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Sustainable Development Goals Summit

Volume 832: debated on Thursday 21 September 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take following the Sustainable Development Goals Summit 2023 of the United Nations General Assembly.

My Lords, speaking at the UN SDG summit on Tuesday, the Deputy Prime Minister affirmed on the global stage the UK’s strong commitment to the sustainable development goals and the actions needed to deliver them by 2030. The UK’s forthcoming international development White Paper will set out our vision for global development that delivers on the sustainable development goals of poverty reduction, economic growth and tackling climate change. It will build on our commitments outlined in the international development strategy and integrated review refresh.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. In 2005, when the millennium development goals were off-track and falling behind, then Prime Minister Tony Blair convened the G8 at Gleneagles in order to get the millennium development goals back on track and to ensure that the wider global community committed to action to deliver them. In 2015, then Prime Minister David Cameron chaired the group that wrote and set up the sustainable development goals and put them to the General Assembly for approval. In 2023, Prime Minister Sunak has decided not even to attend, and I think that has shamed the United Kingdom globally at an important time, half way towards 2030. However, the UK agreed the declaration at the assembly on Tuesday which called for accelerated action on climate change. Why did the Prime Minister take his foot off the accelerator yesterday and put his foot on the brake?

I thank the noble Lord for that question and pay tribute to him for his work as co-chair of the APPG on the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development. It is not uncommon for Prime Ministers not always to attend this particular summit. In the last 20 years there have been eight separate occasions when the British Prime Minister has not attended. We sent a high-level delegation, led by the Deputy Prime Minister, and a number of members of the Government, particularly from the FCDO. On the noble Lord’s point about climate change, since 2011, UK international climate finance investments have helped 95 million people to cope with the effects of climate change, provided 58 million people with improved access to clean energy, reduced or avoided 60 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and leveraged £5.2 billion of private finance.

Does my noble friend agree that, while these goals and targets are splendid, there is the small matter of what the UN can do to improve its effectiveness in seeing that they come about? Does he agree with President Zelensky, who remarks that, with Russia about to become chair of the Security Council, the UN in its present form is proving relatively toothless? Is it not time for those who see this, including the British Government, to speak up more clearly about how the much-needed reform of the UN can be brought about so that it is more effective in dealing with today’s problems, not just security problems?

My noble friend makes an important point. It would be wrong for me to stand here today and go into too much detail on the question that he has asked, but I will certainly take it back to the department and ensure that he gets a full answer.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is absolutely wrong: the SDGs are not the responsibility of the United Nations but the responsibility of every country, every citizen and every private company. They are universal in nature. What my noble friend was trying to highlight is that political leadership is required. The political declaration that was agreed at the high-level political forum committed to targeted measures to eradicate poverty, but we have 745 million more people facing hunger than when the SDGs were agreed, so we are off target. We need political commitment. Can the Minister explain how the recent announcement of easing access to development finance meets the aspirations within the SDGs? We need more political leadership.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, about the need for everyone to take ownership and work in partnership. The word “partnership” has certainly come up in the last few weeks in your Lordships’ House. With regard to the need to press on and leadership, the Prime Minister was recently at the G20 where he talked to international colleagues and partners, and he continues to do so. If I may focus on food security and our humanitarian response for a second, the UK will invest over £370 million in global food security this year, including £130 million in the World Food Programme, and over £17 million of this funding will help to improve the effective use of fertiliser and increase food production in vulnerable countries.

My Lords, unlike France, which is now meeting its 0.7% commitment and expanding support across all 17 of the SDG targets, the UK is cutting across all 17, including over half of its commitment to water and sanitary health, women’s and girls’ support, and hunger relief. Is our economy far worse than that of France, meaning that we cannot afford it, or is that a political choice by the Conservative Government?

The noble Lord makes a powerful point. The one thing I would say in response is that we have continued to honour our commitments. We have helped educate more than 8 million of the world’s most vulnerable girls since 2015, and hosted the 2022 Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative Conference, to end conflict-related sexual violence. Our international women and girls strategy commits to at least 80% of the FCDO’s bilateral aid programmes focusing on gender equality by 2030, which is vital for delivering the SDGs.

My Lords, returning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, yesterday the Prime Minister rowed back—not, he assured us, on the targets, but on the actions that would help us to achieve those targets. However, from New York the message was very clear, and we were party to it, that no country had done enough and every country had to do more. What effect will this have on our international standing as a leader on climate change?

It was clear from the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday, and from my noble friend Lord Callanan at this Dispatch Box at Questions yesterday, that the Government remain committed. With regard to our international standing, our record speaks for itself. We are investing $200 million in hydro- power across Africa with Norway, providing enough clean energy to meet the energy needs equivalent to over 3 million people. The new Just Energy Transition Partnerships will mobilise $20 billion and $15.5 billion of financing to Indonesia and Vietnam respectively to help them move away from fossil fuel dependency while protecting communities and livelihoods.

My Lords, with the indulgence of the House, I would like to move us back to sustainable development within the UK, which is an important issue if we are to have global leadership. Does my noble friend agree that we need to encourage more domestic pension fund money to be invested in these areas? Will he take back to his department, as well as liaising with the Treasury about this, the fact that, currently, many pension funds that would want to invest in UK sustainable projects, such as wind farms, solar farms and alternative energy or infrastructure, are being hampered by the crisis that has developed in the investment trust market, whereby many of the funds seem to have been unable to raise any finance? I hope my noble friend will look into that issue with urgency.

I thank my noble friend for her question. I will continue the trend that I started earlier: when I do not understand or do not have complete information about a question, I will take it back to the department. I think I will take her question back to the department and to the Treasury to ensure that she gets a full response in a timely fashion.