Driving the SDGs – whose hand is on the steering wheel?

29 November 2016

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 major world issues that 193 countries have come together to tackle. While the UK has committed to the SDGs, it appears Brexit is taking the limelight. It’s hard to see evidence of a robust plan of action to achieve them. So, one year after ratification, what progress has been made?

Well, the International Development Committee launched an inquiry in 2015 into our domestic and international focus, with its findings summarised in a report on the “UK implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals”. The Government has announced it will produce another report by the end of the year outlining the approach to SDG implementation. And the Environmental Audit Committee is currently running an inquiry into the domestic implementation of the SDGs on how to implement and measure the SDGs. In fact, my colleague Geoff Lane, PwC Sustainability and climate change partner, gave evidence as part of the inquiry last week.  

With the clock ticking, wouldn’t a comprehensive, strategic plan be useful to engage business and society? Perhaps, as a developed country, the UK doesn’t see the need for applying SDGs domestically. Last year, Tom Bigg from IRF member, IIED, said: "Sustainability has to start at home if it is to work on a global scale. The government’s position seems to be that the SDGs are relevant predominantly for developing countries, when in fact they are just as important for the UK itself.” In fact, Ministers from DFID and the Cabinet Office say that the UK is broadly compliant with the goals already.

Data, however, tells a different story. Currently, a fifth of the UK population is living in poverty; income inequality is ranked one of the highest in OECD countries; air pollution levels in London are well above legal levels and are responsible for more than 9,000 premature deaths each year.

We’ve taken a closer look too. Our SDG Selector calculates an overall performance score for each SDG (based on underlying indicators) and identifies the following five SDGs that most need the UK’s attention: Affordable and clean energy; Decent work and economic growth; Responsible consumption and production; Life below water; Life on land.

When the UK government does proactively engage on achieving the SDGs, it is a fair assumption that it will need to introduce new measures to implement (e.g. new taxes, legislation, policy etc) which will no doubt have knock-on consequences for business. So how can businesses lead the way and preempt what’s to come? (And business does want to engage early – in our research ahead of the ratification of the SDGs, 71% of businesses said they were already planning how they will engage with the SDGs). We thought it might be useful to share some ideas on practical ways to help achieve the SDGs…

Over the next 14 years (we’re one year in already, remember), trillions of dollars of public and private funds will need to be directed towards achieving the SDGs. There are huge opportunities for businesses to help deliver solutions, as well as big risks for companies seen to be hindering progress on the goals.

The UK government (and all governments for that matter) is on a journey to deliver the SDGs and clear direction is needed. The challenge is deciding where to start, not only for the UK government, but for business too.

To find out more about the SDGs and what businesses can do, go to: www.pwc.com/globalgoals

Louise Scott | Director - Global Sustainability
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