The prime minister has said the business sector and government have an “important role to play” in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set at COP21 in 2015, claiming it is “vital” that both need to work together to meet the country’s climate targets.
Theresa May was responding to an open letter sent to her in January by over 80 UK businesses, calling on the government to show its commitment to delivering the United Nations-agreed SDGs.
It called on the PM to demonstrate a commitment to the targets beyond their adoption and a requirement across all Whitehall departments to work with business and other stakeholders to develop an SDG delivery plan.
In her response, dated February but released last week, May said: “The business sector, as well as civil society and the public, all have an important role to play in delivering the Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs).
“I agree that it is important for all government departments to engage with businesses and stakeholders to deliver the SDGs. Each government department is responsible for the delivery of its own commitments related to the goals, and will work closely with relevant stakeholders to ensure this happens.
“If we are to realise the aims envisaged by the SDGs, and to forge a more prosperous and secure future for all the world’s people, it is vital that business and government continue to work together.”
She also agreed with the previous letter’s call for a transparent reporting framework on progress towards the SDGs, explaining that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) would be taking up this responsibility.
May said ONS is preparing to launch a consultation in 2017 on how it will report the UK’s progress, including that of businesses and stakeholders.
“I encourage businesses to engage in this process,” the PM added.
Dominic White, head of international development policy at WWF, one of the steering organisations for the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) platform which coordinated the letter, said the business community was ready act alongside government.
“It’s encouraging that in her reply the PM acknowledges that all government departments have a responsibility to deliver the SDGs. In particular, there’s a welcome recognition that all departments should ‘engage with businesses and stakeholders’ to achieve this. We stand ready to facilitate this process,” he said.
However, White added that the response was “lacking in detail” and failed to show a clear recognition from government that new thinking is needed across “old models of governing and doing business”.
“The government needs to show it understands the interconnected world we now live in and how the key to delivering the SDGs is policy coherence,” he said.
“If the prime minister’s commitment to be, as she writes, ‘at the forefront of delivering [SDGs] in the UK’ is to be fulfilled then we will need to see strong ministerial leadership and suitable governance structures.”