United Kingdom country profile - SDGs and the environment

Briefing Published 02 Dec 2020 Last modified 02 Dec 2020
4 min read
The United Kingdom is committed to implementing the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda at home and around the world. Despite consideration of policy prioritisation, numerous sources highlight the integrated and indivisible nature of the SDGs. Thus, the UK intends to cover all 17 goals equally (UK, 2017a).

Conducting the UK’s first VNR has yielded many lessons and insights. The UK recognises that the 17 SDGs represent a framework for addressing the cross-cutting challenges facing the UK and the world today. They yield interlinkages which the government, business and civil society can collaborate on to develop holistic long-term solutions that benefit society as a whole and contribute to several SDGs simultaneously (HM Government, 2019). 

The UK has a strong story to tell domestically on many of the SDGs, including progress made on climate and the environment. At the same time, it acknowledges that there are areas that require boosting the country’s efforts further to address climate and environmental issues (HM Government, 2019). 

The country is proud of its commitment to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited.  Sustainable agriculture is at the heart of this commitment.  On SDG 2, steps are being taken across the UK to improve the sustainability of farming and food production. For SDG 6, the UK government’s 25 Year Environment Plan sets out a range of measures to achieve clean and plentiful water. There has been important progress in recent years. For example, England now has consistently high levels of clean bathing waters, serious pollution incidents are steadily declining, and rivers that were biologically dead are being revived (HM Government, 2019). 

The UK adopts a holistic approach to all 17 SDGs. The country’s actions towards SDGs with an environmental dimension focus mainly on SDGs 2, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15.

On SDG 7, the UK is working on making energy affordable for all and to sustain improvements in energy efficiency. Its ambition is to meet its climate change commitments at the lowest possible cost to British taxpayers, consumers and businesses, while being at the forefront of clean technologies and maximising the social and economic benefits of the global shift to clean growth (HM Government, 2019). On SDG 11, the UK is focusing on building sustainable cities and infrastructure of the future to face the challenges of natural disasters, changing climates, and shifting populations (HM Government, 2019). 

On SDG 12, the ‘Greening Government Commitments’ identified a set of actions for the UK government to reduce their impacts on the environment. Citizens and business are also encouraged to be responsible for their environmental impact. The UK is working to minimise waste, promote resource efficiency, and move towards a circular economy. The introduction of the carrier-bag charge and landfill tax are considered to have shown significant impacts on such behavioural shifts (HM Government, 2019). The government is working with its fishing industry and marine scientists to ensure sustainable fish stocks. The UK is a forerunner of global efforts to tackle marine plastic and has introduced a strict ban on microbeads. Further action will focus on the impacts of climate change on the ocean (SDG 14) (HM Government, 2019). 

The condition of the country’s land ecosystems (SDG 15) continues to be affected by land use, pollution, invasive alien species, and climate change. Although the decline in the number and distribution of certain species have slowed, action must continue. Therefore, the UK is focusing its action on better protection of ecosystems, improved management of protected sites, incentives for farming and woodland management, and funding for peatland restoration (HM Government, 2019). 

In preparations for the VNR, the country conducted wide stakeholder engagement across the UK through case studies, events or by providing feedback electronically. The VNR outlined both good practices and key areas where further action is required (HM Government, 2019). Several charities have come together to establish the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD), a multi-stakeholder network aiming to inspire and support public, private and voluntary organisations. The work of the UKSSD has been complemented by the Bond SDGs Group, a civil society coalition of over 150 organisations advocating the full implementation of the SDGs (UK, 2017a). Project Everyone (a UK-based non-profit organisation that aims to ‘mak[e]ing the SDGs famous’] has also pursued efforts to promote the SDGs at the international level (UK, 2017a). 

In the UK, the Secretary of State for the Department for International Development (DFID) has overall responsibility for overseeing implementation of the SDGs, working closely with the Cabinet Office to ensure that they are incorporated throughout government structures (UK, 2017a). The role of the Cabinet Office is to ensure that the goals are integrated into departments’ Single Departmental Plans (SDPs). The underlying aims of the SDGs are reflected in the UK government’s work programme and, as such, are embedded in the SDPs. An interdepartmental group on the SDGs across the UK government on the Goals, co-chaired by officials in the DFID and Cabinet Office, also provides governance for the overall process in the UK (UK, 2017a).

The UK submitted a VNR to the UN in 2019.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) is committed to sourcing data that gives the clearest picture of the UK’s contribution to the SDGs. As of June 2019, the ONS reports UK data on 180 (74 %) indicators of the total 244.The ONS has created a portal for gathering and disseminating the UK’s national SDG indicators and the relevant data (ONS, 2017a). This reporting platform has a dual purpose: to make national data on the SDGs publicly available and to provide a collection point for the relevant agencies who need UK data to prepare the clustered global figure reported to the UN (ONS, 2017b).


HM Government, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 2019, Voluntary National Review of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, United Kingdom, accessed 15 September 2019.

ONS, 2017a, UK data for Sustainable Development Goal indicators, Office for National Statistics, United Kingdom, accessed 20 November 2017.

ONS, 2017b, ‘Sustainable Development Goals: progress and possibilities: November 2017’, Office for National Statistics, United Kingdom, accessed 20 November 2017.

UN DESA, 2017, ‘Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform – Documents and Reports’, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York, USA, accessed 20 November 2017.


The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.


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