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One Year Into The Global Goals And The UK Is No Further Ahead

The Global Goals were adopted by the UN General Assembly a year ago this week. As those assembled in New York prepare to celebrate their first birthday, back in the UK the Government's response remains slow and disappointing.
Ed Freeman via Getty Images

The Global Goals were adopted by the UN General Assembly a year ago this week. As those assembled in New York prepare to celebrate their first birthday, back in the UK the Government's response remains slow and disappointing.

In September 2015, New York was alive with the promise of a new set of Global Goals. The negotiation process had been the most inclusive in history and the final set of Goals reflected the greatest global challenges of our age; from conflict to climate change and inequality to industrialisation.

These new Goals were different to the Millennium Development Goals as they were universal and applicable to developed and developing countries alike. David Cameron and Justine Greening, the then UK Prime Minister and Secretary of State for International Development, took the platform at numerous meetings and stated unequivocally the Government's full commitment to this agenda, at home and overseas.

That is why - one year on - the Government's response is so disappointing. Just over three months ago the International Development Committee, which I chair, published a report into UK Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. We highlighted concerns that the Government's response to the agenda had, up to that point, been insufficient, particularly in the domestic sphere. Although a cross-government response was needed, the Goals were conspicuously absent from departmental plans across Government, and Ministers remained convinced that this transformational agenda would require minimal change to the way they were already working.

Most surprisingly, the full weight of responsibility - for both international and domestic implementation - had been placed on the Department for International Development. This indicated that the then Prime Minister saw this as an agenda for developing countries, rather than one for ourselves. But domestically, the Goals provided an opportunity to address head on some of our biggest problems; the challenge of sustainability, of seriously tackling climate change and of reducing income inequality, an area where the UK has underperformed compared to its peers for thirty years. The Government did not seem to be taking this huge agenda seriously enough.

So where are we one year on from the Global Goals, and three months on from our report? It would appear, no further along. This week, we publish the Government's response to our extensive report into UK implementation of the Goals, and it is disappointing. There is still no timetable for the promised cross-government national implementation plan, no promise to prioritise the Goals within departmental plans, and a continued insistence that the Conservative party manifesto equates to a full response to this incredibly ambitious and potentially transformative global agenda.

The full weight of responsibility for delivering the Goals also appears to be with the Department for International Development, although when the new Secretary of State appeared in front of our Committee last week, she indicated the Cabinet Office would take the lead on this. The lines of accountability remain unclear.

The Government's argument will no doubt be that it has only been a year since the Goals were agreed, that the indicators are not yet finalised and so the full parameters of the Goals are not yet fully in place. That might be more compelling if other countries were not so much further ahead. A number of countries are placing responsibility for implementation of the Goals under the office of the Prime Minister or creating specific mechanisms to bring together Ministers of several different departments. To date, our Government has put no such mechanism in place.

Both at home and abroad, the Goals provide an opportunity to address head-on some of the greatest problems of our time. From irreversible changes to our climate, to protracted and violent conflict and the biggest global migration crisis we have ever seen, the world is facing incredible challenges. The SDGs are full of big aspirations, built on the hope that countries might work together to solve global problems, from eradicating poverty and hunger to ensuring gender and income equality and creating a safer, more sustainable world for future generations. It could have a positive impact on all of us, but will require commitment and a willingness to change.

As the Government charts the way forward following June's referendum, the Goals have never been more important or more relevant. Given that significant resources will need to be put behind the Government's efforts to leave the European Union, if the Goals are not placed front and centre, we stand no chance of playing a leading role in their achievement. The new Government could choose to give priority to the Goals, embedding them within our response to the challenge of a post-Brexit Britain that works for us all. We must continue to hold the Government's feet to the fire and insist that they follow through on the promises that were made.

Stephen Twigg is the Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby and chair of the International Development Select Committee