Trade for prosperity

Lord Jack McConnell is Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the UN Global Goals

I have just returned from 10 days working in the Philippines and I have to say it felt special to be travelling so far again, reconnecting with old friends and meeting zoom acquaintances properly for the first time. 

I was reminded of the many complex challenges faced by the people who inhabit those islands. They have more extreme weather events than anywhere else in the world; a vast gulf between rich and poor; and conflict and violence has affected many of their regions for decades. The UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development could have been designed in the Philippines. The links between sustainable economic growth, action on education, health and housing, protection of the environment, keeping the peace and building accountable trusted institutions are obvious there.

But the 17 SDGs were made for everyone, everywhere. These universal goals bring together the different challenges faced in our interdependent world and set targets for all of us, improving lives in communities at home as well as transforming those parts of the world where extreme poverty and violence are a daily reality. The goals, agreed in 2015 with a target of 2030, were co-designed by the UK so we have a duty take them seriously. But more than that, they give us a roadmap to build back better from the pandemic, leaving no-one behind as we link action on poverty and inequality with protection of our environment from climate change.

As we saw at COP26 in Glasgow in November, companies large and small are way ahead of governments in bringing these goals and net zero targets to the heart of their business models. If only more of the governments who signed up to the goals could see the same opportunity and demonstrate the same commitment. 

The recent annual review of UK implementation of the Global Goals reported that nearly 7 years on, the goals are still not embedded at the heart of the UK governments approach to levelling up at home or Global Britain as ‘force for good’ abroad. Promises on stakeholder engagement, leadership from the centre and consistent policy around the world have failed to materialise. 

Hopefully as we emerge decisively from the pandemic and we pursue the pledges made at COP26, our governments will see the benefit in this ‘ready made deal’, a framework for sustainable development and progress. It is only by linking together the action that we take in all of these areas that we will be able to tackle the problems that affect people across our interdependent world and provide hope in these scary and challenges times. If we are to avoid the worst impact of further health scares, or recover the education lost by millions and millions of children, or deliver sustainable energy that is it no longer a weapon to be used against neighbours in conflict then we need to see the link between inequality and violence with social and economic progress and strong accountable institutions. 

The UK has always been uniquely placed with a strong voice in the United Nations, our partnerships in Europe and our reach across the Commonwealth. Surely there is no better time, as our country and the rest of the world recover from the economic, educational and social impact of the pandemic, as we join together to mitigate climate change and as we stand up to tyranny and invasion on the eastern borders of Europe. Let’s make the Global Goals more than just a dream, with 8 years left to 2030 let’s make sustainable development a reality.

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