Almost a year since we published our landmark report, Measuring up, parliamentarians took part in the first Commons debate on the Sustainable Development Goals since they were agreed in 2015. As momentum continues to build, UKSSD Network Director Emily Auckland explains why she refuses to be swayed from her belief that the UK can achieve the Goals. 

1. We’ve got a Secretary of State who gets it

In the end, it is all very well setting these kinds of goals, wearing the kind of badge that I am wearing and signing up to the things that we believe in, but this is about leadership right the way through Government.

Rory Stewart, Secretary of State for International Development.

He may not be in post for much longer but in the short time he has been, Rory Stewart has kick-started efforts for the UK Government to proactively lead the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And he seems to really understand them. He’s also not afraid of being humble, and humble is what we need when faced with the challenges we have as a country.

2. Better business, better UK

Whether it’s the letter sent to the Government to legislate for a net-zero economy by 2050, packaging-free trials, the #LivingHours campaign, or projects like The Body Shop’s and Bloody Good Period, UK businesses are stepping up to the challenges reflected in the SDGs.

While often accused of ‘green washing’ or ‘cherry picking’, part of the corporate community is increasing its engagement with the Goals and has started to recognise that business as usual is not enough.

3. Parliamentarians use their powers of scrutiny

Two parliamentary committees continue their stalwart scrutiny of the Government’s performance on the SDGs. And as was evident from the parliamentary debate, our efforts are not escaping their notice either:

I endorse UKSSD’s recommendation that the VNR ‘should include steps towards the creation of a plan or strategy for implementing’ the goals.

Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the International Development Select Committee

4. Local action for local needs

While there’s a strong need for national action, the SDGs must also be delivered in communities across the UK. Local circumstances must be taken in to consideration and the best way to do this is for responsibility to be with local decision-makers and organisations who care about the places they live and work in. Earlier this month, we were thrilled to co-host the first UK cities meeting on the SDGs to explore how city authorities can translate this national framework into local action.

5. The health of our planet is in the public consciousness

Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg, school strikes, plastic, insectaggedon. It seems the health of our planet is embedded in our national consciousness in a way it hasn’t been before. The Climate Change Act was amended from an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 to a 100% reduction. This is evidence of the impact public support can have on politics. And yes, we have a long way to go and the UK is off track to achieve the 2020 biodiversity targets in the SDGs, but we have to use this renewed interest to keep the momentum up. 

6. Innovative ways of thinking

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Albert Einstein

The SDGs recognise the interconnectedness of our world and so push us to develop new solutions to its most pressing challenges. Our partners have started to work together on a project to transform our food system by using their cross-sector influence to challenge UK stakeholders to provide healthy, affordable and sustainable food for all.  

7. The power of collaboration

“Look what happens when we work together.” I said that at the launch of Measuring Up and I mean it – when we work together in genuine partnership we can make amazing things happen.

This is happening more and more in response to the SDGs: from the people and organisations across Bristol who have got behind the city’s Voluntary Local Review on the SDGs, to the Liverpool2030 hub, communities and organisations across the UK are working together to make the SDGs a reality.

But it’s not just communities – national groups like Scotland’s SDG Network and global group Alliance 8.7 are coming together to accelerate the Goals.

8. People and partnership equal change

If UKSSD has taught me one thing, it’s that when diverse and passionate individuals get together with a shared purpose, they create change. It might not always feel like it, and sometimes it feels more like incremental change when we need a step-change, but it’s change nonetheless.

Emily Auckland is UKSSD's Network Director. Join UKSSD today and be part of the network accelerating progress on the SDGs in the UK.