We’ve voted, what now for sustainable development?

After the pause in action following the calling of a snap election Emily Auckland asks what’s next for UKSSD’s work on the Sustainable Development Goals with the Government?

In January we celebrated the success of our Open Letter to Prime Minister Theresa May where we asked her to work with business and other stakeholders to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UK. When she wrote back to us we started to feel that we’d finally achieved something our network had been fighting for ever since we set it up. But very soon the brakes were put on when the PM called the snap general election and the context of our conversations shifted to ‘after the election’ or ‘with the next Government’.

Things didn’t quite go to plan for the Conservative party and it seems we’re all a bit bemused by the current situation. Having waited for the election outcome, we’re now left wondering what to do now to engage the Government in taking the SDGs forward?

The current situation doesn’t look too promising, but…

The failure of Theresa May to secure a majority, the conjecture and challenges she and the Government are facing, and the alliances that have formed since last Thursday don’t bode well. Uncertainty and instability are not good things for long-term thinking, and it’s long-term thinking that’s needed for the SDGs.

Having said that, the failure to secure a majority has opened the door for opposition parties to better challenge policies and to do more to hold the Government to account. It’s worth remembering that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats recognised and committed to the SDGs in their manifestos – perhaps it’s time to focus on the opposition?

We also shouldn’t forget the opportunity presented to us through local government devolution. The new Mayors will be working hard on their local plans and now is the time for us to offer to work with them. 

Changing the narrative 

It’s believed by many that the more unequal and divided a society, the more likely the rise of discontent within its populace. When you consider the increasing inequality in the UK, the distrust of politicians and decision-makers and the disconnect between ages, localities and income levels it’s not surprising the election outcome has left us all feeling a bit unsettled.

If politicians want to rebuild trust (and let’s be honest, if you want to get re-elected you need public trust) then they need to communicate with people and organisations in a way that is meaningful. The tone of the dialogue needs to change and the SDGs present an opportunity for that. It’s clear that with the Conservative Government we’re going to struggle to get them to engage with the SDGs in the way we’d like. Perhaps we need to focus instead on the issues within the framework and find ways to use them to open a space for dialogue.

Politicians also need to find a way to hear the voices of their constituents. We, the organisations in the UKSSD network, need to make it clear that we’re willing to engage and to work with them to make the UK a better place for all. We can act as a conduit for the government on all the issues that fall under the banner of sustainable development, and let’s face it, that’s basically everything.

Just get on with it

We often hear from organisations that they need some indication from the Government that they support the SDGs before they’re prepared to fully commit. Sometimes it feels like it’s an excuse to stick with the status quo and the easy option. If you look back at the great societal changes in history, for example the abolition of slavery or votes for women, these didn’t occur because the government initiated them. We must make the SDGs and the future they embody happen in the same way - we won’t get there if we’re waiting for the Government to go it alone.

There are some brilliant, innovative and heartening examples of action on the SDGs. Look at the Global Opportunity Explorer to see some of them or look at the practical projects of some of our partners like Hubbub or Bioregional. These examples aren’t led by government, other people and organisations are making them happen. So while looking to engage with government and politicians, maybe we at UKSSD just need to get on with it too.