Why new industrial strategy can help UK’s progress on Sustainable Development Goals

30 November 2017

The grand challenges set out in the UK government’s new industrial strategy are global in scope and closely align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework.  Progress on both will require the UK to build and strengthen the way it works with partners worldwide, to make the most of future opportunities such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) as well as mitigate risks.

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Sustainable Development Goals and Grand Challenges

The industrial strategy outlines four grand challenges that UK government is intent on tackling. These include:

  1. Economic development driven by AI
  2. Promoting clean growth
  3. Changing the way people, goods and services are moved around
  4. Adapting and innovating health and social care systems to meet the needs of an ageing population 

Work towards these challenges can make a vital contribution to accelerating the UK and other countries’ progress against SDGs, including Decent Work and Economic Growth, Good Health and Well Being and Responsible Consumption and Production.

Decent Work in a Digital World

Advances in digital technology and AI are transforming the future of work, and while rapid technological advances present significant opportunities they also pose challenges and threats. Self-driving trucks are due to be tested on UK roads in 2018 and are already being piloted in the US, where around three million truck drivers and 8.7 million other people are employed in trucking-related jobs.  In the Philippines, which has benefited from global outsourcing, the jobs of 89 per cent of salaried call centre staff are now at risk from automation. Women are also likely to be disproportionately and negatively impacted by automation, and also less likely to be shaping decisions in the tech sector where they are under-represented.  Politics and policy must keep pace with technology to drive and shape the trajectory of this change, which is being felt across all sectors and workplaces in a way that goes beyond that experienced in the first industrial revolution.

Becky Faith, IDS Research Fellow said: “The impact of automation and digitisation on workers is one of the key global challenges of our time and it’s good to see it being recognised as such by the UK Industrial Strategy.  A coherent policy response across UK Government departments is urgently required to tackle head on how businesses will create and sustain jobs, how governments will support decent work for all, bridge the digital skills gap and address digital inequalities – both here in the UK and globally.”

Read more about Decent Work in a Digital World and Digital Development and the Future of Work

Health and Well Being for an Ageing Population

The challenge of understanding how health and welfare systems can adapt and innovate to meet the needs of an ageing population is being experienced by many countries.  Sharing learning and knowledge across sectors and countries can provide new and critical insights and is something that IDS and its partners have been working to facilitate.

A visiting delegation from China including the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China and the YouChange Foundation, were recently hosted for the day by Brighton and Hove City Council and the Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group, in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies.  Discussions focused on the vision for health care provision in Brighton and Hove and the experiences of the UK more broadly, which next year will celebrate 70 years of the NHS, alongside the experiences and pilot projects from health services in Chinese cities. 

Gerry Bloom, IDS Research Fellow, said: “Sharing respective experiences of common problems can help broaden the way we approach global challenges such as ageing populations.  Building enduring partnerships and creating opportunities for knowledge exchange, such as the one between Brighton and Hove and Chinese cities, will be fundamental to achieving the ambitions set out in the UK’s industrial strategy as well the Sustainable Development Goals.  This type of collaboration will also be important to the UK as it positions itself on the global stage post-Brexit.”

Read more about UK collaborations with China and Brazil on health and social care.

Green Transformations for Responsible Consumption

Radically and positively reframing the response to climate change and dwindling natural resources is critical.  Rather than being seen as a cost we will have to bear, a ‘green transformation’ - the process of re-structuring economies and societies to be sustainable – is an opportunity to invigorate economic and social life and enhance wellbeing at local, national and international levels.

Real innovations are happening now in many countries across the world and many of the most exciting examples of change are taking place in low- and middle-income countries and there is a real opportunity for us to learn from these experiences, and potentially adapt the best and most promising to the UK context.  For example, the circular economy in countries such as India, Kenya, Brazil and Ghana is increasing productivity and economic growth, improving the quality and quantity of employment, and saving lives, by reducing environmental impacts such as water and air pollution.

Strong partnerships across sectors – public and private - as well as countries is essential to accelerate progress towards ‘clean growth’ or ‘green transformations.  A recognition of the different strengths and added value public and private organisations can bring and the understanding that no-one sector alone can achieve the level of transformation required is essential

Stephen Spratt, IDS Research Fellow, said: “To truly realise its ambitions – both for the Industrial Strategy and the SDGs - the UK must combine initiatives to stimulate private and public investment for new technologies and technical solutions, with efforts to create the systems, public institutions and policies to drive green transformations, both nationally and internationally.  It is only through this blend of the public and the private that clean growth, which is also inclusive and sustainable, can be achieved.”

Read more about Making Green Transformations a Reality and How Circular Economy can Create Jobs and Save Lives