Sustainable Development Goals — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:27 pm on 17th September 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development 1:27 pm, 17th September 2015

My Lords, I join all noble Lords in thanking the noble

Lord, Lord Chidgey, and congratulate him on securing this debate. I commend him for his long-standing commitment to international development.

This debate is extremely timely, as other noble Lords have said, with the UN summit in New York beginning a week tomorrow. I am also glad that we have another opportunity to discuss the sustainable development goals and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and for their many questions. As always, I will endeavour to respond to them, but if I fail to do so I will write to noble Lords.

I join the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, in his observation that against the backdrop of many of the challenges that we face, there is some cause to celebrate—the coming together of countries globally to agree to this universal document of global goals. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, reminded us that we have cause to celebrate the 0.7% commitment and being the first of the G7 to put it into legislation. That demonstrates the UK’s own commitment not just to working in the UK but our commitment to our partners across the globe.

The House is aware that United Nations member states agreed on 2 August to the post-2015 outcome document, now entitled Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It covers the new sustainable development goals. That document will be formally adopted at the summit at the end of next week and will offer the international community a moment of both celebration and reflection.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, that we should celebrate the successes of the millennium development goals and the significant results that the international community has achieved over the past 15 years. As he and many noble Lords rightly pointed out, extreme poverty has been cut by more than half, more than 90% of children worldwide now have a primary education and child mortality is less than half what it was in 1990. The UK has played a crucial role in those successes and the lives of millions of people around the world have been improved because of the money that we have spent and the actions that we have taken.

However, we all know that our job is not done. Some 836 million people remain in extreme poverty and the challenges of development are more complex than they were in the past. We must consider how we will do development differently over the next 15 years to make extreme poverty a thing of the past and to build a safer, more sustainable future. We must also consider what the post-2015 agenda means for that.

The outcome document is the result of three years of painstaking consultations, discussions and negotiations that have brought together the widest possible group of nations, civil society organisations, businesses and citizens from every part of the world. The UK showed clear leadership from the beginning of this process, starting with the Prime Minister’s co-chairmanship of the UN high-level panel, which set the agenda for the debates and discussions that would follow. In particular it established many of the key principles that have endured to the final outcome document, such as the importance of including the issues of peace and good governance, and the need to leave no one behind.

The final result in the outcome document is an agenda that is unprecedented in its ambition. The sustainable development goals—or “global goals” as they are increasingly being known—are a huge step change beyond the millennium development goals. Our assessment is that they are a major step forward in four fundamental ways. First, they are universal. As noble Lords have said, the new goals were not dreamed up in a back room of the United Nations by unaccountable officials. They represent a universal and inclusive agenda, negotiated by all countries, for all countries. Developed and developing countries alike will deliver them, including the UK, and success will require the action of citizens, Governments and businesses.

Secondly, the global goals are comprehensive. They represent a broad set of priorities that match the development challenges the world faces. They bring together the challenge of finishing the job on the MDGs and ending extreme poverty with the ever-growing risks faced from climate change and environmental degradation, while addressing the underlying causes of poverty, such as conflict and corruption. The inspiring preamble to the outcome document defines the agenda around the five “Ps”: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. It is an agenda that people can truly get behind.

Thirdly, the goals are a step forward in the sense that the new agenda rests on the excellent agreement we reached in Addis Ababa in July to modernise the Financing for Development regime. UK aid will continue to be crucial, as will aid from all donors, but we will not be able to finance these goals with ODA alone. The Addis Ababa action agenda brings in the full range of financial and non-financial issues—including domestic taxation, foreign direct investment and, as noble Lords have said, tackling illicit flows and corruption—to marshal more resources to deliver the goals. This is a huge and crucial step forward.

Fourthly, and in many respects most importantly, a key principle permeates the fabric of the new agenda: that we must leave no one behind. This means that no target should be considered met unless it has been achieved by all segments of society. Progress against the goals must be measured by data disaggregated by age, sex, disability and other status.

Those four points will underpin the UK’s approach to the implementation of the global goals and our objectives at the summit. DfID will be the lead department in co-ordinating the UK’s international implementation of the goals. It is early days yet and the global indicators against which the agenda will be measured will not be ready until next year, but we are thinking now about how we will implement the agenda. The global goals will be the starting point for all DfID’s work. They will be built into our strategic objectives and inform the reviews of our work that are going on now, including the multilateral and bilateral aid reviews.

Over the coming months, DfID will make strategic decisions about how we will work with our partners. We will help to implement the goals where we have a clear comparative advantage and will encourage all our partners to plan and report against them. Increasingly, implementation of the goals will require a whole-government approach. This means working in partnership with other departments across all sectors in service of the goals—working in partnership with others to deliver the best of British expertise.

As a universal agenda, the UK will take the goals on board domestically. We are already compliant with many of them. We are still considering how this will be done, and are working closely with the Cabinet Office and the Office for National Statistics to determine how this can be co-ordinated and measured more effectively.

Our approach to delivery will feature strongly at the summit. The Government will use their influence at the highest levels to lead the world in implementing the global goals. We will encourage countries to take an ambitious approach to the delivery of the agenda and avoid cherry picking the goals and targets that are the easiest to achieve. We will celebrate and highlight some of the important aspects of the new agenda where the UK has shown and continues to show real leadership, not least on empowering women and girls and promoting gender equality, and on the role of peace, good governance and access to justice. These were major successes for the UK in the United Nations negotiations, and we should rightly prioritise them as we seek to inspire the world at the summit.

The summit is expected to be the largest gathering of world leaders in history. We will use the opportunity to communicate the global goals to the widest possible audience. Before the goals can be implemented they must be known by the world. The real prize is for citizens everywhere to embrace this agenda and use it to hold their Governments to account. The summit will be the starting point, kicking off a global effort that will last 15 years and beyond.

The UK, along with our partners, including Richard Curtis’s Project Everyone, will work to communicate the global goals to the whole world. Together we will emphasise the importance of implementation and the need for all actors to hold themselves and each other to account for delivering the goals. We will engage Governments, civil society, young people and the private sector throughout, generating the energy and momentum needed for the world to hit the ground running next year. As Save the Children said to the International Development Committee in the other place last week, this agenda is an incredibly inspiring declaration of intent, comparable with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its progressive vision for the future of humanity.

I turn to some of the points and questions raised by noble Lords. I hope that through my comments I have laid out a clear vision of the UK’s priorities. As I said, the Prime Minister’s role as co-chair of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda was very much the beginning of that. We believe that the new agenda reflects strongly the priorities consistently identified by the UK, and that there are clear goals and targets on poverty, health, education, outcomes, gender, livelihoods and economic growth as well as governance, peace, security and justice for all.

Our main priority was for the new agenda to be clearly understood. As noble Lords said, it needs to be easily understood because if we cannot remember the 17 goals and the many targets, it will be very difficult for others to embrace, so we need to find a narrative around that.

The principle of leaving no one behind is one of the most important and potentially transformative principles of the post-2015 agenda by calling for all targets to be met by all segments. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, it is important that we do not lose sight of the very important phraseology of leaving no one behind.

Noble Lords including the noble Lords, Lord McConnell and Lord Loomba, the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, and many others focused on the agenda around girls and women. As noble Lords are aware, we at DfID have ensured that women and girls remain at the heart of all our programmes. Throughout the post-2015 process, our objective will be to ensure that there is strong and explicit commitment to achieve gender equality and the empowerment and realisation of the human rights of girls and women.

The outcome document includes excellent and hard-won targets on ensuring access to sexual health and reproductive rights and on tackling harmful practices such as FGM and child and early forced marriage. We are already making changes to the lives of girls and women, which has been a core priority. We launched the Strategic Vision for Girls andWomen back in 2011. Since then, our country has helped to change the lives of millions for the better. We want to be much more ambitious. This is about increasing access to services and getting under the skin of the problem. We will make sure that the SDGs deliver for girls and women by tackling the discrimination they face throughout their life cycle from infancy to old age. The International Development (Gender Equality) Act imposes a legal obligation to consider how the UK’s ODA spend will contribute to gender equality. The multilateral and bilateral reviews will examine the extent to which we are reaching girls and women throughout their life cycle.

Issues around finance were mentioned. We can all be pleased at the outcomes of the conference at Addis Ababa and the action agenda that came forth from that. I hope that I referred in my opening comments to many of the points that were raised by noble Lords. The Addis tax initiative commits us to doubling our support for tax reform in the developing world by 2020 and ensures that developing countries can benefit from an international tax agenda.

I was asked how these provisions would be implemented domestically. I think I have made it clear that, along with other countries, we will implement and comply with the SDGs domestically. Her Majesty’s Government will have a co-ordinated approach, including through assigning lead departments to implement each target. In addition, we will identify interested departments. In July, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wrote to all relevant departments asking how they would approach the implementation of the goals. We are currently considering those responses. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is absolutely right: we have generated some extremely good partnerships across government and we need to build on those. However, we also need to develop greater partnerships with civil society organisations, other Governments and the private sector.

Noble Lords asked how we would monitor and review the outcomes of these goals. The outcome document states that there will be robust, voluntary, participatory and transparent follow-up and review frameworks focused around the UN High-Level Political Forum. The UK has pressed for robust accountability mechanisms that will drive implementation and will be rooted in data participation and the principle of leaving no one behind. This will give us the picture of progress that is essential if we are to identify whether countries are remaining on track to achieve these goals.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield spoke of involving faith groups in this field and the significant and distinctive part that they play with the SDGs and civil society. The UK intends to strengthen its relationship with faith groups. We have launched the Faith Partnership Principles paper. As a result, there is now a greater understanding of the need for us to understand the role of religion in development. We will be working closely with faith groups to put these principles into practice through building a better understanding of faith in development.

The right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords raised the issue of climate change. We are fully committed to tackling climate change. We welcome the integration of objectives on climate change and sustainable development into the global goals. My department has already begun integrating work on climate change into our development programmes as part of the international climate facility. Over the next spending review we will set up this work to ensure that our programmes across a range of sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture, energy and social protection are climate-smart and take into account a changing climate.

The Government are committed to reducing the UK’s carbon emissions in the most cost-effective way for hard-working families and businesses. Our support has driven down the cost of renewable energy significantly and it has become easier for the renewables industry to stand on its own two feet without subsidies. Improvements in technology as well as a far faster growth in renewable-energy projects than anticipated has meant that renewables are generating more electricity requiring greater subsidies, so the Government are taking control to avoid overspending, which helps keep people’s bills down for both homes and businesses.

I have run out of time, although I still have a number of responses I would like to have delivered. I once again thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for introducing this debate. I agree with him and other noble Lords that these goals must mean something to everyone, which is why we must all push for a comprehensive and easy way to understand and deliver them.