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Struggle to meet SDGs continues

The UK is struggling to get to grips with the targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals, according to a new analysis.

Out of 143 relevant targets, UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) found that the UK is performing well on just 24%. For 57% there are gaps in policy coverage or performance is inadequate. In 15% of the targets there is little or no policy in place to address the target or the performance is poor.

“While there is an enormous amount to celebrate, the most vulnerable places and people in our society are increasingly being left behind,” the authors concluded.

An example is the food system, they noted.We have a food system that struggles to provide healthy, sustainable, diverse diets for everyone in the UK. We have high and growing levels of obesity, and the highest levels of household food insecurity in Europe. Calories from healthy food consistently cost more than calories from unhealthy foods. And the wealthier you are, the higher portion of household income is assigned to consuming vegetables.”

The UK’s progress on biodiversity and sustainable agricultural production is also “mixed” with a number of measures improving but a number of them deteriorating as well, the authors said. There was also criticism of stagnating recycling and high levels of food waste.

There was however good progress on health and wellbeing (SDG 3), though the government was encouraged to focus on “risk factors” such as advertising of unhealthy food and drink, inactive workplaces, a lack of green space and difficulty in accessing affordable, healthy food.

UKSSD called for “top level political leadership” and responsibility for the goals “ideally to be in the Prime Minister’s office”. In April, the Environmental Audit Committee criticised the government for having “no clear plan” to deliver the SDGs in the UK.

UKSSD praised the businesses that had embraced the SDG agenda and encouraged more to do so: “All large companies should be required to report comprehensively on their sustainability impacts in line with the SDGs.”