Our 2030 action plan has been launched. But why are we doing it? Our Co-chair Jeff Twentyman explains why the action plan is crucial for the UK if it’s to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Hidden away behind a non-descript door of a non-descript building in South London is a secret room. Stepping into it is like walking into a tropical Narnia. You leave behind the grey drizzle and emerge amongst a cosy South African-inspired den, with green plants climbing the walls and enticing smells of PERi PERi wafting through the air. This is the home of Nando’s secret test kitchen. Its where culinary magic happens and, last night, was where the UK’s future for was laid out – and it could not have come soon enough, with David Attenborough warning just today that we’re at a “climate crisis moment”.

The time to act is now

2020 is a critical moment in our history. The start of this new decade marks 10 years for the UK’s ambition of the SDGs to be realised: a future where everyone in the UK can live a good life on a healthy planet. But to achieve this, we need to work together.

So thanks to Nando’s, our wonderful hosts for the evening and one of UKSSD’s partners, and alongside organisations such as WWF, Nestle and Suez we gathered 100 people in the experimental and stylish venue to celebrate the launch of something special: our 2030 action plan for UK. A plan to ensure that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not only worked towards, but completely accomplished by the end of the decade.

Its purpose is to ensure that organisations are working together on the complex challenges we face in the world, as presented to us by the SDGs. Organisations and government will need significantly different ways of doing things within the next ten years. Business as usual is over. 

During the launch, Nando’s Head of Sustainability, Henry Unwin, captured perfectly the reason for this ambitious plan:

Whilst I am proud of the bold steps that we are taking to reduce the impact we have on our planet, it’s still not enough. What we are doing within our own four walls will not create systemic change at the scale we need. We must collaborate - with citizens, other restaurants, government, wider business and industry.

This is what the UKSSD is all about: collaboration. 2020 is a great year for everyone to get involved in shaping the transformation. If we can achieve the Goals in the UK, the outcome would mean a good life for everyone on a thriving planet.

Our action plan

To get there, the plan outlines 3 necessary steps:

1. Getting the right structures and processes in government

The Goals have the potential to ensure that government, at local and national scales, makes coherent policy decisions that don’t undermine each other. They can also help create co-benefits, where a single intervention has a positive impact on more than one issue.

To do that we need the right structures and processes in place. We’ve worked tirelessly for five years to encourage the UK Government to do more – to show greater leadership and work on appropriate procedures. We’ve seen some success in this, such as their decision to create a stakeholder engagement mechanism. But it is not enough.

We will keep working with our partners so that these victories continue, starting with the brief we’re sending to the Prime Minister next week on his role in guaranteeing the UK achieves the Goals.

However, the political context means we need to focus on alternative ways of ensuring the SDGs are achieved as well. Last year saw an increase in engagement from local government in the UK, particularly at a city council level, but also in other localities across the country. We want to capitalise on this and recognise that local government is a driving force in sustainable development. So, we’re also focusing our work to support local government and other stakeholders to localise the Goals across the UK.

2. Understanding the UK’s performance on the Goals

We need an understanding of the UK’s performance on the SDGs on an ongoing basis. When we published Measuring up, we were motivated to do so because despite the incredible work of the Office of National Statistics (ONS), we didn’t have a comprehensive understanding of gaps in our performance, any why those gaps exist.

Our scorecard of the UK Government’s Voluntary National Review (VNR) showed that being honest and recognising the challenges we face is always going to be hard, especially if that’s the responsibility of the Government. As was said when the VNR was published, it has the potential to give the opposition a stick to beat the Government with, so why would they volunteer to do that?  

But it’s crucial we know what is really happening across the UK. Otherwise we can never work to properly accomplish the Goals. We therefore need a system for the independent monitoring and review of progress, so we’ll be working to put one in place. 

And while we wait for this to happen, we’re committing to updating Measuring up on an ongoing basis. This will start with the targets that are relevant to the food system in 2020.

3. Working together to transform systems

At the heart of the SDGs is the recognition that we live in an interconnected world made up of systems that influence each other. The only way we’re going to overcome the challenges we face is if we recognise that these systems exist, as well as the role we have in perpetuating patterns that are detrimental or damaging.

To do that, we must come up with solutions that we work on together, across sectors and industries, so we transform the entire system.

In December, we launched our Food Systems programme. Working with our partners, we’ll be launching a further four systems programmes designed to enable cross-sector collaboration on the SDGs. The Food Systems programme starts next week with a workshop for programme partners to design a roadmap for the food sector, to be published later this year.

Hope for the future

I’m delighted to see such strong, courageous and collaborative action happening to ensure that the world is a better place for all people. In amongst all the fun and feasting of last night’s event, we shared an ambitious plan with ambitious people for what we, as the UK’s leading stakeholder network for the SDGs, can start to do right now to help the UK achieve the Goals.

It’s going to be a busy decade – we hope you’ll be there with us as we create the future for the UK that we all want and deserve.

Jeff Twentyman is Co-chair of UKSSD. You can help make our action plan a reality by joining UKSSD