Sustainable Development Goals — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:37 am on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 11:37 am, 17th September 2015

My Lords, on 2 August, the 193 member states of the United Nations agreed the outcome documents that will constitute the new sustainable development agenda. This ambitious agenda, with 17 new sustainable development goals, aims to end poverty, promote prosperity and people’s well-being, while protecting the environment, by 2030.

To put into perspective the aims and objectives of the new SDGs, we should reflect on the achievements of the MDGs, the millennium development goals—the targets set in 2000 to be reached by 2015. The global mobilisation behind the MDGs has produced the most successful anti-poverty movement to date.

The MDGs framework has helped to lift more than 1 billion people out of extreme poverty, to make inroads against hunger and to enable more girls to attend school than ever before. The MDGs galvanised public opinion and showed the value of setting ambitious targets. Yet inequalities persist and progress has been uneven, with, in 2011, 60% of 1 billion extremely poor people living in just five countries.

Unlike their predecessors, the SDGs are universal in nature, meaning that all countries and not just developing nations are committed to their implementation. The success of the agenda depends on swift, effective and comprehensive implementation, undertaken by all countries and with no one left behind.

This is not a pick-and-choose agenda and it would be disappointing if the Government treated it as such. Will the Minister give a clear commitment to reflect on all 17 goals and 169 targets within the UK’s domestic sustainable development plans?

Indicators for the goals and targets are yet to be agreed. Comparability between countries is an important aspect of monitoring progress against the goals, and many of the goals can be measured with indicators that are already widely measured under existing agreements. Will the Government therefore resist arbitrary restriction of the total number for the spurious reason of technical capacity?

A mark of the progress made under the MDGs is that the global under-five mortality rate has declined by more than half. Some 84% of children worldwide received a dose of measles vaccine in 2013 and between 2000 and 2013, there were nearly 16 million fewer deaths. However, UNICEF reports that every five minutes a child still dies as a result of violence, making a strong case for the Government to make ending violence against children a priority within the SDG framework.

More than 6 million malaria deaths have been averted, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. TB prevention and treatment interventions saved some 37 million lives and the TB mortality rate fell by nearly half. Since 1990, 1.9 billion more people have gained access to piped drinking water and 2.1 billion more people gained access to improved sanitation, while the proportion practising open defecation has nearly halved. WaterAid points out, however, that the MDG target on sanitation was missed by over 700 million people while the MDG target on safe water was missed in the 48 least-developed countries, so will the Government take a lead in securing safe water and good hygiene as basic human rights in these poorest communities?

Much has been achieved in aspiring to meet the MDGs, with tangible progress evident in every developing country, but much remains to be done if the ambition to eradicate poverty is to be achieved. Despite many successes, the poorest and the most vulnerable are still being left behind. Progress towards the MDGs has been uneven across the regions and countries. Millions of people are being left behind, especially the poorest and those disadvantaged because of their sex, age, disability, ethnicity or location. Targeted efforts in the SDGs are needed to reach these most vulnerable people.

Major gaps still exist between the poorest and the richest households and between rural and urban areas, with the result that in the developing regions, children from the poorest 20% of households are more than twice as likely to be stunted as those from the richest 20%. They are four times more likely to be out of school, and infant mortality rates among the under-fives are about twice as high in the poorest households. Climate change and environmental degradation undermine progress, and poor people suffer the most while conflict remains the biggest threat to human development.

Despite enormous progress, even today, some 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger. Over 160 million children under the age of five are stunted through malnutrition. Some 16,000 children die each day before celebrating their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable diseases. With global action, these statistics can be transformed and the successes of the MDG agenda have already proved that global action works. It is the way forward to ensure that the new sustainable development agenda really does leave no one behind.

Improved agriculture is the best route to fulfilling many of the 17 SDGs, including poverty eradication, food security and nutrition. Some 1.3 billion people are engaged in agriculture in developing countries and 70% of all Africans depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. All too often, smallholder farming is seen as a source of poverty rather than a solution, yet investing in agriculture can play a transformational role in improving incomes and economic well-being. Improving agricultural performance and linking farmers to markets is the most powerful tool to end global poverty and hunger.

At the Addis Ababa development finance summit in July, a visionary yet costly SDG agenda was set out. The sweeping ambition of the post-2015 agenda called for a goal to end poverty and hunger and achieve sustainable development through providing inclusive economic growth, protecting the environment and promoting social inclusion. Financing must reflect those ambitions and it is worth reflecting on how much money is currently spent on development. Official development assistance, ODA, represents only 0.4% of total investment. In 2012, domestic investment accounted for a third of all funding currently available for developing countries. These domestic resources will be the largest single resource for funding development in most countries. They must not continue to be undermined by international tax evasion and avoidance, costing developing countries hundreds of billions of dollars every year. The UN estimates that the amount of money laundered each year globally is between $800 million and $2 trillion.

Concerted efforts will be required to reduce illicit financial flows, known as IFFs. Corruption, tax evasion and money laundering fund the engine of illicit flows. They drive resources from where they are needed into the hands of the corrupt. Addis Ababa set a clear objective to redouble efforts to substantially reduce IFFs by 2030, with a view to eventually eliminating them. To achieve this, much more co-operation is needed at the international level to, first and most critically, address the source of IFFs, thus reducing financial activity, corruption and tax evasion. Secondly, IFFs need to be halted to prevent illegal money from leaving the country. Finally, third parties, especially financial intermediaries, need to be stopped from accepting these assets.

I am grateful to the Bond organisation for helping to bring together the views of many leading NGOs engaged in aid and development. I am also indebted to UNICEF, for which I am a parliamentary ambassador, and to Save the Children, WaterAid, RESULTS, Malaria No More and many other NGOs for their views on the UN agenda for sustainable development. Save the Children strongly welcomes the agreement reached on the SDGs. If adopted and implemented, the goals and targets will represent a seismic shift in how the world tackles poverty. The agenda charts a new course to follow on from the MDGs with three major shifts of approach. First, the SDGs represent a real advance in how we will view success in getting to zero on extreme poverty and preventable child deaths. Secondly, the SDGs offer wins at some of the most progressive limits of development, in areas of governance, gender, sexual and reproductive health, ending violence against children, equity and climate change. Thirdly, the SDGs have been negotiated in a transparent and inclusive process over three years in the most participatory process in UN history.

Recognising these priorities, will the Government now set out clearly how, at the forthcoming UN General Assembly summit, they plan to deliver on the agreements made? In particular, as one of the leading and most powerful forces in the international development community, will HMG commit to, first, finishing the job of the MDGs, especially poverty reduction, children’s rights and development, and getting to zero on key human development outcomes? Secondly, will they commit to leaving no one behind by prioritising a reduction in all forms of poverty, including by disaggregating targets by gender, age, disability, ethnicity, location and income, and ensuring that no target is considered to be met until it is met for all social and income groups—that is, that the goals and targets must be met for all nations and for all peoples and for all segments of society? Thirdly, will the Government commit to addressing the substantive gaps in the MDGs at the goal and target levels, including the protection of children from violence, conflict and sexual abuse, open, transparent and accountable governance, more and better data, disaster risk reduction and inclusive and sustainable economic growth?

The SDG agenda is not legally binding, but it does apply to all UN member states and will be implemented globally from January next year. Implementing the post-2015 sustainable development strategies will require effective co-ordination between the many government departments, devolved Administrations and stakeholders which have roles to play across the new framework. Will the Government therefore confirm that they are establishing mechanisms to help co-ordinate between sectors and stakeholders to ensure ongoing monitoring and that adaptable plans are designed to achieve the established goals and targets? Will they embody an integrated approach to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development?

It is really important to note that while the MDGs were judged on what they have achieved for some, the new SDGs will be judged on what they achieve for all, which begs the question: how will the SDGs be judged and who will do the judging? It is clear that the only body which carries the mandate from a nation’s electorate over development and state expenditure is its democratically elected parliament. It is the only body that should carry the authority to monitor, approve and ratify state development programmes. Only parliaments can insist on transparency, accountability and probity from the executive branch of government on behalf of the people.

In this regard, the UNDP’s brief on parliaments’ role in defining and promoting the post-2015 development agenda is particularly encouraging. The UNDP recognises that in the MDGs agenda, the need for country ownership and government accountability were not sufficiently taken into account. In the SDGs, these were highlighted as requirements. Parliaments must be at the forefront of these imperatives because they play a crucial role in meeting those requirements through their law-making, budgeting and oversight functions. Parliaments have a clear role in monitoring and holding Governments to account for the international, national and regional commitments they have made.

Parliaments must become leaders in domestic accountability, with parliamentary reviews helping to ensure that adequate funding is allocated. Not just Parliaments but development partners, too, must recognise the crucial role of Parliaments and provide them with direct support. To that extent, how and when will the Government engage with parliamentarians of all parties in this new agenda?

The Government have been commended for the leadership they have shown in the MDG programme. The ambition of the 2030 programme for sustainable development needs to be matched by ambition and commitment to deliver. Will the Government therefore provide examples of the ways in which they will implement the agenda domestically and as a world leader in developments in the immediate and medium term? I beg to move.