Last week the Government finally responded to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report on its inquiry on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UK.

UKSSD and several organisations in our network provided evidence to the EAC so we’re pleased the Government has responded. There are still things we would like to see the Government progress, but there are some positive signs that things are moving forwards.

1. Government commits to Voluntary National Review

At the beginning of the month we welcomed the news that the Government has committed to presenting a Voluntary National Review (VNR) at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2019. That commitment is reiterated again in its response to the EAC report.

This means our work to develop a national plan for the SDGs in the UK is more acute. The stakeholder-led review of progress that we will create is a crucial step in generating a partnership with Government so we can work together to deliver the SDGs. It will provide it with a politically neutral foundation from which to build its own report, and will help us to build momentum and support for the SDGs in the UK.

Our process is bottom-up and will demonstrate an exemplary approach for Government to learn from and replicate. 

2. Single Departmental Plans to integrate SDG targets

The Government has re-emphasised that it will use Single Departmental Plans (SDPs) to integrate the SDG targets. We broadly support this, but reserve judgement until we understand how these will be used for implementation and whether they set out a clear approach to achieve the relevant targets in the UK. More importantly, we see the need for an overarching strategy to ensure policy coherence and integration between the SDPs. This will ensure we are addressing the targets that fall across departments and are their joint responsibility.

The Government still needs to be clear how it will report on the totality of the SDG targets within the SDPs. The independent reporting from the Office of National Statistics will not include a narrative on policy planning. A central government report would be the result of a comprehensive national plan.

3. Stakeholder engagement

The Government explicitly recognises that “partnership and multi-stakeholder participation in the process is essential – from citizens, from civil society groups, from business” but doesn’t outline a mechanism to support such engagement. 

Using current mechanisms on a departmental by departmental basis will not be good enough. This is where UKSSD can play its role. We need to work with the whole of government on the essential engagement with stakeholders if we have any hope of serious progress.

The Government’s response has helped to clarify that what we had understood is correct. We are particularly pleased that it has committed to a VNR in 2019. But it’s disappointing that the response to the EAC report does not address the question of coherent planning across departments or respond to our continued call for a mechanism to engage stakeholders. 

If you’d like to take part in our national plan, as a reviewer or contributor, there is still time to register your interest. Please read our project information and sign up here.

To find out more about our work or become a partner of the network please contact us.