Why we need parliament if we're to deliver the SDGs

5 December 2016
Author: Nienke Palstra

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present a transformative agenda to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. Changing the world is no easy task.

Governments typically find the big jobs are the ones they like least; they take years to achieve, when our current ministers will be long gone. It is down to parliament to ensure the scrutiny and activity that will ensure the necessary laws and resources are in place to deliver what is needed.

We have seen MPs in the UK increasingly helped raise noise in the chamber on the SDGs. Recently, there was an International Development Committee report which found that the government’s response to domestic delivery of the Goals, “has so far been insufficient for a country which led on their development as being universal and applicable to all.”

A parliamentary debate was held in November to discuss the report’s findings and UK progress against the SDGs. It was in this context that Bond’s SDGs Group put together a list of key issues to arm Parliamentarians to help ensure any government does its job when it comes to delivering the SDGs.

5 key steps for UK implementation of the SDGs

  • Highlight the importance of high level and global leadership by the government on the SDGs, particularly in a post-referendum context.
  • Challenge the weak government response to domestic delivery of the goals so far, which risks presenting the SDGs as mainly an overseas agenda.
  • Make the case for getting the basics in place for cross-government coordination, leadership and a clear plan for SDG delivery.
  • Call for all of DFID’s work to be underpinned by the SDGs - the recently published Civil Society Review were a missed opportunity to do so, while the SDGs were at the centre of the Multilateral and Bilateral Development reviews and forward looking plans.
  • Finally, call to prioritise action to tackle inequality and meet the Leave No One Behind promise both overseas and in the UK - where evidence suggests more people than ever before are being ‘left behind’ as social mobility worsens.

Parliamentary debate on the SDGs

During the discussion, MPs revisited the IDC report’s concerns, including the lack of clarity on where responsibility for implementation lies in government, the delay in producing the government’s report on SDG implementation – described by the IDC committee chair as “deeply worrying” – and the fact that many countries, such as Germany, are pulling ahead of the UK.

Amongst the other issues discussed were: the importance of the Leave No One behind principle in the UK context as well as globally; data disaggregation as a way to expose hidden inequalities; progress in devolved nations; role of the private sector; integration with the climate change agenda; and the need for robust accountability mechanisms.

Looking forward

While awaiting the government’s implementation plans, the Bond SDGs group welcomed the important role parliamentary committees are playing to maintain momentum and scrutinise progress on the Goals.

The IDC report had recommended all select committees engage with SDGs where they are relevant to their sectors, and several committees are now doing so, notably the Environmental Audit Committee – to which we were invited to provide oral evidence last week – and the Women and Equalities Committee.

Continued involvement of parliaments will be key during the next 15 years and as highlighted by Stephen Twigg, chair of the IDC, for the UK, "there is no time to waste". 

About the author

Nienke Palstra
Unicef UK

Nienke is Policy and Advocacy Adviser (Child Protection) at Unicef UK. Nienke is also co-chair of the Bond SDGs group.