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HoC Environmental Audit Committee - The Sustainable Development Goals in the UK

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee have launched an inquiry into the Sustainable Development Goals in the UK. Details of the inquiry can be found on the committee website. The submission produced by the Geological Society can be found below:

Submitted 16 September 2016

1. The Geological Society (GSL) is the UK’s learned and professional body for geoscience, with about 12,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia, regulatory agencies and government with a broad range of perspectives on policy-relevant science, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies, those in education, and other non-technical audiences.

2. We welcome the committee’s inquiry to examine the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are a central part of the global effort to improve quality of life around the world. Many of the 17 goals have a significant geological component including clean water and sanitation, climate action, life below water, life on land and sustainable cities and communities. Meeting the sustainable SDGs will require the commitment and work of the governments of individual nation states but this must be part of a joined up, global effort. Domestic efforts cannot be looked at in isolation if policies are to be successful. Collaboration across borders will be essential to effectively overcome the complex tasks ahead.

3. The UK has a key role in the international development sector and is well placed to take a leading role in delivering on the SDGs both in the UK and overseas. The UK’s international development strategy and the link to research and research funding is one area where joined up policy making, with a global outlook, will be imperative. Last year’s Autumn Statement brought the announcement of the Global Challenges Research Fund which is a £1.5 billion fund aimed at supporting cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries. This money will be distributed through the network of research councils and assigned to projects that meet the Official Development Assistance Criteria (ODA). This will generate more funding bids and research projects focussed on issues of development overseas and is just one of the ways that UK domestic policy also has significant impacts on other nations and global concerns.

4. One area where the UK can provide international leadership is on the development and testing of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology as part of the SDG on Climate Action. The significant storage potential under the North Sea and the UK’s strong research base and history of academic/hydrocarbons industry collaboration makes the UK ideally placed to take a leading role in global development of CCS. The carbon storage potential of the North Sea is only viable while existing infrastructure is in place (pipelines and platforms). The recent decline in oil price will accelerate the decommissioning of many older, less economic fields which reduces the options for reinjection of CO2 and therefore the window of opportunity is closing. Development of CCS presents a prime opportunity to integrate and grow an industry which can contribute to economic growth and raising living standards through the development of sustainable business operations, a win-win opportunity.

5. A key industry for economic growth and development is the extractive industries. They play a pivotal role in the economies of developed and developing countries alike and underpin much of their economic and social prosperity. The extractive industries produce materials that are used ubiquitously in contemporary technology to provide basic, as well as high-end items used throughout the developed and developing world. This can involve everything from the provision of basic needs such as energy, water and shelter to important technologies in communications and infrastructure. There is a raft of ethical issues regarding how continuity of supply of these resources to sustain economic development and to improve living standards is to be managed and whether such matters can be left to the market alone. The increase in living standards of many of the world’s poorest over the past quarter century has been underpinned by the use of metal and mineral resources in technology and infrastructure. Maintaining the increase in living standards, while addressing climate change and rising human population, will require new sources of raw materials to be located and extracted sustainably for developed and developing countries alike, while respecting intergenerational equity and the needs of future generations. The UK has a has considerable experience and expertise in locating and extracting natural resources. If managed well, responsible resource development has the proven potential to alleviate poverty, to increase the overall well being of citizens and to empower communities and nations, particularly in the less developed world, as well as addressing at least three of the UN SDGs.

6. Meeting the SDGs will require joined up thinking and working across all relevant government departments and teams including UK Research and Innovation, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Department of International Trade and the Department for International Development as well as private companies and industry.