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Sustainable Development Goals

Volume 807: debated on Thursday 12 November 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office plans to develop a strategy for how they plan to meet the Sustainable Development Goals; and when any such strategy will be published.

My Lords, the UK is committed to the sustainable development goals. The aims of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office—working to end extreme poverty, tackling the climate crisis, protecting our values and promoting sustainable growth—all contribute to meeting the goals. The integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy will further define the Government’s ambition for the UK’s role in the world and shape the FCDO’s objectives and priorities.

My Lords, Covid shows the need for increased action by the global community towards achieving the SDGs and delivering on the commitment to “leave no one behind”. Prioritising the SDGs domestically as well as internationally is vital, as they provide a ready-made road map to recovery. What are the Government doing to establish a coherent cross-government strategy for achieving the SDGs and to improve engagement with stakeholders in line with the commitments that the noble Baroness made in last year’s VNR? On the transparency of aid spending, will she guarantee that ICAI remains independent of government and accountable to Parliament?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that the SDGs provide a valuable framework to help us build back better in Covid-19 recovery. We are committed to implementing the SDGs and we have been proactive in our response to the pandemic. The SDGs have an important role to play, both here in the UK and in our international work. We will continue our regular engagement with stakeholders. On ICAI, I can confirm that it will remain independent.

My Lords, thanks largely to global efforts and UK leadership, recent research shows that the global burden of disease on women has shifted significantly from maternal mortality and morbidity to non-communicable diseases. In particular, the statistics on mental health are distressing. Depression is predicted to be the second-leading cause of global disability by 2020 and it is twice as common and more persistent in women. Dementia is also twice as common in women globally. Women and children are by far the most affected by violence and disaster, with post-traumatic and neurodevelopmental disorders still widely underdiagnosed. Despite all this, mental health accounts for less than 3% of global health budgets. In order to meet SDGs 3 and 5, can the Minister say how much ODA spending will go to women’s NCDs and mental health budgets, in particular?

I agree with my noble friend that mental health is a major concern that affects women around the world. This summer we published our approach paper on mental health and psychosocial disabilities. It clearly outlines our ambition to achieve an integrated and comprehensive rights-based approach to mental health support. It noted the significant gender disparity. It is important that while we continue to support our work on ending preventable deaths, we also address the growing burden of non-communicable diseases.

My Lords, given Brexit, can the Minister inform the House of how much UK aid that had gone through the EU will now be exclusively available for UK priorities, and can the likely billions be invested with the Global Partnership for Education, advancing girls’ education, of which I am a champion?

My Lords, we are indeed supporting the Global Partnership for Education. We look forward to co-hosting the replenishment conference with the Government of Kenya next year and we will announce our support for GPE in due course.

[Inaudible.] the UN sustainable goals is threatened by lack of investment in some of the emerging markets in Africa, South America and the Middle East. Is it possible for us to concentrate more investment in this area?

[Inaudible.] and we will continue to do so. I point the noble Baroness towards the UK-Africa Investment Summit, which we held at the end of last year and which set out what further moves we will take to increase our investment within Africa.

My Lords, the monitoring the sustainable development goals programme is a joint project between the FCDO and the UN Statistics Division. It supports 20 countries to feed data into the global set of 172 indicators. This is essential data if we are to meet the commitment to leave no one behind. The programme is successful and scores an A. Can the Minister say whether it will continue after May 2021?

I agree with the noble Baroness on the importance of investing in data. I am afraid I cannot commit to future spending in 2021 at this stage, but I agree that data is key to understanding progress against the SDGs and helping to identify where further action is needed. We will continue our partnership with the UN by ensuring that we provide the best data we can for countries around the world so that they can judge their own progress against the SDGs.

My Lords, as a consequence of the Courtauld commitments, the Government have a partial strategy at least—one for the delivery of environmental goals in SDG 12. However, progress is slow and not on target for the reduction of food waste or emissions associated with the production and consumption of food, and we have no road map for the delivery of a water security target. The strategy is fine but what is being done to make sure that the goals are kept under proper review and, more importantly, realigned when necessary?

We are, of course, committed to a sustainable and resilient recovery as we build back better from Covid-19. We look forward to hosting the COP 26 conference next November, where will be able to focus on all the issues that the noble Lord has raised.

My Lords, who exactly are the poorest of the poor who must not be left behind? Will the FCDO identify them? Are they the ones without food, water or healthcare? Are they refugees? Will the UK focus SDGs more on those suffering from endemic poverty, such as victims of slavery or Dalits who have to clean latrines day after day in India? I think the public would like to know.

My Lords, one of the core missions of the FCDO is to end extreme poverty, while also ensuring that all our programmes are reaching the bottom billion—the people most in need of the support that we give through our development programmes. We will continue to develop our programmes, making sure that we are reaching those most in need so that we do not leave anyone behind.

My Lords, the World Bank has said that, post recovery, we will need to reschedule debts, tackle climate change more energetically and promote livelihoods. Do the Government agree with that assessment? If they do, will they still ensure that we prioritise gender equality and poverty reduction in achieving those objectives?

My Lords, we agree with that assessment and I assure the noble Lord that we will continue to prioritise tackling gender inequality.

My Lords, the extraordinary donation this week by Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing of £8 million to the British Museum’s Endangered Material Knowledge Programme is a reminder of the international work that our museums do around the world, helping developing nations preserve and protect their heritage. Will the Minister assure me that culture will be at the heart of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s work on sustainable development goals?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that culture is an important export, of which the UK is very proud, and we will continue to support culture wherever we are able to.

My Lords, the Minister said yesterday that girls’ education is the top priority for our overseas aid but girls cannot stay in education if they are married off early with no access to contraception because they then spend the rest of their lives having more and more babies. Surely strengthening the availability of family planning and sexual and reproductive health services must be the top priority for overseas aid to achieve the sustainable development goals, especially during the pandemic.

Girls’ education is indeed a key priority for the FCDO but so is continuing our support for sexual and reproductive health and rights. We are the world’s second-largest global bilateral donor on family planning. I agree with the noble Baroness that we must ensure that girls and women have access to family planning so that they can continue their education, contribute to the economy and decide how and when to have children and how many to have.

My Lords, all the supplementary questions have been asked and we now move to the third Oral Question. I call the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford.