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Government neglecting UN sustainability goals, says EAC

The UK is not doing enough to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), says a new report by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), although UK action on food waste was briefly highlighted as a ‘good example’.

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The report, ‘Sustainable Development Goals in the UK’, has criticised the UK government for its lack of ambition concerning the goals, and for taking a largely outward-looking ‘doughnut approach’ focusing on helping other countries to meet the targets rather than looking closer to home.

The 17 goals, which include targets to create sustainable cities, responsible consumption and protect both the land and marine environment by 2030, were adopted by 193 UN member states in September 2015.

However, the EAC’s inquiry into the UK’s approach to the goals found that the government has ‘failed to set out a clear plan’ on domestic action, despite the ‘significant economic opportunities’ that embracing the goals would bring.

MP Mary Creagh, Chair of the EAC, said: “Ours is the generation which can end poverty and ensure that our children inherit a fairer, healthier and more sustainable country. That is what the Global Goals are all about.

“As the UK leaves the EU, the government has a once in a generation opportunity to use the Global Goals to forge a cross-party consensus on sustainable development in the UK. However, the Government seems to regard the Goals as a developing world issue and has no clear plan to implement them domestically.

“During this general election campaign, politicians of all parties should show their commitment to ending poverty, violence and hunger here in the UK, so that we can build a ‘Global Britain’ where no one is left behind.”

Lack of action

The report noted that businesses and charities lead the way when it comes to making progress towards the SDGs, with the government falling behind. The Business & Sustainable Development Commission estimated that the economic reward for businesses implementing the goals could be worth up to US$12 trillion (£9.36 trillion) by 2030. It recommended that the government do more to support those companies already adopting the goals and incentivise others to do likewise, promoting ‘responsible business behaviour’.

A lack of accountability from the government was cited in the report as responsible for the lack of action being taken to address the goals in the UK. The report made several recommendations for the government to address this, including:

  • Establish an independent advisory body, providing evidence-based advice and auditing successive governments’ performance against the goals;
  • Publish a report setting out plans to take an integrated approach to implementing the goals in the UK; and
  • Appoint a cabinet level minister with strategic responsibility for implementing sustainable development, including the goals, across government

According to the report, there is little awareness in the UK about the goals, and that a national conversation on their implementation is needed. It recommended that the government work with news outlets and the national media on a public information campaign about the SDGs and to highlight ways in which the public can support steps towards achieving them.

Progress made on food waste

The report did note the government’s efforts towards reducing food waste as a good example of supporting companies to engage with the goals, in particular Goal 12, which relates to responsible consumption and production.

The Champions 12.3 coalition, established in January 2016 to inspire action on target 12.3 to halve per capita food waste by 2030, was formed with significant input from the Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP) and Tesco, and in the subsequent months has sought to convince businesses and governments on the benefits of addressing food waste. A report published this year found that businesses could save an equivalent of $14 for every $1 spent on reducing food waste.

Government neglecting UN sustainability goals, says EAC

Evidence provided to the inquiry by WRAP concluded that UK performance on food waste policy and the circular economy has been strong, with voluntary targets being effective in helping to reduce waste, despite ‘upward pressures’ affecting this including a rising population and reductions in food prices.

As a comparison, the report featured a case study on the Colombian government, highlighting their campaign to reduce national food waste in pursuit of Goal 12, which increased awareness of the SDGs across all levels of government, even bringing in a bill specifically targeting food waste. As a result, Colombian citizens were encouraged to be proactive in reducing food waste in their households.

More than 50 groups and organisations, including WRAP and international waste management firm SUEZ submitted evidence for the report, and the EAC hosted five public evidence sessions. Cabinet-level ministers were invited to give evidence to the committee, but declined to do so.

The evidence can be viewed along with the report, on the EAC website.

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