The Sustainable Development Goals in the UK 

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, or “the Global Goals”) are an initiative of the United Nations.

Together, the Global Goals set out an ambitious agenda for a better world by 2030 – fairer, safer, healthier, more prosperous and in better balance with nature. The goals have been described as “the closest thing the world has to a strategy”.

The Global Goals were born out of a vast consultation process and were ratified by 193 global leaders in September 2015. There are 17 goals, with 169 targets sitting underneath them, covering every facet of life on Earth – social, economic and environmental. 

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals which preceded them, the SDGs are not primarily focused on developing countries;  they are about sustainability everywhere.

The SDGs are a common blueprint for a sustainable future - as relevant to communities, households and individuals as they are to governments, businesses, and NGOs.

What's happened in the UK?

Our work to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals in th UK from 2015-2020 



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The Sustainable Development Goals are agreed by world leaders 

Transforming our world: the agenda 2030 for sustainable development, and with it the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is agreed by world leaders at the United Nations including then Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron. Cameron played an integral role as co-chair of the High-Level Panel established by the UN Secretary General in the four-year inter-governmental process which led to the agreement of member states that the 17 SDGs and their 169 accompanying targets would be achieved by 2030.

A group of organisations is concerned that the goals are not being used to end poverty, reduce inequalities and combat the nature and climate emergencies in the UK. Responsibility for their implementation is assigned to the Department for International Development – a small department with limited influence and no mandate for domestic policymaking.


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During the course of 2016 UKSSD works to raise awareness of the SDGs with organisations, growing its network and sharing the expertise of its Partners on the goals. Later in the year it submits evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee and Environmental Audit Committee inquiries on the SDGs.


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Newcastle University researchers publish initial evidence on the gaps in the UK’s performance on the SDG targets.


Building on the success of our launch, in April 2017 UKSSD hosts a bigger conference to explore how the SDGs can transform the UK. The conference leads to the partnership doubling within a few months.

In November we launch a plan to review how the UK is performing on the SDGs to pressure the Government to commit to producing a Voluntary National Review – part of the UN’s review mechanism for the SDGs.​ In December the UK Government commits to doing so. 

Businesses call on Prime Minister to act on the Sustainable Development Goals

Frustrated by the lack of government leadership, we publish a letter from over 80 major businesses in The Times calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to demonstrate her Government’s commitment to delivering the SDGs in the UK and overseas. The PM responded to the letter later i the year.


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Our landmark report, Measuring up, shows that the UK is only performing well on 24% of the SDG targets 

Following 10 months of research by over 100 organisations, in July 2018 we launch our landmark report, Measuring up, to Government Ministers at the House of Commons. It is welcomed by them as an important contribution to the UK Voluntary National Review. We later receive a letter from the Prime Minister acknowledging the input Measuring up will make to the review.  

Later in the year, to mark the end of interfaith week in November, religious leaders from the Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist faiths write to the Prime Minister highlighting concerns about poverty and inequality in the UK, and the increasingly hostile attitudes towards immigrants. They call on her to work with the faith community to implement the SDGs.


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Throughout 2019 UKSSD works with allies in the Bond SDG Group, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Global Goals, and Project Everyone to achieve the best outcome from the UK Voluntary National Review (VNR). 


We call on the Government to:

  • Commit to developing a coherent and robust plan for the implementation of the SDGs which should be developed with stakeholders, including devolved and local government and civil society.

  • Commit to a mechanism for stakeholder engagement for the implementation of the SDGs to 2030. For example, setting up a multi-stakeholder advisory group.

Our work includes facilitating a meeting between our partners and Cabinet Minister, Oliver Dowden and working with departments to ensure as many organisations are engaged as possible. In March 2019 our Network Director, Emily Auckland, gives oral evidence to the International Development Select Committee inquiry on the VNR process. The inquiry report references UKSSD’s evidence on the failures in the process throughout.

In June, the UK Government launches it's VNR which commits to the creation of a stakeholder engagement mechanism for the SDGs and to ‘review and further strengthen the existing means and mechanisms’ of implementing the Goals – no further details are provided.

UKSSD partners assess the Voluntary National Review in detail and score it on eleven best practice requirements, it does not perform well on any of them. 

The first UK workshop on cities and the Sustainable Development Goals

With researchers at the University of Sheffield we host the first workshop with UK cities on localising the  SDGs. We convene 20 city representatives for two days of immersive discussion about barries and opportunities for implementing the SDGs in their localities. 


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We launch Our SDG Action Plan for the UK

Our Partners join us at Nando's Innovation Kitchen for an evening of fun and celebration as we welcome in 2020 and the Decade of Action with the launch of Our SDG Action Plan. 

Following the launch of our SDG Action Plan and to welcome Boris Johnson’s new Government, in January we publish a brief to the PM for the implementation of the SDGs in the UK. The brief identifies three priorities:

  • A Minister in Cabinet with a domestic mandate to lead the UK’s efforts to implement the SDGs

  • A commitment to develop an ambitious and comprehensive plan for the implementation of the SDGs

  • Further clarity on the purpose of the stakeholder engagement mechanism to which the Government committed when it published the review and which UKSSD has welcomed

In a letter coordinated by UKSSD and the Global Compact Network UK, over 150 leaders from business, civil society and public life call on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to use the SDGs to frame and futureproof the UK’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is supported by a series of podcasts, events and discussions with UKSSD partners on the role of the SDGs in creating a future that is socially just and green.

The Sustainable Development Goals: A guide for Councils published

guide to the SDGs for local councils, commissioned by the Local Government Association, is published. It provides councils with a simple four step process for engaging with and localising the SDGs.