12th Report - UK progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The Voluntary National Review Contents

2The Voluntary National Review

47.Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) are a core part of global review and follow up for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), intended to “promote accountability to… citizens”, “foster exchanges of best practices and mutual learning” and “mobilize support”.66 A VNR should, according to UN guidance, respect the universal scope of the SDGs and their interlinked and interdependent nature, focus on those left behind, and be rigorous in its coverage of goals and targets, reporting not just on successes, but also challenges and lessons learned. It should highlight and commit to next steps for that national context. This section of the Report assesses the content of the UK VNR in terms of these criteria and purposes. Overall, it finds inconsistent adherence to these standards—strong in some respects, and weak in others.

48.The VNR reviews the UK-level picture and UK-level overseas action, but also the specific situations in England and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This raises the possibility of comparison and learning not just between the UK and other developed countries, but also between Whitehall, Westminster and the devolved administrations.

49.The opening chapters of the VNR, as per UN guidance, do review some of the “building blocks” of SDG progress: governance at a UK level and in the devolved administrations; and a discussion of the fundamental ‘leave no one behind’ paradigm. In addition, a description of the stakeholder outreach undertaken is included (discussed in chapter one above).

50.In the context of concerns about the degree of meaningful stakeholder involvement in national reviews, it is striking that the comprehensive stakeholder review of UK domestic implementation—UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD)’s 2018 “Measuring Up” report67—is not cited, linked to, or discussed at any point in the VNR, though the presence of UKSSD, and the role of civil society in monitoring implementation, are briefly mentioned.

51.Another significant omission from the opening sections of the VNR concerns government awareness-raising activity. UN guidance recommends that VNRs report on the current status of government awareness-raising activities around the SDGs.68 However, there is no coverage of that in the UK VNR, though the role of stakeholders in awareness-raising is highlighted.

Geographical scope of the Review

52.The Review covers UK-level domestic activity, with separate headings for the devolved administrations. It also covers UK action on the Goals abroad. Each chapter is balanced between these elements. Taken together, the emphasis is, as the UN recommends, on domestic progress on the SDGs in the UK, though there are contrasts in the volume, length and character of coverage between sections on England and the devolved administrations.

53.The Review’s coverage of the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies is limited. These territories are mentioned in the opening summary of the UK system of governance,69 and under goal 1470—and one case under goal 1571—where positive progress is highlighted. However, the Overseas Territories are not addressed in the report in respect of corruption, inequalities, environmental protection or illicit financial flows, or in respect of other environmental protection issues. In all these areas, there are important issues for the Overseas Territories (not least surrounding data availability) that the VNR might have addressed in substance, made reference to, or—at least—acknowledged.

54.Overall, the UK VNR is much longer than that of most countries, containing many more examples and charts, and covering a wider range of areas. This is something that is to be applauded. However, this extra length does not necessarily indicate more government activity on the SDGs. For example, Iceland reports on a process to map national progress against all SDG targets, from which a cross-government task force has chosen to prioritise 65 targets especially relevant to Iceland’s context. Iceland has begun to link the SDGs to the government’s fiscal strategy. Iceland reports launching multiple government-led public awareness initiatives from March 2018 and has commissioned opinion-polling on public SDG awareness.72 New Zealand’s VNR is, again, much shorter. But New Zealand has adopted a new “Living Standards Framework” and supporting statistical indicators that have been aligned to the SDGs and is able to report on a government-led awareness raising campaign “Narrative imperative”, and annual SDG summit with stakeholders.73 Size isn’t everything.

Rigorous coverage of goals and targets

55.The universal nature of the SDGs is reflected in the UK VNR. Almost all applicable targets are addressed (although not in equal breadth, depth or detail). The coverage is most thorough in terms of the pattern of activities relevant to particular target areas and the data relevant to that target, supported by a comprehensive annex of the UK’s performance against the global indicators.

56.UK performance and progress on the SDGs is not addressed as systematically. The tone and quantity of the coverage of particular targets varies significantly between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The lack of detailed assessment of UK performance against the SDG targets, overall, reflects the Secretary of State’s oral evidence that “We have resisted a little the idea that this is somehow a universal scorecard”.74 Treatment of the SDG targets is selective in the UK VNR. The ambition of the relevant SDG target is only included, in the English domestic context, where that target is met: examples of such targets are

In other cases where there is a clear SDG target on which data for England is available, it is not invoked.

57.One notable case where the SDG target is not met is domestic poverty, where there is a clear and nationally-differentiated SDG ambition: “1.2 By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions”. However, the report makes no mention of whether this is an appropriate target for the UK, or how the UK performs against it, or indeed any other specific ambition on UK poverty reduction. The chapter states twice, though, that “the UK is committed to tackling all forms of poverty, including childhood disadvantage and in-work poverty”.76 We also found it striking in this section how often data—such as, absolute and relative child poverty rates—were described as “stable”77 which sounds like a good thing at first glance, but actually indicates static and intractable situations

58.The VNR also fails to include trends within the data, to show whether progress towards the targets is being made over time. In addition, the data annex, though listing data points for all global indicators on which the UK has data, does not include the targets to which indicators “belong”. Including both trends and relevant targets would make it far easier to assess UK progress. The selective referencing of SDG targets is one form of “cherry picking” in the VNR. Another is the selection of data beyond the global indicators for inclusion in the report, and the selection of some activities and framings over others.

59.The chapter on Goal 1 (No Poverty) presents the impact of public spending and welfare reform as positive. However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is more critical, noting that

Changes in public spending (and tax and welfare reforms), between 2010 and 2018 have produced differential impacts. Black and ‘Other’ ethnicity households have been more negatively affected than White households, and lone parent (predominantly female) households more negatively affected than any other demographic in terms of final income.78

60.Under Goal 2 (Zero Hunger), food insecurity is highlighted as an area where the UK is “increasing monitoring”.79 The challenges of food security in England are presented as data-led. Whilst Scotland and Wales both include data on the prevalence of food insecurity in their sections, this data is not presented for England until the final page of the chapter, under a concluding challenge on “measuring and addressing household food insecurity”80 which focuses on the problems of obtaining commensurable UK data. The only mention of food banks in England is an effort “to make it as easy as possible for food banks to identify and refer back to the local job centre”81 anyone who is not receiving support they are entitled to. No systematic exploration of why food insecurity might exist in England, who is most affected, or how it might be remedied, is undertaken.

61.Under Goal 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), alcohol and drug abuse and issues of addiction (target 3.5) are not discussed in the UK-wide or English context, though they are addressed in all the devolved administrations.

62.Under Goal 4 (Quality Education) the “action” section on primary and secondary education reports positive data on Ofsted inspections, international rankings, and Phonics decoding for 5–6-year-olds, all of which present substantial improvement.82 But it chooses not to present the SDG target 4.1 on quality education for all or UK progress on the key global indicator on pupils attaining minimum expected levels of reading and maths. Data on reading and maths is available in the annex showing how many pupils currently do not meet these expected minimums.

63.Under Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), there is no mention of target 8.8 covering precarious employment, health and safety at work, and compliance with ILO regulations, nor of zero-hours contracts under target 8.3, even though this data is available and included in the data annex.

64.Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) notes, in brief and precise language, that “the UK does not have any fossil fuel subsidies, according to the definition it shares with European G20 partners”.83 A European Commission Report from January 2019 examines energy subsidies across Europe, finding that the UK has the highest level of financial support for fossil fuels in Europe, at over 12bn euros.84 We continue to be struck by the evidence, unearthed in our report on DFID’s work on climate change, that the £4.8 billion worth of UK Export Finance support for fossil fuel projects from 2010–16 was almost equal to the UK’s total spend on its International Climate Fund for a similar period, 2011–17.85

65.Goal 15 (Life on Land) on environmental protection is presented carefully in a way that foregrounds UK progress. Mention is made of the 2019 update on progress towards the Aichi biodiversity targets,86 showing “progressing but not at a sufficient rate” for 14 out of 20 targets. However, this omits timescale: 2020 is the end-date by which these targets should be achieved. Acknowledgement of the relative lack of progress on the most important of these targets, and discussion of key indicators, including species decline and biodiversity, is very brief,87 and these areas are not revisited as “challenges” in the final subsection.

66.Goal 5 (Gender Equality) is unambiguous that a “global rollback” on women’s rights is an important challenge.88 However, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and specifically abortion rights, in Northern Ireland—as covered in targets 3.7 and 5.6—are left unaddressed in the report, apart from a brief acknowledgement that “abortion is available in more limited circumstances in Northern Ireland”.89

67.The assessment of Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) is also relatively positive in the VNR, noting progress on access to justice, levels of crime overall, and levels of hate crime. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s assessment is more critical:

Our analysis shows regression in relation to a number of the requirements of Goal 16, including the targets to significantly reduce all forms of violence, to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and violence against children, to ensure equal access to justice, and to promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws. We have observed a deterioration in access to justice, including reductions in legal aid, deterioration in conditions of detention, a substantial rise in the use of restraint in the youth custodial estate in England and Wales, and the continued use of painful restraint on children in youth justice settings.90

68.In a particular example of selective data use, the section on Goal 16 cites decreased levels of hate crime experienced by victims as evidence that recent government policy is working.91 The data cited is correct, though the source of this citation notes that hate crime recorded by the police has doubled, with particular spikes around the EU referendum and 2017 terrorist attacks,92 and also that the VNR-cited measure of hate crime experienced by victims ignores public order offences which account for “over half of police recorded hate crime”.93 The headline of a “40% reduction”, given in the opening summary for that chapter, does not attempt to capture this context.94

69.It should be noted that the Secretary of State acknowledged and defended this emphasis on positive activity in his oral evidence, in the context of the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies:

[I]t takes effort for a Government to point out what is not going well… We are learning through this that, when Governments publicly make statements about their own development progress, they understandably emphasise the positive and downplay the negative… We have tended to emphasise the positive and not the challenges, but you are right; we should do more on that.95

It should also be noted that this characterisation of the VNR as a conscious effort to “emphasise the positive”, conflicts with the stated approach to the VNR in the testimony of Nick Dyer of DFID, that “the way we have chosen to present this report is as a stocktake of where we are in 2019, and this then becomes a baseline for future reports.”96 Clearly, if the baseline presents a picture designed to downplay challenges, this has the potential to skew future reporting.

70.We were surprised that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU did not merit discussion under Goal 17 on strengthening the means of implementation and revitalising the global partnership for sustainable development.

Leave No One Behind

71.A key principle of all SDG reviews, including VNRs, is that reviews should focus on the poorest, most marginalised and vulnerable, reflecting the pledge of the SDGs to “leave no one behind”. This focus is present in the UK’s report in certain respects, and with respect to particular prominent groups–notably women and girls, LGBTQ+, minority ethnic groups, and people with disabilities. This focus is partly a matter of data disaggregation, and for these groups, the VNR is relatively comprehensive. It highlights, for example, the poverty facing single parent families and those with disabilities.97

72.Overall, though, coverage of those left behind is uneven. The VNR authors clearly had a difficult decision to make about how much of this disaggregated data to include in areas such as undernutrition amongst older persons, or those most at risk of food insecurity. In this respect, it should be noted that the data annex includes no disaggregated data, even where that is specified in the description of the UN global indicator. For example, indicator 8.5.1 asks for “Average hourly earnings of female and male employees” but the data annex gives only one figure: “£16.20 per hour 2017, UK”.98

73.Other dimensions of vulnerability and marginalisation are addressed to a much lesser extent. Homelessness in England is addressed as a Goal 11-specific challenge,99 but homeless people are not identified as a “left behind” group, even though they are excluded from many household statistics cited in the VNR.

74.Migrants are another group not examined across the goals, even though they are identified as a “left behind” group in the SDGs, and even though a specific target directly addresses the working situation of migrants. Instead, they are briefly addressed under the need for “effective integration”100 into “inclusive communities”.101 The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s briefing, further, highlights the barriers facing Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children and these are absent in the VNR102—Gypsy travellers are mentioned in the Welsh and Scottish context, but not England.

75.Geography is identified in the SDGs as another dimension in which people can be left behind. However, apart from a map of smoking prevalence, discussion of 4G coverage, and efforts to tackle “the unfair spread of the UK’s prosperity” of regional disparities—whether in terms of poverty, quality of health services, youth employment, or other areas—are not addressed.103

76.The commitment to leaving no one behind is closely tied to human rights. The treatment of human rights in the VNR is limited. Socio-economic rights in contexts of food, poverty, and work are not addressed in the English sections of the VNR, even though human-rights based approaches are prominent in the sections by Scotland on these issues.104 UN guidance recommends that VNRs engage with recent human rights reporting,105 but the UK does not do this in the VNR, for example omitting discussion of the Special Rapporteur’s recent report on extreme poverty in the UK106 or the UK’s reporting under the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The latter focused on abortion law in Northern Ireland as an area of grave concern.107 Human rights are considered only in the context of anti-discrimination and civil liberties (in Goals 10 and 16, for example), in marked contrast to Scotland’s more holistic rights-based approach. This concern is reflected in the briefing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They state that

there is little evidence that the UK Government is currently linking the SDGs to its human rights reporting and monitoring and taking a coordinated, cross-government approach to both sets of obligations. general concerns on linking frameworks and domestic implementation.108

Evidence to the inquiry from Amnesty International and Professor Rhona Smith highlighted that ninety-two percent of SDG targets are linked to existing provisions of international human rights and labour law standards,109 supporting the need for the UK to address existing human rights reporting in reviewing progress on the SDGs.110

77.“Leave no one behind” is a cross-cutting commitment in the SDGs, informing all review and the assessment, potentially, of every goal and target. In this context, focusing only on the most prominent marginalised groups, or those where there is the most positive story to be hold, is especially problematic. The Secretary of State identified, in response to a question from the Committee, those he considered furthest behind: “the sort of people I was dealing with in prison, illegal migrants, some of the most extreme examples of the poor elderly, people with addiction, mental health issues, homelessness”, highlighting these as the “bottom 10%”.111 This VNR does not systematically focus on such groups, though the Secretary of State noted that this would be “looking at something that is very important” and the absence of such a focus in political conversation was “a bigger political problem”.112

International contribution to the SDGs

78.With regard to international action on the SDGs, the VNR showcases a range of important headline commitments on Official Development Assistance (ODA), climate change, modern slavery, and gender equality, and a range of relevant activity and good practice across different SDG areas e.g. on LGBT+ and disability inclusion, water and sanitation, and statistical capacity building. The UK’s activity on global tax regimes is highlighted. Throughout, claims are made about UK engagement and leadership. The UK is “deepening relationships and collaborating with partners”; “promoting” and “supporting” a myriad of actions; “leading the way” on corruption, bribery and illicit flows and “scaling up engagement”.

79.However, little detail or supporting evidence is provided for many of these claims. Nor is there any systematic analysis of whether the UK is doing enough, or whether more could or should be done. This is not necessarily to call those claims into doubt, but to indicate that the summary in the VNR is no substitute for detailed SDG-aligned reporting and analysis by DFID.

80.“Harnessing the power of trade” and “catalysing investment” is portrayed in the VNR as the best route to poverty alleviation in developing countries. However, Bond’s report warns

Emphasis on trade openness and creating an investment climate that is friendlier towards large multinational businesses can be counterproductive for small scale farmers, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, fledgling domestic sectors and industries that are also part of the private sector.113

The VNR might have approached this in a more nuanced and self-critical way.

81.One key area highlighted in the SDGs114 is the need for development assistance to respect and support national plans and strategies in recipient countries. This concern is repeated in the Bond report and also evidenced in the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation’s 2016 report.115 The VNR does not address this aspect of the SDGs or assess the extent of alignment between UK activity and the priorities of recipient countries.

82.Bond’s report raises the question of whether DFID supports and fosters partnerships with civil society to the required extent, especially in the context of restricted and contracting space for civil society globally. The commitment in the VNR to co-host the Goal 16 segment of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is welcome, but civil society is not otherwise addressed under Goal 16. Under Goal 17, examples of multi-stakeholder partnerships are provided, but otherwise there is only one sentence that recognises the importance of “an open and vibrant civil society”.

83.The VNR highlights DFID’s promise to leave no one behind and reach the furthest behind first. It is not clear how effectively this has been mainstreamed throughout DFID’s activity. There are several examples of good practice, but thoroughgoing implementation of this principle into objectives, structures, staffing, and funding is less obvious. Bond’s report calls for clarity and leadership on “leave no one behind” but it is not clear how far DFID activity has answered this call; Bond’s first reaction to the VNR has described coverage of “leave no one behind” as a “token gesture”.116

84.A broader question about structural alignment can be posed for DFID. Though there are several examples of DFID activity that can be mapped against particular SDGs, it is less clear how central the SDGs are to DFID’s understanding of its mission. When the committee put this to the Secretary of state, he responded, “There is still a lot of work to be done in DFID. We should not be complacent about what has happened in DFID. There is a tension here.”117 Nick Dyer also reflected on whether DFID could do more in respect of its funding schemes: “Where we are running perhaps a competitive fund, like the school grants scheme, the civil society schemes we have, or research, perhaps we should be asking ourselves more explicitly about the SDGs.”118

85.Policy coherence across government activity in support of DFID’s development objectives is not discussed in the VNR. Discussing two apparent examples of incoherence undermining UK policy objectives—funding for fossil fuel-based projects and UK arms sales—the Secretary of State acknowledged but defended the apparent incoherence:

We have an economy in this country that is very heavily dependent, in certain parts of the country, on fossil fuels, in other parts of the country on the export of defence equipment. That poses real foreign policy and development challenges, because it means that we are having to weigh up the interests of, quite literally, hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country against our stated environmental policy challenges.119

Reconciling these “difficult issues”, the Secretary of State noted, was “a much, much bigger strategic policy decision, which would have to be made at a No. 10 level”.120

Interlinkages and policy coherence

86.Interlinkages between Goals are identified at various points, but interlinkages between targets are not, nor is the systematically interlinked nature of the agenda–the interlinked economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development–identified or its policy implications examined.

87.Coherence between policy areas is not addressed in the summary of UK governance for the goals, nor under target 17.14.121 No detailed examples of policy coherence, or incoherence, are given there. A “cross government group which meets regularly” is identified as “a platform to coordinate goal implementation”,122 and an account of institutional approaches to policy coherence is not otherwise offered. By contrast, both Scotland and Wales say more about cross-cutting measures and frameworks designed to ensure policy coherence.123 Though local delivery of the goals is addressed briefly in the section on Shared Endeavour,124 “vertical coherence” between the UK government and the devolved administrations, and local government, goes unexamined in the VNR. Written evidence from the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme reinforces the potential benefits of addressing policy coherence in UK governance, in particular of “assessing the level of cooperation already taking place across government departments and proposing joint actions and accountability arrangements to boost this cooperation”.125

Next steps

88.The commitment to generate a stakeholder engagement mechanism is welcome, but the details of this are unclear.126 When asked by the Committee, the Secretary of State and DFID could not provide any further information at the evidence session, and await a written response from the Secretary of State.

89.The conclusions and next steps also indicate that a process will be undertaken to increase policy coordination across the UK government.127 Again, this is welcome—though the precise constitution of this mechanism, again, is unclear.

90.In four respects, what the VNR does not commit the UK to is just as important. First, there is no commitment to any national plan or strategy to address the SDGs. In other countries, such as France, Canada and Ireland, the VNR has represented an important window to establish or commit to such a plan. Second, there is no indication of any plan to establish a long-term ongoing process of national review, let alone one that—as the UN indicates—is multi-stakeholder in nature, involving civil society organisations, business, and parliament. Third, there is no indication for new or additional budget to support SDG coordination or implementation in the UK. Fourth, though UN guidance recommends a national dialogue around the VNR after its presentation in New York, no such VNR-focused dialogue is indicated in the report.

Does it fulfil the purposes of a good VNR?

91.This initial survey of the VNR allows for an assessment of how far the UK’s VNR fulfils the stated ambitions for the UN’s VNR process. In terms of peer learning and practice sharing, the UK VNR is clearly rich and detailed in outlining relevant UK activity and some of these initiatives could inform the practice of other countries. The sheer volume of initiatives and activities featured, and the correspondingly light level of detail on both the “how” and “why” of these practices, might serve to frustrate lesson-learning.

92.Importantly, for such a substantial document, there is not a clear line of coherence between the executive summary of the report and the summaries of each chapter, nor between the chapter summaries and the challenges and successes identified in each. For example, the recent rise in homicides and certain types of violent crime, highlighted as a challenge in Goal 16, is not mentioned in the Goal 16 summary or the executive summary. “Supporting a growing and ageing population” is stated as a challenge in the executive summary, but not mentioned in any of the chapter summaries or foregrounded in the “challenges” section of any chapter. States and stakeholders might thus find it difficult to engage with the report’s central insights.

93.There is clearly rich potential for peer learning within the UK, in particular the way that the UK could learn from the approaches in Scotland and Wales—both to the VNR and to SDG implementation. As the Secretary of State indicated: “In the normal way, we would have to learn from Scotland’s approach and make sure, in the next iteration, if there are things they are doing better than we are, we learn from that.”128

94.The potential for accountability is limited. Successes are highlighted, whilst problems and challenges are inconsistently identified and not investigated in detail. Few standards, specific targets or concrete commitments against which to assess current and future performance are detailed. The SDG targets, which can constitute a provisional benchmark for UK performance, are largely absent from the VNR; trends in the data are not comprehensively addressed in the text or in the data annex.

95.The capacity of this report to mobilise implementation and support is clearly a matter of concern, given limited action by the UK government so far. Some positive steps are noted—the VNR launch and accompanying film, the stakeholder engagement mechanism and discussions on deepening government engagement. Evidence from Nick Dyer of DFID highlights that the VNR may have served as a chance to further discussion of coherence across government:

There are a number of attempts to create this cross-Government coherence. There are increasingly conversations across Government about how you can replicate this kind of approach in the national security space, broadly, in the domestic space.129

96.However, the VNR itself contains little by way of an “ambitious national response”130 that governments pledged themselves to in the SDG outcome document, and the process of preparation of the VNR has not, itself, given rise to new SDG-oriented policies, governance structures, or finance. This situation, it should be noted, is different in the Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations, where there is evidence that the VNR has prompted further review and action.

97.The UK’s first Voluntary National Review (VNR) was a welcome but ultimately disappointing review of the UK’s progress towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We found that despite some strengths, too often the VNR lacked coherence, depth and breadth of analysis. It was also overly focused on “cherry picked” data and case studies at the expense of challenges that remain to be tackled in the UK and around the world.

98.For its next VNR, the Government should be more ambitious and rigorous in its review of the UK’s progress along the trajectories indicated by the Sustainable Development Goals, especially in those areas we highlight above. We hope that the Government will also provide in future VNRs more contextualised data, and analyses, showing trends and comparisons with other countries to illuminate the UK’s performance against SDG targets, including the variations across the four UK nations.

The High-Level Political Forum

99.We welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to present the UK’s Voluntary National Review to the UN High-Level Political Forum on 16th July, after some concern that he would not fulfil his predecessor’s pledge to attend.131 In evidence to the Committee in late June, the Secretary of State told us:

I am very pleased to go. There is a small discussion going on, because I have to miss Cabinet and the NSC on that Tuesday, but my intention is to go to New York to lead the delegation.132

The UN Secretary General’s guidelines state that countries should “consider whether national stakeholders will be allocated time to speak as part of the VNR presentation”.133 It is hoped that the UK Government will include stakeholders in its delegation, and also in the final presentation to the HLPF. As Bond told us:

The UK government should include other stakeholders, including civil society, in their delegation to the HLPF to present the VNR. This would align with good practice and peer countries such as France and Sweden, as the review process is intended to be a reflection of national progress, not simply a government statement.134

Unfortunately, there has been widespread confusion amongst UK stakeholders about who will be represented in the Government’s final presentation. It is a concern, at the time of writing this report, that the Committee understands that at least one stakeholder representative has yet to be identified, six days before the beginning of the HLPF. We are not fully confident of the Secretary of State’s assertions that stakeholders will be chosen in “the fairest and most transparent way we possibly can.”135 Once again, it seems that arrangements are being brought together at a very late stage.

100.The 2019 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) presents an opportunity for the UK to reaffirm its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on the international stage and to once again show leadership on this vital agenda. We hope that the UK’s presentation will include a wide range of stakeholders involved in implementation of the SDGs across the UK, including young people and civil society representatives.

101.The Government should use this year’s HLPF to commit to producing its next Voluntary National Review (VNR) in three years’ time: in the summer of 2022.

102.It is also vital that the next Prime Minister attends the SDGs Summit at the United Nations General Assembly in September, to speak to the UK’s progress on the SDGs and its first VNR. It is crucial that the UK reinforces its commitment to this transformative global agenda, supports the push—by Project Everyone and others—to deliver the SDGs by 2030, and demonstrates that the country remains a force for good on the international stage.


66 UN, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015, para 73

67 UKSSD (2018), Measuring Up: How the UK is performing on the UN Sustainable Development Goals

70 Ibid, p. 171

71 Ibid, p. 182

73 New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs ad Trade, Towards a better future, together - New Zealand’s progress towards the SDGs-2019, July 2019

75 UN SDGs Knowledge Platform (accessed 5 July 2019)

77 Also: working age relative poverty, absolute poverty before housing costs, absolute and relative child poverty rates, disability poverty and relative unemployment, pensioner poverty and working age adults in working families in poverty.

78 Equality and Human Rights Commission, Briefing on the Sustainable Development Goals (June 2019) p. 7

80 Ibid p. 47

81 Ibid p. 40

82 Ibid p. 63

88 Ibid p.85

89 Ibid p.79

90 Equality and Human Rights Commission, Briefing on the Sustainable Development Goals, June 2019, p. 7

93 Ibid p9

100 Ibid p. 134

101 Ibid p. 147

102 Equality and Human Rights Commission, Briefing on the Sustainable Development Goals (June 2019) p. 7

104 E.g. Ibid p. 43, 142

105 The VNR should address “reports submitted to international bodies, including those under international human rights treaties” (UN DESA, Handbook for the Preparation of Voluntary National Reviews: The 2019 Edition, 11).

108 Equality and Human Rights Commission, Briefing on the Sustainable Development Goals (June 2019) p. 3

109 Danish Institute of Human Rights, The Human Rights Guide to the SDGS, accessed 4 July 2019

110 Amnesty International (SDG0052); Dr Rhona Smith (SDG0051)

112 Ibid.

114 UN, Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, September 2015, para 29, 44, 63 (as well as target 17.15)

115 OECD, Making development co-operation more effective, 2016 Progress Report, Annex B - Monitoring data: Development partners, Table B.1a., p154

120 Ibid

122 Ibid p. 11

123 Ibid. p. 11, 210–211

124 Ibid p. 16–17

125 Sussex Sustainability Research Programme based at the University of Sussex (SDG0009)

127 Ibid p. 213

130 Para 78

131 In the debate on the Sustainable Development Goals (HC Deb, Col. 592–624, Vol. 661) on 11 June 2019, Minister of State, Harriet Baldwin, stated that Baroness Sugg (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, DFID) would lead the delegation to the HLPF.

134 Bond (SDG0018)




Published: 16 July 2019