementation of the SDGs from the heart of government — will send the right signal to all government departments as to the seriousness with which this government is taking this agenda.

2. The government needs to outline its approach to implementation and should quickly set out a clear and costed plan for how the goals will be delivered across government, nationally and globally. For inspiration, Bond will be co-hosting an event with the global Beyond 2015 campaign in New York on Sunday, showcasing other countries’ approaches to implementation.

The U.K.’s plan should not just rest on the shoulders of the Department for International Development but needs to be coordinated across all government departments, ideally by the Cabinet Office. In practice this means that, for example, the Department for Education, the Department of Health and even the Department for Work and Pensions all have a stake. It also goes without saying that — given the critical role civil society has played in the development of the framework through the coordinated global Beyond 2015 and action/2015 campaigns — translating the goals into action means continuing this engagement.

3. A robust approach to monitoring, accountability and review is needed — making sure global and national indicators are measuring what matters, and that data is collected according to gender, ethnicity, disability and age, so that progress can be monitored to ensure no-one is left behind. Introducing the right mechanisms in parliament to scrutinize and hold the government to account for its commitments, as well as independent, arms-length scrutiny bodies representing multiple stakeholders, will also be critical.

4. The U.K. should work with other countries to mobilize the much-needed finance to deliver the goals. The Comprehensive Spending Review represents an opportunity to earmark finance in the U.K. to implement the SDGs globally and nationally. The government’s proud record on 0.7 percent also puts it in a strong position to push other donors to increase their aid commitments, but mobilizing resources beyond aid will be equally important — including from tax, wider investment flows and trade. The U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening will speak at a high-level event, hosted by Bond in New York, on this very topic.

5. The SDGs will not be delivered if climate change is left to devastate our environment and plunge more people into poverty. An ambitious global climate agreement in December is a crucial piece in the puzzle — and the U.K. would be wise to use the post-2015 summit as an opportunity to outline its commitments to carbon emission reductions, as well as pledge its fair share of climate finance.

We also recognize that for the new goals to be achieved, not just government, but civil society, business, trade unions and others will need to play their part; and this will mean changing the way we work too. The SDGs are adopted at the same time that DfID is conducting its Civil Society Partnership Review. Done properly — in alignment with each other — both the SDGs and the CSPR can potentially herald a new era in global development for the U.K.

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About the author

  • Benjackson

    Ben Jackson

    Ben Jackson is the CEO of Bond, the U.K. network for international development organizations. Before Bond, Ben was with Crisis Action, which convenes international coalitions to protect civilians in conflict. He has 25 years of experience in the public and private sectors, and in Whitehall and Westminster.