Bishop of Sheffield praises vision of sustainable development goals and calls for more action on climate change

On 17th September 2015 Lord Chidgey moved “that this House takes note of the forthcoming summit on sustainable development goals in September and Her Majesty’s Government’s objectives at that summit.” The Bishop of Sheffield, Rt Revd Steven Croft, made a speech:

The Lord Bishop of Sheffield: My Lords, from these Benches I warmly welcome this debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for bringing it forward. I welcome the sustainable development goals and the Government’s commitment to them.

14.03.27 Bishop of Sheffield

Like others, I was initially somewhat sceptical about a document that contains 17 goals and 169 targets. These are not even memorable or round numbers. However, I am inspired by the single vision for our world that drives and shapes these goals. That vision is set out in the ambitious declaration that forms a preface to the draft document to be considered and, we hope, agreed at the September summit. The language of the declaration is lofty—rightly so. It says:

“Never before have world leaders pledged common action and endeavour across such a broad and universal policy agenda”.

There is then the best sentence in the document, which says:

“We can be the first generation to succeed in ending poverty just as we may be the last to have a chance of saving the planet”.

The vision in this document is of sustainable development, a safer world with more resilient institutions where no one is left behind. It is one consistent with the Christian tradition and those of the major world faiths. I applaud it, believe in it and support it. However, that vision needs to be communicated well and carefully, and implemented with rigour. It is here that I will focus my remarks.

The single vision in the report is broken down into just five areas of critical importance. These five areas are easy to name, remember and communicate: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. Preachers love alliteration. I would encourage the Government to place real weight on these shorter, more memorable and accessible headings, for the following reason. These visionary goals for our world will be realised only as they are widely understood and communicated. This compelling vision will never be realised if it is the vision only of politicians and NGOs. It must become that of the majority of people on the planet, a shared vision of prosperity, peace and partnership. These goals need to be spoken of in schools, universities and in the media. I wonder how many people even know that there is a summit in a few days’ time to agree this document. There needs to be international and local debate. Resources need to be invested here and elsewhere in education and building awareness of the values that underpin this vision which are no longer self-evident to many in our society or across the world.

I was a member a few years ago of the city-wide fairness commission in Sheffield—on a much smaller scale than this—attempting to articulate a vision. I assumed at the beginning of that process that fairness would be a shared concept among the population, that we were articulating something that people would understand. On the day of the report’s publication, I appeared on local radio. The bracing phone-in responses revealed that my assumption was wide of the mark. A big vision and detailed targets are both excellent but, in between, comes the harder task of transforming human attitudes and building deeper generosity of spirit, explaining the reasons why we seek a better world for all. The churches and faith communities have a key role here. We understand that we are global citizens, and we share the deeper values which lie beneath these goals.

To quote from the report again,

“we are setting out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision. We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive … A world in which every woman and child enjoys full gender equality … A just, equitable, tolerant and socially inclusive world”,

in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met, and a,

“world in which … consumption and production patterns … are sustainable”.

That vision is worthy of agreement, and it is worth sharing and communicating throughout our nation and beyond it. I hope that the Government will take this responsibility seriously. As other noble Lords have said, it is also a vision which calls for clear plans for implementation. Here, along with others, I encourage the Government to pay careful attention immediately to plans for enacting this ambitious programme and for scrutiny and review.

I have two specific questions for the Minister. Will the Government commit to promoting the vision of the SDGs and to implement the agenda in this country in full? If so, how do they plan to do this? Secondly, how will the Government use the high-level summit to build support for an ambitious global climate change agreement in Paris in November and December? What link does the Minister see between the two summits?

We all listen more to those who practise what they preach. The Government’s rhetoric on climate change in the manifesto for the election was strong, but their record on climate change since the election is becoming a cause of concern to many, myself included. The independent Committee on Climate Change has already raised the issue of a gap between the policies already in place and the policies needed to meet the climate change that the Government support. Many were therefore expecting after the election a series of positive policy announcements to close this gap and prepare the way for next week’s summit and for Paris. Instead, the gap seems to be widening; the Government have cut subsidies for solar and wind power and have privatised the Green Investment Bank, are getting rid of the Green Deal, have lifted the ban on certain harmful chemicals and have introduced a tax on electric cars. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will continue to hold to their commitments and support the positive and transformative vision of the sustainable development goals with consistent, prompt and long-term action, especially on climate change?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development (Baroness Verma) (Con) [extract]: 

…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield spoke of involving faith groups in this field and the significant and distinctive part that they play with the SDGs and civil society. The UK intends to strengthen its relationship with faith groups. We have launched the Faith Partnership Principles paper. As a result, there is now a greater understanding of the need for us to understand the role of religion in development. We will be working closely with faith groups to put these principles into practice through building a better understanding of faith in development.

The right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords raised the issue of climate change. We are fully committed to tackling climate change. We welcome the integration of objectives on climate change and sustainable development into the global goals. My department has already begun integrating work on climate change into our development programmes as part of the international climate facility. Over the next spending review we will set up this work to ensure that our programmes across a range of sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture, energy and social protection are climate-smart and take into account a changing climate.

The Government are committed to reducing the UK’s carbon emissions in the most cost-effective way for hard-working families and businesses. Our support has driven down the cost of renewable energy significantly and it has become easier for the renewables industry to stand on its own two feet without subsidies. Improvements in technology as well as a far faster growth in renewable-energy projects than anticipated has meant that renewables are generating more electricity requiring greater subsidies, so the Government are taking control to avoid overspending, which helps keep people’s bills down for both homes and businesses…


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