Single Departmental Plans and the Sustainable Development Goals

The UK Government’s Single Departmental Plans could be a key cross-Government mechanism for planning delivery of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals but from what we’ve seen so far, more work is needed if they’re to achieve that. Georgina Chandler from RSPB shares this analysis from the Bond SDG Group.

The arrival of the UK Government’s Single Departmental Plans (SDPs) has been much anticipated as a key cross-Government mechanism for planning delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Each Whitehall department has had to produce an SDP, providing it with an opportunity to communicate its key priorities. The UK Government’s report, Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals, confirmed that the SDGs would be “embedded in the SDPs”. Government has also stated previously that the SDPs would fulfil the role of a national implementation plan for the SDGs.

The Bond SDG Grop offers these  reflections following the publication of the Single Departmental Plans and the Cabinet Office Corporate Report, Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, in December 2017.

1. Cabinet Office Report: It’s positive that the Cabinet Office has followed through on its commitment to publish a report that aims to articulate how delivery of the SDGs is embedded in the Government’s corporate planning process, and that the Cabinet Office’s webpage brings different material together into one place.

2. Commitment to the SDGs: It’s also positive to have a strong statement of support for the Goals in the Cabinet Office Report: “The UK is committed to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals”. If done in sufficient detail, embedding the Goals into departmental plans is an important part of responding to them.

3. The Single Departmental Plans do not link to specific SDG goals and targets. The Government committed to embedding the SDGs in the SDPs, providing an integrated strategy that cuts across all Government departments. The SDPs include content that obviously contributes to SDG delivery, but there is no reference to specific SDG goals or targets alongside them. The lack of specific references to individual Goals and targets in the SDPs makes it difficult to see how they fulfil the role of a national implementation plan of the SDGs.

4. It is not clear that the departments understand and ‘own’ the SDG commitments. The only SDPs that included reference to the SDGs were the Department for International Development (DFID) and HMRC. It is therefore unclear if the departments know and understand how their work is contributing to, and accountable for, delivering on certain SDG Goals and targets. The published SDPs provide the reader with little indication that different parts of Government have embedded the SDGs in their plans and understand the required commitments.

5. No way to assess if the SDGs are ‘on track’. There are no baselines, nor any assessment of the status of different goals and targets, nor a framework for assessment contained within the SDPs. It is therefore unclear how Office of National Statistics will be able to use the SDPs to assess progress, or how the SDPs could be used to help the UK Government report to the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2019*.

6. The Cabinet Office Report “Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals” is very generic. The intention is to show how different elements of the SDPs contribute to delivering the SDGs. However, in many cases, when considering a specific SDG the link is to a whole SDP without any detail on how department plans are going contribute to achieving specific Goals and targets.

7. Gaps in SDG delivery: The Cabinet Office report does not look at SDG delivery across the 17 Goals and all their associated targets. It is therefore impossible to tell how fully the Government is responding or if there are gaps. The Cabinet Office report indicates that the UK Government is not covering some target areas at all. It appears that the Government has chosen some target areas that can be matched to existing plans rather than how it might make plans to address each of the targets. In other words, the Government has ‘retrofitted’ the SDGs to the SDPs rather than identify how it will deliver against each SDG Goal and target.

8. Misaligned SDG targets: Many SDG targets are not covered in the Cabinet Office report or do not appear to be linked correctly in the Cabinet Office report. Take for example Goal 12 to “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”. The Government offers two ways that it will deliver on the goal: 1) Manage our energy legacy safely and responsibly, and; 2) We will deliver safe, cost effective and environmentally sensitive decommissioning of offshore oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea. These two interventions would seem more appropriate, however, under SDG 7 on Affordable and Clean Energy, and the Cabinet Office report makes no link to any of the 8 targets that actually comprise Goal 12.

The intention of the Government to make more visible its commitments to delivering the SDGs is promising, but the current SDPs and accompanying Cabinet Office report on SDGs need more work if they’re to provide departments and stakeholders with a comprehensive plan for implementing the Goals.

Shared with UKSSD by the Bond SDG Group.