The United Nations General Assembly just adopted new global goals that will galvanize and prioritize the key global issues of our day. Called Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs), they are a new, universal set of goals, targets and indicators that UN member states will be expected to use to frame their policies over the next 15 years. The SDGs follow and expand on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were agreed by governments in 2001 and are due to expire at the end of 2015. The SDG’s will range from January 2016 until 2030.
“This is the people’s agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind,” said Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General.
There is broad agreement that the MDGs were too narrow. The eight MDGs – reduce poverty and hunger; achieve universal education; promote gender equality; reduce child and maternal deaths; combat HIV, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; develop global partnerships – failed to consider the root causes of poverty and overlooked gender inequality as well as the holistic nature of development. The goals made no mention of human rights and did not specifically address economic development. While the MDGs, in theory, applied to all countries, in reality they were considered targets for poor countries to achieve, with finance from wealthy states. Conversely, every country will be expected to work towards achieving the SDGs.
As the MDG deadline approaches, about 1 billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day – the World Bank measure on poverty – and more than 800 million people do not have enough food to eat. Women are still fighting hard for their rights, and millions of women still die in childbirth.
The UN was inclusive and comprehensive as it developed the new goals. It conducted a large consultation program to gauge opinion on what the SDGs should include. An open working group, called for at the Rio +20 Summit, was tasked with coming up with a draft agenda.
The open working group included representatives from 70 countries published its final draft, with its 17 suggestions, in July 2014. The draft was presented to the UN General Assembly in September 2014. Member state negotiations followed, and the final wording of the goals and targets were agreed in August 2015.
The UN also conducted a series of “global conversations” including thematic and national consultations, and online and door-to-door surveys. The results of the consultations were fed into the working group’s discussions and concluded with 17 goals:
1) End poverty in all its forms everywhere
2) End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
3) Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages
4) Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
5) Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
6) Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
7) Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
8) Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all
9) Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation
10) Reduce inequality within and among countries
11) Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
12) Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
13) Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
14) Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
15) Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss
16) Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
17) Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Within the goals are 169 targets, to put meat on the bones. Targets under goal one, for example, include reducing by at least half the number of people living in poverty by 2030, and eradicating extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.25 a day). Under goal five, there’s a target on eliminating violence against women, while goal 16 has a target to promote the rule of law and equal access to justice.
The majority of governments seem to be happy with the goals, but a handful of member states, including the UK and Japan, aren’t so keen. Some countries feel that an agenda consisting of 17 goals is too unwieldy to implement or sell to the public, and would prefer a narrower focus. Some believe the underlying reason is to get rid of some of the more uncomfortable goals, such as those relating to the environment. Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, has publicly said he wants 12 goals at the most, preferably 10. It’s not clear, though, which goals the UK government would like taken out if they had the choice. Yet since it was challenging to get the number of goals down to 17, there would be strong resistance to reducing them further.
There is a general agreement that it is better to have 17 goals that include targets on women’s empowerment, good governance, and peace and security, for example, than fewer goals that don’t address these issues.
Measurement and funding of the goals are still being worked out. It is going to require a tremendous financial commitment to meet the 17 goals. Rough calculations have put the cost of providing a social safety net to eradicate extreme poverty at about $66bn (£43bn) a year, while annual investments in improving infrastructure (water, agriculture, transport, power) could be up to a total of $7tn globally. The committee said public finance and aid would be central to support the implementation of the SDGs. But it insisted that money generated from the private sector, through tax reforms, and through a crackdown on illicit financial flows and corruption, was also vital.
The MDG’s made remarkable progress over the past 15 years since there were clear, tangible and measurable goals agreed to by all nations. The challenge now that the SDGs goals are broader and more all-encompassing will be to continue this progress, galvanize global support for the goals, and obtain the necessary financing. Yet it is the only way we can make real progress for our world.