A major network of leading companies, think tanks, charities, universities, trade unions and professional bodies has reached an important milestone in measuring the UK’s performance against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Organisations including WWF-UK, Good Energy, the Open University, Gaia Education, Glasgow Caledonian University and the RSPB are partners of the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD), a cross-sector network working to drive action in the implementation of the SDGs in the UK.
UKSSD decided to carry out an assessment of the UK’s performance against the goals because the UK lacks a comprehensive plan of action for how they will be achieved by 2030.
UKSSD has completed its initial research and its draft findings are now ready to be opened to stakeholder review. It is calling for organisations to contribute their own expertise to help shape the recommended actions.
UKSSD network director Emily Auckland (Bioregional) has said that the SDGs offer the opportunity “to create a new social contract between government and citizens, to address systemic problems in a coherent way, and to create a culture of collaboration and partnership with stakeholders in the UK”.
The UKSSD report will be a crucial step in generating this partnership and helping to build momentum and support for the goals in the UK, she believes.
Once the review process is complete, this wide-ranging and in-depth performance assessment will be incorporated into a report to be launched during the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development held in New York in July.
Some of the initial findings demonstrate the scale of the task. For example, SDG 4, which seeks to achieve quality education for all, sets a high level of ambition for the next 15 years that goes beyond any previous global education agreement. UK reviewers are taking a comprehensive look at national progress in education using available indicators, questioning their usefulness, reflecting on the quality of sources, introducing new ways of looking at evidence and advocating for improvement.
Early evidence from Newcastle University confirms that the UK will face challenges in achieving many of the goals targets. On pressing issues such as poverty and hunger reduction, safe and affordable housing and sustainable consumption and production, the gulf between the targets and the reality remarks stark.
Scotland is one of the first countries to commit publicly to SDGs. The Scottish Government has held a series of consultations to test the alignment between the SDGs and the National Performance Framework (NPF), which measures and reports on progress of government in Scotland. This will result in a wholly refreshed framework being launched this summer.
A key tenet is the collaborative approach which underpins Scotland’s strategy to implementing the goals: partnership working between the public, private and third sectors with civil society is at the heart of the UN’s agenda.
Roger Halliday, chief statistician and data officer at the Scottish Government believes Scotland has an important role to play: “Scotland’s National Performance Framework is not new and this year will mark the tenth anniversary since it was first introduced. As with the UN goals, this aligns public services and others behind the end goals we collectively want for our country. As such, the overarching principles of our framework are ideally suited to helping Scotland to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
The UKSSD report will include recommended actions if we are to meet the 2030 deadline. The renewed NPF will frame the national implementation of the SDGS in Scotland. We have been asked to do something that has never been done before but in an increasingly unpredictable world, people and most governments want faster and more visible progress.
Despite being a global agenda, the implementation of the goals implies nationally adaptable, resource conserving policies and activities carefully tailored to the biocultural uniqueness of each country. It was once said: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
We have a mountain to climb. And the journey can start in Scotland.