Sustainable Development Goals — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:59 am on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour 11:59 am, 17th September 2015

My Lords, 2015 is in danger of being remembered in 21st century history as a year when the poorest and most desperate people in the world—whether from northern Burma, Syria, Libya or Eritrea, or even recently from Burundi—either climbed on to boats with their children and took the terrifying journey to try to find peace and security elsewhere, or moved back into refugee camps in central Africa that we thought had been long closed.

But 2015 surely can also be a year when there is hope for our world, not just this great humanitarian crisis. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for securing this debate today, one week before the United Nations, we all hope, approves and moves forward with what I believe are to be called the global goals for sustainable development. I also thank and congratulate the United Kingdom Government on their role, not just the very public role of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, but also, in relation to statistics and data, the key role that United Kingdom officials have played behind the scenes in working out the detail of these goals and their implementation.

I specifically congratulate Amina Mohammed, the Secretary-General’s special adviser on the sustainable development goals. Given that four years ago it may have seemed an almost impossible task to pull together a global agreement on these goals, she and her team have done a phenomenal piece of work to get us to this stage and provide that perhaps one glimmer of hope in 2015 amidst all the darkness.

I look forward to going to New York next week. I refer noble Lords to my interests in the register —I support a number of charities and NGOs and hope to promote their case next week.

I also thank all those other NGOs and groups around the world that have been part of this historic process. These are not the millennium development goals and this is not the setting up of the United Nations, with a group of people meeting in a dark room somewhere agreeing what is best for the rest of the world; this has been a truly participative process, where Governments north and south and people from countries rich and poor have come together to try to forge a way ahead, set targets, however stretching they may be, and, I hope, now agree to work towards them.

None of this is perfect. The agreement reached at the summit on finance in Addis Ababa back in July took major steps forward, but it is not perfect. The global goals to be discussed next week will not meet with absolute approval from everybody. I am sure that the Paris summit in December will disappoint some but, I hope, enthuse others. However, what we do have is a global agreement for comprehensive goals that are universal in character and will, we hope, leave no one behind. We also have an ambitious target for 2030. We should make no apology for setting that ambitious target to try to end extreme poverty and help ensure that no child dies for reasons that could be avoided.

I want to focus my remarks on two issues in particular. First, on implementation, there are many examples, particularly over the last 15 years or so, of the UK Government and DfID in particular assisting Governments around the world in capacity building in their institutions, whether in relation to tax revenue, statistics, land registration, civil service and public service delivery or in many other ways. I believe there is a role here for the United Kingdom in leading the way in saying that every pound that we spend over these next 15 years in building capacity, in particular in the early years following the agreement in 2015, will reap dividends as we work towards achieving the goals by 2030. ODA, private donations and the expenditure generated domestically by the Governments of the south can be invested in building the capacity of public institutions to deliver public services, building a business environment that welcomes inward investment and ensures that jobs can be created, establishing public institutions which deliver justice for all and promoting the collection of data and statistics to ensure that we have the records that allow us to monitor the implementation of these goals. That investment would be tremendously helpful.

In particular, there should be an investment in the empowerment of women and girls. That is identified in these global goals, clearly and explicitly, as a key factor in delivering them as a whole. The empowerment of women and girls—their organisations, their education and their rights around the world—will be absolutely key to ensuring that the phrase “leave no one behind” is meaningful for everybody.

I particularly want to highlight global goal 16. I believe there has been a hard-fought effort to secure that goal and to make sure that it was there, right to the very end. I shall read it into the record here in your Lordships’ House. Global goal 16 is to,

“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable institutions at all levels”.

The millennium development goals were of their time. They were right to target education, health and clean water, maternal rights and all those other important issues, and to try to make specific progress on them. But it cannot be denied that, today, the people in the world in the most vulnerable conditions—those who have the least access to schools, hospitals, jobs, clean water and all the other things that we in the developed world largely take for granted; those who live in fear of their lives and have the least human rights—are those who live in countries which are affected by conflict and violence. The children affected by violence, both in countries affected by conflict and in others where children are terrified or trafficked on an almost daily basis, should be the number one priority of any effort to try to secure a better world.

Including that global goal 16 in the global goals is absolutely critical for ensuring that the global community’s effort does not just focus on the easiest places to build up the biggest numbers of people who are going to school, accessing clean water and hospitals or getting jobs but targets those who are most difficult to help. It should target those where the effort has to be most consistent and where we may fail but absolutely have to try. I want to ask the Government specifically about this issue and global goal 16. Will that goal lead to a review of the Building Stability Overseas Strategy by the UK Government? Will the UK Government retain their admirable commitment for these last five years to spend one-third of our ODA in conflict-affected and fragile states? Will they continue to be an enthusiastic supporter of not just UN peacekeeping but UN peacebuilding? I see on the news this morning that the Prime Minister may have something to say about peacekeeping in New York next week. Let us hope that he also has something to say about peacebuilding, because £1 spent on peacebuilding is worth £10, £20 or £30 spent on peacekeeping. Will the new Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund not only continue to exist but help drive this agenda and the implementation of these goals in the years ahead?

I believe passionately that education is the greatest liberation opportunity for children and that we have a climate crisis which we need to attack with the same ferocity as we would attack any other threat to the people of our planet. I also believe absolutely that global goal 16, with its creation of “peaceful and inclusive societies” and the tackling of opportunity for those who live in conflict zones, is central to leaving no one behind. This goal potentially creates safe havens in those conflict zones where children can go for education and health services—not to be taken to other places across the sea but to be safe and secure there, still accessing opportunities without losing a whole generation. I hope that the Government will agree.