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How the UK measures up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

A report by UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) 'Measuring up: How the UK is performing on the UN SDGs' was released today.

UKSSD worked with over 100 organisations from across the UK to produce a  comprehensive picture of UK progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

While the UKSSD found that the UK is performing well on 24% of the 143 UK-relevant targets in the SDGs, 57% contained gaps in policy coverage, or else performance was found inadequate. The UK’s best performance is for Goal 3 ‘Good Health & Wellbeing’, Goal 4 ‘Quality Education’ and Goal 17 ‘Partnerships’.

15% of the UK's targets were found to be in the 'red' — indicating little or no policy in place or poor performance. The country performed worst for Goal 15 Life on Land, and also failed to meet targets for water pollution. 65% of UK waters are rated excellent compared to the European average of 85%.

The report was underpinned by an Institute for Sustainability research project, led by Dr Graham Long, which collated data on the UK's progress towards the SDGs in 2016-2017, assessing data gaps and finding commensurable indicators and metrics. Dr Long worked with UKSSD on the report scope and methodology. In addition, Dr Long and a team of postgraduate students from the Politics Department at Newcastle University authored the section on the UK Overseas Territories, and Dr Emily Clough (Politics) helped to coordinate and co-author the chapter on Cities.   

Measuring Up will be presented to MPs at the House of Commons today and to states and stakeholders in New York on 17 July 2018, alongside the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

UKSSD Network Director Emily Auckland said: “We believe this report provides a solid platform for the UK Voluntary National Review to the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at the United Nations in 2019. We hope it makes a valuable contribution and a starting point to the UK Government’s official approach to implementation of the SDGs. As Measuring Up shows, the consequences of not taking action are damaging for both people and places across the country”.

Dr Graham Long, Associate Director of Newcastle University Institute for Sustainability, said: “This comprehensive assessment of the UK through the lens of the SDGs is a very significant contribution from UK stakeholders. It reinforces the key commitment of the SDGs that these goals are universally applicable — richly relevant within the UK, not just a matter of development aid overseas. And it really sets the bar for the upcoming government-led review of the SDGs in 2019”.

Dr Philip McGowan, Director of Newcastle University Institute for Sustainability, said: "Newcastle University has recognised the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals in its new Strategy that is being launched in the autumn. We are delighted that Dr Long has played such a leadership role in this report showing the value of academic involvement in both pursuing the Goals and in understanding what progress is being made. Newcastle University has a strong presence at this summer’s High Level Political Forum, reflecting its desire to understand how academic institutions can contribute as fully as possible to the SDG agenda".

The full report is available from

UKSSD report

published on: 3 July 2018