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unicef launches report at royal society in london, uk

Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF’s Office of Research-Innocenti in Florence, Italy.

(22 June 2017) The global launch of Innocenti Report Card 14, Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries, was held 15 June at the Royal Society in London. Each year the report is launched at an international event designed to promote discussion and exchange of views on policy implications for child well-being that can be drawn from the Report Card findings.

Dr. Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF Innocenti, delivered the keynote presentation. She stressed the universality of the SDG’s which are applicable to all countries regardless of income level, and provided details of how a high level of national income is not a guarantee of sustainable development. 

“The SDGs give us an opportunity to identify the gaps in global monitoring of child well-being. How do we measure that? Where are the gaps? Where we may need new data, or we need better policies to improve trends?” said Cook in her keynote remarks. (View presentation below)

“The report helps to put children firmly in the centre of achieving the sustainable development goals, achieving equity and sustainability for all children, leaving no child behind, recognizing that meeting the sustainable development goals requires a focus on every child, in order for us to achieve sustainability in the future, but also to improve their well-being today.”

Jan Vandemoortele, Independent expert, PhD in Development Economics, served in various capacities with the United Nations for over 30 years.

Following the keynote presentation an expert panel discussion was organized and moderated by UK social affairs journalist and writer Louise Tickle. Panelist Jan Vandemoortele, independent expert, observed: “I think the value of this report is that is shows the member states of the OECD and the EU that these SDGs are truly universal in the sense that they apply as much to rich countries as they apply to poor countries, in different ways of course. It’s not only an agenda about development assistance.”

Panelist Romina Boarini, adviser and researcher with OECD noted: “When you start looking at the details of the performance, let’s say the less traditional categories brought up by the SDGs, we start learning very interesting and surprising results. Norway, that actually tops the league, does poorly on goals such as peace, justice and institutions… And there are opposite examples, because you have countries that are classified at the bottom of the table, countries like Mexico and Portugal, that actually do pretty well in some of the dimensions.”

Romina Boarini, Senior Advisor to Secretary General and Coordinator of the Inclusive Growth Initiative, OECD. 

Portugal’s average rank was 1st among all countries in health and Mexico’s average was 4th in education in the Report Card 14 League Table. Norway’s average rank in peace, justice and strong institutions was 30th out of the 41 countries measured.

“If you were to look at the 41 countries in the Report and if you were to look at their newspaper headlines during their most recent election campaigns, just to see the number of times that children were in the newspaper… I think you would find that it was very rare that children made the headlines,” said panelist Richard Morgan, Global Director for child poverty at Save the Children.

“The most practical thing is to get children at the centre of our policy concerns in each of our countries, in the rich world as well as the less fortunate societies around the world," said panelist Richard Morgan, Global Director for child poverty with Save the Children. “It’s only by making children, and the complexity of the problems they face, visible, that we are going to get public policy to address them through government spending, through legislation, through data collection… I think the starting point is that we make sure children are not getting poorer, that we have policies that don’t make children poorer.”

Lily Caprani, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF UK. 

Lily Caprani, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF UK highlighted the significance of the Report Card findings for the United Kingdom. “The positive news in here is that the UK, as you would hope, does find itself, overall, in the upper third…I’m not, unfortunately, surprised to see across the OECD countries there are really big stresses and strains on adolescent mental health. …That’s storing up huge problems for the future. That is, in my view, an emergency, and I don’t mean than in terms of a UN emergency, it is an urgent policy priority.”

The UK average ranking on the Report Card league table was 16th in poverty, 34th in hunger and 6th in reduced inequalities.

Panelist Richard Morgan highlighted the significance of findings in the Report Card on the effectiveness of social transfers in reducing child poverty: “The report also shows that where you have effective, adequate social protection transfers to the poorest households then you make a big dent in child poverty…I think it is very important that we subject every policy measure including on the economic front, every big economic decision to a test: is it going to harm children? And if it is we need to modify it.”

On the alarming data in Report Card 14 showing that 1 in 5 children live in poverty, combined with the widening gap in income inequality across most high income countries, Lily Caprani reflected: “This is based on an understanding of children’s lived experience, and when they tell us they are missing out, when they’re in relative poverty it’s not about whether they’ve got this pound or not, it’s about whether they can be involved in the life they expect to be involved in, it’s about 'do they have the same kind of opportunities to be involved in'…It’s about being able to fulfill their potential.”

Finally, when asked if the SDGs were realistic given the recent climate of retreat in many countries from the international order where sustainable development goals were unquestioned, Jan Vandemoortele sounded an optimistic note: “We live in a world where nationalism is resurgent, all over the world. The US is the best example. We saw it recently, they walked away from an international agreement on climate change, the Paris Accord. The good news is: What did the others do? Did the others run away? They stayed with it and actually they probably bonded stronger… We all know, deep down, that this is serious, that the situation calls for us to act. We have no choice but to deliver on the sustainable development agenda.”