Blog Post

Kick-starting the SDGs in the UK – UKSSD

“ We are all in this boat together”, Professor Sir David King, special representative for Climate Change and Chairman of Future Cities Catapult, reminded us during the opening session of the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development Goals (UKSSD) conference in London on Monday, 25th April. A simple, yet precise notion, whose ethos echoed throughout the rest of the day, with a variety of breakout groups discussing topics ranging from Youth Engagement to Climate Change and Social Justice. This message, describing the importance of recognising that we all need to stand together to drive the Sustainable Development Goals, resonated not only with the Future Justice Members present, but also with the wider audience, which was comprised of a multitude of people from all backgrounds, and of all ages, with the communal goal of working towards a transformation of our current society, to one that is, and will remain, sustainable.

The UKSSD conference aimed to start a kick-off phase for the SDGs in the UK, and at the end of the event, Farooq Ullah, Executive Director of UKSSD, presented a variety of first-step solutions to create momentum, which the attendees proposed during the breakout sessions. One of the many great suggestions was concerning youth engagement via the creation of a road show, reaching young people that might not have the opportunity to engage at a local level. This road show would be held with language accessible to all, and with the opportunity to host podcasts, share thoughts and exchange ideas on the implementation of the SDGs.

What is needed to transform the UK into a more sustainable society is a real understanding that western countries will not be able to buy their way out of the problems they have helped to create. We are all part of a globalised economy and as such, any problems occurring elsewhere do, and will, eventually affect us. This means, amongst other things, that we need to pull together and focus our activities on preventing the worst of climate change, decarbonising our economy and ultimately, Professor Sir David King said, on developing resilience because climate change is already happening. An interesting point made during the Keynote session was that the new Low Carbon Sector actually has an incredible economic pull. Not only is it the biggest growth sector but the annual turnover currently equals the food and drinks industry combined and is twice the turnover of the auto manufacturing industry, with prices on clean energy technology having collapsed by 60% since 2008. Surely, investing in this sector, then, is not only a positive step towards the SDGs but also a sure way to increase economy.

Speaking of living in a global economy and connected world, another vital point made, was that the UK should start learning from countries in the global south. Rwanda was cited as an example, which has the highest rate of vaccinations, because the people hold ownership of health centres. This process of learning and sharing is a view that the World Future Council has held for a long time, with many of our good policy cases coming from countries in these regions.

Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, took part in the female-driven panel discussion and shared her insight on holding public bodies accountable in order to make sure that they are maximising their contributions to the goals, as well as challenging people by asking the, often dreaded, ‘what if’ questions. The importance of having a Future Generations Commissioner, is a feat that is at the core of the Future Justice work and on which we recently have published a comprehensive video. So it was inspiring to hear the first real-life implications of Ms Howe’s work and its utmost importance. Other panel members were Kate Raworth, Senior Visiting Research Associate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, Barbara Crowther, Director Policy and Public Affairs, Fairtrade Foundation, Juliet Davenport OBE, CEO and Founder, Good Energy, and Anna Easton, Sustainable Business Director, BT, chaired by Katherine Purvis, The Guardian.

The next generation, or ‘youth’, featured substantially in the discussion. Not only can change not ‘happen fast enough’, it was agreed on, but there also needs to be a move towards sustainable production and consumption, partnerships and policy coherence and, vitally, the need for businesses to understand the next generations, because they are angrier, having been put into a position they had no choice in, and they have higher expectations. What this means in particular, is that they are not as trusting of existing processes. So there is a real market demand and opportunity coming up for businesses to get their decisions right and to truly work towards a more sustainable future and implement the SDGs. This also often means, as Ms Howe said, that we need to break through a cultural barrier – there are a large number of chief executives that don’t really understand what the SDGs mean – on top of creating productive partnerships to ensure maximising the contribution to the SDGs.

Kate Raworth questioned why we teach biology in school – in order to understand how the body functions- but not eco literacy, which would contribute to an understanding of the SDGs for young people and would create a wider opportunity for engagement. It is vital for policy makers to be made aware that a policy on eco-literacy exists, and is actually being implemented in Maryland. This policy can be found on and would be a good starting point to answer this query into the lack of eco-literacy for our young people.

The final Keynote speaker Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, Colombia University exclaimed that “ all of our society needs a lot of fixing”. To bring us full circle then, this means that if we all sit in the same boat, and that boat needs fixing, but that fixing is either left too late or doesn’t happen at all, then one can only come to the conclusion that we will all drown. Let’s not let that happen. Instead, let us become ambitious about the SDGs, work together and hopefully leave a better world behind than it is now.

Picture taken by Emmelie Brownlee from Bioregional

Posted by Future Justice on 28 April 2016

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