Last week, UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced a snap general election scheduled for 7 and 8 June 2017. It will be the third national election in just over two years, with the last UK General Election held in 2015, and the Brexit referendum in 2016. Following her confirmation that the Conservative party manifesto will retain the UK’s commitment to aid spending, UK aid was a trending topic on Twitter demonstrating how politically charged the 0.7% commitment currently is in UK public debate.
The current public position on aid is divided and the lack of awareness about Britain’s position in the world beyond the urgent foreign policy issues (Syria) increases this resistance to the work the development community does. A combination of austerity politics, sensationalist news coverage on foreign aid spending (some have uncovered real scandals), and the unprecedented scale of the international refugee crisis make it difficult to shift the focus from what’s going wrong to what’s going right.
UK aid is one of the most transparent in the world and in a recent analysis by OECD, and in 2016, UK was one of six OECD countries to meet the 0.7% target, thanks to the International Development Act, formally adopted in 2015. For a brilliant analysis on UK aid, check out this article by humanitarian policy expert (and friend), Miski Abdi. The question for the upcoming elections, however, is not whether we should keep our commitment to foreign aid spending but how we should spend this money to make sure it creates the biggest impact.
This is why the UK policy paper on #Agenda2030 matters more than ever. It is a blueprint for what can be achieved at home and abroad with a commitment to long-term change and not just short-term results that is easy to capture and visibly demonstrable.
My recent analysis of the UK policy paper, ‘Agenda 2030: Delivering the Global Goals’ has received a lot of engagement and was re-published on Deliver2030. It’s time to focus on the next big question which is how to ensure the UK government can increase the impact it makes through its Agenda 2030 strategy. Here are three recommendations and an additional recommendation from global health policy expert and PhD scholar, Elsa Zekeng. These recommendations address the systemic issues hindering global and national action on development and complement SDG Goal 17, ‘strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.’
Policy coherence for sustainable development
Policy coherence for sustainable development (PCSD) is referenced in Goal 17.14 as one of the systemic solutions to achieving the SDGs. The World Resources Institute has developed a solid definition of policy coherence for sustainable development, as a principle which encourages member states to ensure domestic development policies:
- complement the integrated nature of development (social, economic and environmental dimensions)
- do not worsen development outcomes of poor countries and;
- consider the impact of current policies on future generations.
The policy coherence for sustainable development is one of the more political statements in #Agenda2030 and will provide political and technical challenges for member states to implement. It may also highlight another potential divergence in the agenda, whereby member states are encouraged to adopt the PCSD principle (Goal 17.14) but the principles of national sovereignty and common but differentiated responsibilities still stand (Goal 17.15).
PCSD, however, is a principle we can adopt to make sure development policy and programming is aligned with the long term aim of creating a new model of development (sustainable development). My first recommendation to the UK government is to adopt the PCSD approach in their programming either during the policy design phase or as part of the evaluation frameworks across all domestic and international development programmes. The Policy Lab at the Cabinet Office can play a key role in advancing this, harnessing its unique combination of policy design, data and digital tools and partnering with local authorities as well as regional institutions in the European region to innovate.
A governance architecture that builds on the unique strengths of each stakeholder
A clear governance architecture to implement the SDGs is needed with defined roles and responsibilities between stakeholders at the different levels of governance. At the national level, DfID have been assigned oversight of UK’s involvement with Agenda 2030. However, it is not clear whether they will play a role in co-ordinating the agenda across the whole-of-government. To improve coordination on the agenda, the UK government should set up an inter-ministerial committee, similar to the committee set up by German government, to focus solely on SDGs implementation at home and abroad.
As mentioned in my previous post, Parliament can increase its role in monitoring and reviewing our progress on the agenda, in partnership with the All Party Parliamentary Group on the SDGs (APPG). At present, it is not clear how UK will co-ordinate review of progress domestically and abroad and how this will be reported to formal review mechanisms such as the High-Level Political Forum. The APPG could act as a convener between the different select committees and facilitate this process.
At the local level, local stakeholders can outline the variation in progress between territories which gives us an insight in to which solutions work well and in which circumstances they work best in. Within the governance architecture, local stakeholders can play a leading role in advancing the leave no one behind principle (our commitment to inclusive development). With increased resources, legislative powers and financial support from the central government, local stakeholders can develop and report on transformative solutions targeting groups that are marginalised.
Local stakeholders are also in the best position to innovate alternative forms of monitoring and progress on the SDGs which empower citizens to hold public authorities to account and minimise barriers to public participation (i.e. digital inequalities, lack of information, inaccessible data/information etc).
Adding global value by solving collective action problems
Agenda 2030 presents another opportunity for the UK government to redefine itself in a new post- EU era. Adopting #Agenda2030 can make UK a global convening power in global governance by specialising in anticipating collective action problems and investing in solutions to these problems.
One of these issues, is how to sustain political will long enough to implement Agenda 2030. At present, analyses on maintaining political will provide solutions on the immediate political context without looking at how to sustain political will across different government administrations (Side note: I assume that member states operate on routine and free elections which leave the possibility of changing governments through the democratic process. As we know, this is not always the case…)
The UK government can work on this collective action problem, by investing in research, co-ordinating global policy partnerships and innovations looking at policy continuation on the SDGs at the domestic levels between now and 2030. Policy continuation also links to other agendas in development co-operation such as policy coherence for sustainable development and the aid effectiveness agenda.
Revitalise the global health agenda, at home and abroad – Elsa Zekeng, PhD scholar
Implementing the SDGs at home and abroad will require an inclusive action plan which shifts the development community from a needs-based approach to a rights-based approach. The UK government policy paper on Agenda 2030 highlights the recent funding invested into mental health. Mental health issues are currently at a record high in the UK especially among youth and some ‘unlikely’ student groups such as PhD students. The government should partner up with initiatives such as ‘hacking health competitions’ as a means of interacting and involving youth. The most recent hacking health in Liverpool focused on creating innovative solutions to solve mental health and social care disabilities. I participated in this hackathon where my team won the hacking health prize. These are the front facing and local programmes that the UK government should prioritise for further funding and support.
For the implementation of the SDGs abroad, the UK government should also engage with other heads of states to advance internationally agreed commitments on global health. These discussions should persuade and pressure governments, for example, to give 15% of GDP to the health sector thereby upholding the Abuja Declaration 2001.
What are your thoughts? How can the UK government add value to their Agenda 2030 approach? Share your thoughts on the comments section below, via the contact section or on Twitter! Let’s keep up the momentum.