Universal Sustainable Developments Goals - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:22 pm on 22nd November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour 12:22 pm, 22nd November 2018

Our thanks are certainly due to the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, for this important debate about integrating sustainable development goals across government departments. I declare my interests as an emeritus professor at UCL and chair of a small environmental consulting company that works in developing countries. I am not sure that as much progress has been made as some of the government rhetoric indicates—so I follow the remarks of previous speakers. More should definitely be done to state and explain these broad goals. This is the first essential for effective policy and more could be done. Having one department in charge—DfID—inevitably biases the process towards the views of that department.

There is no doubt that DfID’s focus on humanitarian and democratic objectives has been effective, in policy and in engaging the public in these aspects of sustainable development. But there has not been the same focus, as the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, also emphasised, on public information, public debate and joined-up policy in the many other areas, such as the environment, economic planning and long-term climate change, agriculture and energy. In the UK, these areas are jointly the responsibility of government departments and civil society—for example, professional, technical and commercial bodies, universities and many other organisations, including charities and donors.

The meteorological agencies around the world are an example of governmental bodies, and I was involved as chief executive of the Met Office. They did then, and do now, play an active role in helping government departments work towards sustainable goals: for example, in advising communities about weather extremes, floods and droughts, all of which are increasing as a result of climate change. But even technical departments of that sort, working with other environmental, medical and health organisations, have to work out how these environmental extremes affect health, the economy and the environment.

However, it has been disappointing to see in the last 10 years or more that in the UK, after 2010 the coalition Government and then the Conservative Government deliberately suppressed some of the integrated policy methods—particularly the one in which the Sure Start programme, which followed America, had been very effective. As I have seen, these were stopped in many villages and elsewhere in the UK. Equally, we had quite an effective system in Britain of regional economic initiatives. These were also immediately suppressed by the Conservatives when the coalition Government came to power. During a recent science committee meeting in the House of Lords, Rolls-Royce commented that, as a result of the demise of these regional economic initiatives, many companies that feed into big companies such as Rolls-Royce were not working so well. There has been partial reinstatement with local enterprise boards, but they are not as effective at what we had before.

International bodies and networks also play a leading role in the United Nations and intergovernmental organisations, and in international charities. Some of them have been very effective. We had a remarkable afternoon here in the House of Lords when Jimmy Carter came to describe his campaign for disease-free water, which he explained in his speech. The United Nations technical agencies have a long history of taking on more complex issues, regionally and globally. These agencies have also helped Governments with sustainable development, and have had a big role in feeding into the United Nations centre in New York. For example, the International Maritime Organization, which is based here in London—an NGO with which I am involved—supports and works with them. It recently took on the role of guiding the global shipping industry to reduce its carbon emissions, which of course significantly exceed the carbon emissions from aviation. Sustainable global policies should aim to reduce the volume of shipping, although this would probably impact on the global economy. The question of the economy and the environment has to be kept in balance at all times, but this new initiative by the IMO is a very important development.

A similarly important sustainable goal would be the limitation of vehicle emissions, which, even though it is being discussed, is not happening in the UK. In France, by contrast, there are road signs encouraging motorists to limit their speed in order to reduce emissions. In Britain, the signs on a motorway will tell you how fast you have to go to get to Bristol in 90 minutes, or whatever it is. That is why the UK is not raising this kind of sustainability goal. I have raised this question in Written PQs, with no satisfactory result.

Last week I was in Malaysia at a meeting of climate environment networks, in particular the Asian area of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They were reviewing the issues in Asia. For example, there are critical issues such as the loss of forests, which is affected by global warming and sea-level rise but also by logging when richer countries remove their trees. This is a very important question. It is not just everybody working together. One fears that some countries are taking resources, which is having a bad effect on poorer countries.

Another important development is increased disease in some Asian countries. It is a major issue that needs to be considered internationally. Another is the question of water. It was remarkable to hear at the meeting that water availability in the slum areas of big cities is about 20% of what it was 10 years ago. With a greatly reduced water supply in urban communities you have women queuing up to get water at 3 am. This is an issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, emphasised.

The Asian Network on Climate Science and Technology has been set up in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, with support from the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre at Cambridge. This has led to Asian scientists and technicians focusing on meetings in that part of the world rather than going to the United States or the EU. We need much more technical strength, solidity and co-ordination in the developing regions of the world. When you focus on that, you find that all sorts of developments are encouraged, which do not happen so well if all the technical people go and have their meetings in developed countries.

One network of technical groups has been very effective in looking at the effects of climate on urban areas. It is interesting that these networks have already developed new approaches, such as restoring communities after massive floods and using computer-based planning networks for extreme weather conditions. Some of these methods are of considerable interest, even to developed countries such as the UK.

In conclusion, global collaboration and sustainability are an important part of the UK’s policies, and we should work as closely as we can with all the networks of the world. As other speakers commented, the UK has big problems of its own and we should learn a lot from others.