Smoke and mirrors? The UK Voluntary National Review Main Messages

On 17 May the UK Government published its Main Messages from its Voluntary National Review (VNR) on the Sustainable Development Goals. In this blog Dominic White, advocacy lead for the UKSSD Steering Group, explains why the reflective tone is positive, but the absence of detail continues to leave us waiting for the review itself.  

According to UN guidance, the Main Messages should give an indication of the principal findings of the review including any areas for further action.

Although we welcome the UK’s Main Messages and the timely communication of it, it’s fair to say the substance is limited, with no reference to the pressing challenges we face in the UK and with little to indicate what the review itself will contain.

A positive outcome

Despite our continued calls to strengthen the institutional arrangements and demonstrate the leadership needed to deliver the SDGs in the UK, the VNR process does seem to be finally creating a shift in the Government’s understanding of the Goals.

The reflective tone of the Main Messages, though not entirely what is expected, do show a recognition that more work is needed and lessons are being learnt. The recognition that ‘the Goals have helped the Government to ‘reconsider our approach in the UK – a vision that is not just about raising incomes’, suggests some understanding of the interconnected nature of our world and what this means for governance is being established. But it doesn’t explicitly mention any of this. We hope the statement ‘sustainable development depends not just upon government but also on civil society and the private sector’, leads to a multi-stakeholder governance mechanism to support SDGs in the future.

What we’d like to see 

Despite the positive tone, it’s also reasonable for us to be frustrated that this understanding is only just developing, four years after the UK Government committed to the Goals. We are also frustrated about the continued lack of clarity about the VNR itself.

With the VNR due in a few weeks’ time, we’re hopeful it will contain some meaningful commitments to institutional mechanisms, including stakeholder engagement, and specific details on what sort of actions are needed to deliver the targets.

A clear plan to address SDGs across the country might just be the ticket our new Prime Minister needs to generate some purpose and stability in these uncertain times.

Dominic White is Head of Sustainable Development Policy at WWF-UK and advocacy lead for the UKSSD Steering Group.