UK failing to take SDGs seriously enough, MPs claim

19 Jul 19

An influential Parliamentary committee has condemned the way in which Britain has reported on its progress in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, accusing the government of not taking the issue seriously enough.

In a highly critical report on the UK’s first “Voluntary National Review” of progress on the global targets to end poverty, released this week, the International Development Committee outlined serious shortcomings in the way in which the review had been conducted.

Stephen Twigg MP, the committee chair, said the government’s progress report should have provided a clear indication of how far the UK has progressed towards meeting the SDGs. Instead, “we have found both the preparation and the presentation of the VNR to be gravely flawed.”

He added: “We fear that the priority and resources committed to the VNR process – and the whole SDGs agenda – reflect a lack of engagement and understanding at the heart of, and throughout, the UK government.”

In its review of the way in which Britain’s government compiled and presented its first VNR – published earlier this month – the committee indicated this had taken far too long, with some countries having produced two such progress reports since 2015.

Although it took  the government 19 months to produce the VNR, most of the work was left to the last few months and engagement with stakeholders was “ad hoc” and “superficial.”

The VNR itself was selective and partial, relying on “cherry-picked data”, context-free snapshots and positive vignettes in order to present an optimistic assessment, the report said.

MPs indicated that the implications of these failings in the VNR is that the UK government is not taking the SDG initiative seriously.

The report stated: “Placing the responsibility for implementation of the SDGs—and by extension the Voluntary National Review—in the Department for International Development is simply wrong.”

It said: “The message in this arrangement is that the SDG initiative is one for developing countries (when the whole point of the agenda is the shared and global nature of the goals). It is clear that the VNR—and UK implementation of the SDGs more generally—should be the responsibility of the Cabinet Office.”

In its VNR, the government claimed that in terms of the domestic application of the SDGs, it had ticked the boxes in several key areas, although some observers gave it mixed reviews. For instance, last year the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development, a coalition of NGOs,  provided a “score card” in which the UK was performing “well” in less than a quarter (24%) of its domestic targets.

  • Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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