Don't risk undermining sustainable development goals Government warned

15 December 2014

Parliament’s green watchdog warns Government not to reduce number of Sustainable Development Goals to be agreed at UN talks in 2015.

The Environmental Audit Committee say this could risk losing the current international focus on environmental sustainability alongside poverty reduction and economic and social development.

Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, said:

"The UK must not risk undermining the Sustainable Development Goals due to be agreed next year.  Ministers must also get our own house in order. The Government has made significant commitments to international development and climate funding, but this will only be a sticking plaster if we don’t take serious steps to transform our own economy and work with others to do the same.

In some areas the Government appears to be actively encouraging unsustainable development. It’s time we put the brake on tax breaks and subsidies for the fossil energy fuelling climate change and air pollution. The new Goals will have to be met by all countries, not just developing countries. Our aim must be to de-couple economic growth from polluting and unsustainable resource use."

Poverty and environmental degradation are urgent global challenges. In Sep 2015 world leaders have an opportunity to end extreme poverty and protect the planet, as they agree new global ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ for 2030. The UK has taken an important role in the international process of agreeing new goals, but the Government has recently been seeking to reduce the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which risks losing the international focus on environmental sustainability alongside poverty reduction and economic and social development. In order to reach global agreement on ambitious action next year the Committee say it is important that the UK respects the status of the 17 proposed Goals when the European Union agrees its negotiating position at the upcoming European Council meeting on 18 Dec.

Joan Walley MP commented:

“We live in a complex, inter-connected world. The United Nations’ current proposal for 17 Sustainable Development Goals captures this well, powerfully linking the urgent global challenges of extreme poverty and environmental degradation. The Government is right to want a simple framework that can be easily communicated. However, a reductionist approach will not lead to the social, economic and environmental transformations we need to see by 2030. We must learn the lessons from the Millennium Development Goals, which failed to address the environment and led to countries developing in ways which have exacerbated climate change and environmental degradation. This has to change.”


The Committee identify a series of recommendations across a range of international and domestic policy areas, including

  • demanding the highest standards of environmental protection in trade deals to unequivocally ensure that there is no potential for these to be undermined through trade dispute settlement mechanisms, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP);
  • leading international efforts to improve air quality in cities;
  • ensuring that at all economic development related aid programmes fully safeguard biodiversity;
  • reporting annually on the impact of the International Climate Fund; and
  • supporting the establishment of Marine Protected Areas in UK overseas territories, such as Pitcairn.

Achieving the global goals for 2030 will require ambitious action for the UK and other developed countries as well as for developing countries. The Committee urge the Government to publically support a separate climate change goal in the SDGs given the importance of reaching an ambitious global climate change agreement in Paris next year. It calls on the Government to rapidly phase out its continued subsidies to carbon intensive energy sources in line with the commitments made at Rio +20 and the UN Secretary General’s call to phase out “harmful subsidies”. The MPs urge the Government to accelerate its work on resource efficiency and the circular economy, including through negotiating ambitious targets within the European Union.

Finally, and importantly, the Committee said the Government should do more to raise awareness in the UK with the new goals, and promote education around sustainable development in schools and universities.

Joan Walley MP said

Communicating the need for and potential of sustainable development is vitally important. I hope 2015 will be remembered as the year when Governments took action to change the trajectory of environmental destruction we are currently on, towards one of sustainable development and wellbeing for all. We owe this to people living in extreme poverty and to future generations, but also to ourselves. Our Government can do more to share this message with all parts of society, as we all have a role to play.”

Further information

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